Aging dogs need regular visits to their veterinarians

When we share our lives with pets, we know going into it that we will only have them a short time. Most dogs’ life span is 12 to 14 years. Sometimes cats live into their late teens. We can count ourselves lucky if we are able to have our pets around for longer than that. But with advanced age also comes health issues that we need to be prepared for.

I have a few friends who are experiencing health issues with their senior dogs. One dog is facing kidney failure and has a limited amount of time with her owner. Another has battled pancreatitis and the other has kidney and liver problems. These dogs range from 11 to 16 years. My own senior dog, Sierra, will be 15 this year and I’ve been lucky that she’s fairly healthy.

As your dog or cat gets older, its yearly veterinarian check becomes even more important. Sierra started getting yearly complete blood counts run several years ago so we’d have a baseline to compare every year. This way if some levels change, we have an idea how far from normal the numbers are and my veterinarian can diagnose and treat her more appropriately.

There are many diseases or other age-related ailments that can be caught early or prevented through early intervention. Just as with people, an early diagnosis can be a life saver. If your pet is getting up in years, talk to your veterinarian about what he or she recommends for preventive care.

Veterinary medicine has come a long way over the years. Many of the same medical advances for people also exist for our pets. In some instances, medical procedures are used on pets even before they are approved for humans. Proper medical treatment can extend lives.

Besides regular vet visits, our houses and our interactions can be adapted to make life for our senior pets easier. Sierra has lost her hearing so I’ve had to make adjustments in how I communicate with her. Just getting louder isn’t helpful so I have to make sure I get her attention first and then use body language and gestures to make her understand. I’m thankful for the many years she spent as my obedience partner and demo dog. We have that bond so she can understand me more easily. She also reads and follows the other dogs as they respond to things.

Sierra has a bit of arthritis so she takes supplements and vitamins to help. Those are little things that I can do to make her life easier. She no longer sleeps on my bed, so I created a few special comfy spots and she sleeps there. If I had stairs, I’d want to make sure she had limited access to them so as not to aggravate mobility issues. Inexpensive ramps can also help senior dogs reach their favorite spots atop furniture, if that is allowed.

Sierra doesn’t really enjoy roughhousing with the other dogs so she spends much more time inside and sleeping than she used to. However, she has earned that right. She has been a wonderful companion to me through the years as an obedience dog and a great therapy dog, touching many lives as we visited schools and nursing homes.

The little things I can do to make her senior years easier and more comfortable are a small price to pay for all the joy and companionship she has given me over the years.

Pet columnist Katrena Mitchell can be reached at

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