Why dogs and cats age and how we can influence the process (Proceedings)
In the last AVMA pet owner survey, more than 39 % of the owned dog population were 7 years of age or older and these percentages continue to grow. This change in pet population demographics is due to in part due to several inter-connected causes. Changing owner attitudes toward their pets, has significantly contributed to increases in their pet's life expectancy. More owners than ever consider their pets as "family members" and therefore are more willing to invest the time, energy and resources required to appropriately manage those common chronic infirmities associated with aging. In parallel with the changing human-animal-bonding, the veterinary profession along with industry has responded with significant developments in comprehensive health care options, both preventative medicine and disease management, which were not accessible or affordable a decade ago. With a better understanding of the aging processes and age-related diseases; we are better positioned to increase the longevity and the quality of life for our senior pets. Enhanced senior diets, superior diagnostic techniques, new drugs, safer anesthesia, newer surgery techniques, cancer chemotherapy, improved dental care, pain management strategies, and the use of multimodal strategies in managing chronic progressive age-related diseases, have changed the health care options s now available for senior pets. Once reserved for only referral centers, today, the primary care veterinarians are able to provide their older patients the high quality care that the average pet owner demands and expects. In addition, the implementation of "Senior Care" program in the more progressive hospitals has made significant increases in the "Standard of Care" those hospitals provide to their older patients.
An animal's life can be divided into four stages; pediatric, adult, senior (middle age), and geriatric (senior / super senior). The senior / middle age years represents the transition period between the usually uneventful "healthy" adult years and the traditional "geriatric" age period where serious age related diseases are much more prevalent. This transition period signals the patient's initial decline in physical condition, organ function, sensory function, mental function and immune responses. An appropriate medical response would be to take a better history, perform an age-related physical examination, recommend routine diagnostic screening tests, advocate a senior diet, and start training the clients to look for age-related diseases.
Although the exact time of each stage could be argued, everyone would agree that in general cats live longer than dogs, smaller breed dogs live longer than that the giant breeds and each life stage would have a corresponding chronological difference. Human / Pet Age analogy charts (table 1) reinforce this "time compression" concept and are excellent staff and client educational tools. These relative age charts also emphasizes the concept of comparable "time compression" differences in pets as it relates to wellness testing intervals, disease progression, and chronic drug monitoring.