Maggie's Golden Years - Story of an aging dog
By Ian Kravitz / November, December 2012

Maggie smacked into the doorframe, producing a half-wince, half-chuckle from everyone in the Parklander office. Our beloved dog mascot had just successfully raided my purse in search of her favorite treat -- baby carrots. Her nose was brilliantly able to sniff out the snack, but the 11-year old Vizsla couldn't disguise her age. Some days her trot slowed to a crawl because her hips ached. Every day, her nearly vanished eyesight resulted in head-on collisions with various objects, including chairs and trash cans. Maggie had reached senior status.

But what does it mean for our pets to become seniors? When does the transition to senior happen? For humans, turning 55 means an invitation to the American Association of Retired Persons, early bird specials and discounted movie tickets. But how does aging affect our furry (or, perhaps, not so furry) canine friends?

Dr. Glenn Kalick of Brookside Animal Hospital in Coral Springs offered some insight to help us better understand this situation. Many assume dogs reach their senior status at age seven. But Dr. Kalick explained aging is different for every breed. "There is a general rule of thumb people can use to determine a dog's geriatric stage," he said. "For dogs over fifty pounds, it is seven years.

For dogs twenty to fifty pounds, it is about eight years and for dogs less than twenty pounds, it is nine years."

As a generality, there are some exceptions. "Some breeds like bull mastiffs or great Danes only have a life expectancy of seven to nine years, thus their middle age could be at four or five years," said Dr. Kalick.

As humans, these figures sound depressing. The moment we bring our pets home, we consider all of the adventures to be had with our dogs, not the ominous years down the road when fetch becomes less enchanting. Fortunately, Dr. Kalick explained that middle age doesn't coincide with doggie wheelchairs.

"There are age-appropriate problems you might see in your dog, like visual deficiencies, hearing loss, weight gain, incontinence or arthritis," said Dr. Kalick. "But these are age-related problems no different than those found in people. Even some dogs start to develop gray hair."

Dogs are similar to humans. Age is not a perfect predictor of health or longevity -- just look at 74-year-old Jane Fonda. Dr. Kalick explained that proper health vaccinations, good quality food, exercise and even pain medication for conditions like arthritis could prolong your dog's health. Nonetheless, he warned about the use of medications as treatments. "If we can delay the onset of medications, it saves the animal from feeling side effects and having to undergo blood work," said Dr. Kalick. "Plus, it saves owners from the high cost these medications can run."

Although most natural aging ailments, like weight gain or hearing loss, can be easily handled, some more serious conditions may develop like dementia. The dog-to-human language barrier makes it impossible to truly communicate with our dogs. However, Dr. Kalick shared some telltale signs to look for. "It is like you wake up one day and your dog is not the same dog," he said. "Classic signs of dementia or cognitive dysfunction syndrome include disrupted sleep/wake cycles, dogs staring into corners or barking at things you do not see, and they do not greet you."

Such a process can be heartbreaking to witness, but Dr. Kalick said that the life expectancy of dogs twenty years ago was half of what it is today! With an increase in life expectancy comes an increase in aging problems. As owners, we simply must keep our dogs healthy so ALL of their years (even the senior ones) are worthwhile.

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