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AGE IS NOT A DISEASE

by Dr. Rachel Addleman, DVM, DiplABVP, CVA
Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, Dr. Addleman has advanced training and Board Certification in feline medicine. She practices in Houston, Texas and can be found at AnimalFixer.com

Age Is Not A DiseaseJack and Pearl Abrams of Newport, Rhode Island, celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this year. Jack, 93, makes minyan every Shabbat at Touro Synagogue, the oldest in the nation. Jack speaks lovingly to Pearl, 93, his "kahllah" (Yiddish for bride), as he often calls her. They owned a butcher shop and sold meat to iconic families including the Auchincloss and von Bulows.

They still live in the house they bought in 1944. Jack reminisces about serving his country during WWII, as a cook aboard the submarine the USS Sunfish. Each year, the couple looks forward to wintering in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida where they dance the nights away enjoying their 28-year retirement and three great-grandchildren.

Two years ago, Jack started having pain in his hip. After months of terrible suffering, he had a hip replacement at 92. It was a slow and frustrating recovery. Jack worried they would never again be able to make their annual trip to Florida. With the help of good doctors and physical therapists, and with family support, he and Pearl are back to dancing the nights away.

Jack’s story of recovery reminds me, as a veterinarian, that even my oldest patients deserve treatment options; age is not a reason to ignore painful medical conditions.

Aging Pets: Age Is Not A DiseasePet owners attribute slowing down with old age. But old age is not a disease. There is a reason the cat is not climbing the stairs as quickly or the dog is slow to jump in the car. It could be arthritis, muscle weakness, or a variety of metabolic diseases. If a diagnosis can be made, there may be treatment options. It frustrates veterinarians to hear owners say things like "I don’t think he needs medication, he’s moving around pretty good." The goal is to improve the pet’s quality of life from “pretty good” to much better.

Even after pointing out abscessed teeth I sometimes hear "I don’t want to have his teeth pulled, he's too old for anesthesia, he seems to be eating fine." We should be focused on helping the patient to feel better because that oral infection is right now causing pain and suffering. Often only after rotten teeth are pulled and infections cleared up do we realize how much happier and more playful older pets become.

Aging Pets: Age Is Not A DiseaseBehavior issues in older pets can stem from disease. As an example, a dog with an ear infection or arthritis may growl at a child who touches a sore area. As the condition becomes chronic and the dog anticipates pain, he growls even as the child approaches. Hearing loss can result in barking issues, high blood pressure can cause cats to vocalize more, and decreased vision can lead to snapping behavior when the animal is startled

Ask yourself if your older pet is acting the same he did a year ago. Is he underweight or overweight? Does he have bad breath? Is he drinking more water? Medications may be helpful. Physical therapy and chiropractic adjustments can help older pets with musculoskeletal problems. Carefully chosen diets, supplements, herbals medications, and acupuncture can help a variety of medical conditions including diabetes and kidney disease, and can help with the symptoms of cancer.

Jack and Pearl Abrams are once again making their yearly migration South. "It's an extra special trip now, because I never thought we would make it down to Florida," Jack said.  Any veterinarian will tell you that we feel extra special when we hear, “I can’t believe how much you’ve helped him. He hasn’t felt this good in years!”