There is a biologic clock that measures the life of different species. This clock goes faster as dogs are concerned, so we can estimate that the average life is 12-14 years in small sized dogs and 10-11 in big and giant sized dogs. Of course, there are many aspects that determine the time of life for an animal including the genetic code, the kind of food and care given by the owners and of course the lifestyle, etc.
It is true that everyday, we find animals with diseases typical during old age that may be in terminal states or completely unbalanced, that could have been detected before (cataracts, diabetes, arthritis, heart, hepatic or renal disorders).
There are some metabolic and physiopathologic effects associated to ageing:
- Decrease of the metabolic rate with less activity and a decrease of 30% or 40% of the caloric needs.
- Immunodeficiency, in spite of the normal number of lymphocytes.
- Presentation of self-immune diseases.
- Increase of the muscular, bone and joint mass with the development of arthritis.
- Hyper-pigmentation, increase and lost of elasticity of the skin.
- Tartar, periodontitis, gum or hyperplasy atrophy or lost of teeth.
- Atrophy and fibrosis of the gastric mucus.
- Development of hepatic fibrosis.
- Decrease of the secretion of pancreatic enzymes.
- Decrease of the respiratory capacity.
- Atrophy of the renal area.
- Development of urinary incontinency.
- In males, increase of the prostate, testicular atrophy and pendulous foreskin.
- In females, increase of the ovaries, fibro cysts, and mammary tumours.
- Decrease of the cardiac effort and development of valve fibrosis.
- Accumulation of fat and hypoplasia of bone marrow and development of non-regenerative anaemia.
- Decrease of the number of cells of the nerves system and lost of training.
As we can see, all the organic systems get affected with the passing of time and the only thing we can do against this is to adopt measures based on nutrition, hygiene, medicines or surgical treatments that help the animal to have a good quality of life. It is a fundamental aspect that is often forgotten and it is often preventative veterinary medicine that is required. This is why we recommend all the small sized dogs older than 8, and big sized ones older than 6 have geriatric checkups at least once a year.
These checkups will include an exhaustive analysis about diet, life habits, previous diseases, etc, a complete physical exploration of the skin, eyes, ears, mouth, muscles, and bones, neurological examinations, auscultation, electrocardiogram, analysis of the cells of the blood and biochemistry, analysis of urine and thorax x-rays. These tests could be extended to hormones tests, heart and abdomen ecographies, serologies and biopsies of any tissue depending on the history of the dog. All these tests could help us to make an early diagnosis of some of the diseases that caught in time and properly treated, can give a good quality of life to our pet.
Let’s imagine a 9-year-old Alsatian is brought into the consulting room because it can hardly walk, drinks a lot and has loss of urine. After doing some tests, we could see that it had very serious arthritis in the hips and the last lumbar vertebras. The dog is obese, has a hyper-adronocorticism and a handball-ball-sized prostate tumour. It will be expensive for the owner to treat the animal, and the prediction and the hope of a good quality of life for the animal is dark. Possibly, if it had had a geriatric check up some time before, the vet would have recommended a diet and some medicines to control the hormonal diseases and arthritis, and if the tumour had been detected, it could have been operated on.
Cases like this are common and it is just one of so many that makes us think carefully about the need to have geriatric checkups more often.