My immediate response to that, almost always (but not always) is ridiculous!
Old age is not a disease. Nor is old age a reason to live with horrific dental disease, nasty lumps, glaucoma, untreated arthritis… well the list goes on and on.
Being 13 (or even 16) years old, having a heart murmur, being diabetic, having thyroid issues – none of these are usually reasons to not progress with a surgical cure/fix to improve a dog or cat’s quality of life.
It is a hard issue to be honest about but let’s discuss Max, hypothetically a 13 year old Jack Russell Terrier. Max is a healthy 13 year old, he has arthritis, he gets medications to help. He has a grade 2 out of 6 heart murmur. He has never had any dental intervention. Today he has quite a bit of tartar and he has an abscessed carnassial tooth, so he has a bump under his left eye. There is gum recession, and bad (nasty!) odour. What are the options?
Without hesitation we should be doing bloodwork, maybe a chest x-ray and proceeding with taking care of the rotten tooth and the other disease in his mouth. Yes, I admit, at 13 he may only have a few months to a few years left. I do believe that a surgical procedure will not shorten whatever time he has left and I do believe that whatever time he has left will be SO much more comfortable.
A non-surgical bandaid is a course of antibiotics. It almost always comes back. I can understand that a procedure is costly. And I can understand if decisions need to be made with respect to financial constraints. But I would counsel if you, as the owner, were able to afford the procedure and ok with knowing that Max was near the end of his life with or without the procedure, then I would always recommend the procedure over the bandaid in this situation.
Now all that being said there are some things I may consider not doing in my older patients. Say, for example, they were is true heart failure or had advanced kidney disease. I also may consider discontinuing further vaccinations. Would I remove a wart? Maybe not. Would I remove a bleeding and infected mass? Yes.
I think we all want to do well by our wonderful senior pets. To me this means having some honest discussions about possibilities and recommendations – on both the Veterinary side and the family side.
By Dr. Sarah Martin