How old do you feel? If, like me, you are in denial of your actual age, you probably claim to still be 21 again! However, there are some days when that flight of stairs seems too much for the knees, or I must sit down for a while after the gardening just to recover. After feeling particularly tired for a month, the doctor tested me for anaemia, underactive thyroid, an undercurrent of viral infection and it all came back normal -I was just feeling my age!
The same happens in our older animals as well. Dogs and cats over the age of eight (or 5 for the giant breeds) are considered to be senior citizens and we expect them to start slowing down. They tend to sleep more and are less playful. Most dogs still want to go out for long walks but may spend more time trotting along, sniffing everywhere, rather than being hyperactive Tasmanian devils. Cats, although they go outside, spend less time climbing and exploring but like to find a high vantage point to watch the neighbourhood comings and goings.
But there could be other reasons why your pet may be slowing down. The most obvious is arthritis and joint disease. I’ve written about this in previous articles and there is now a range of very good anti-inflammatories designed to relieve discomfort and aid joint mobility.
Routine blood testing in older animals is also very useful. One small syringeful of blood sent to the lab can reveal a lot about your pet’s health. Blood smears tell us about blood counts. A reduction of red blood cells and the oxygen carrying protein (haemoglobin) they carry is known as anaemia. But this is only a symptom and the pathologists at the lab can help us determine the cause of the anaemia in the first place. An increase in white blood cells can certainly be due to infection, but changes can also be due to stress, drugs, parasitic disease and cancers of the blood stream and a pathologist’s interpretation is very important here too.
Biochemistry of the blood informs us of the workings of the internal organs, whether the kidneys, liver or thyroid organs are functioning as they should. Early detection of change within these organs means that investigation of disease and treatment can begin, and there is a better chance of curing the disease or slowing the rate of deterioration. Often a urine sample is needed as well, and this can be tricky for owners to obtain. A small foil tray, that has never had sugar in it, slid underneath a dog as it is peeing can get enough for testing (usually a teaspoonful is plenty). Cats can be a lot harder and we have artificial litter, in the form if tiny non-absorbent plastic balls, that can be used in place of normal cat litter.
Hopefully, routine testing on the older pet will find no problems at all and all they need, like me, is a quiet sit down before getting on with the rest of the day.