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Answers from vets about your pet:

Aging Isn't a Disease, It's Normal

Reviewed by Dr. Celeste Clements, DVM, DACVIM on Monday, August 3, 2015
Posted September 13, 2013 in Dog Surgery A-Z

Old cat

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. Find him online at He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Common questions I hear from clients include "Is he too old for this surgery?" and "Do you think it's worth it to her because of her age?" Invariably, and with a smile, my answer is "Age is not a disease." This answer is more serious than it sounds (My "mature" clients actually love that quote!). Cancer, kidney malfunction, a hormone imbalance -- those are diseases, which can be treated. But age in and of itself is not a disease.

Granted, organs do deteriorate as a dog or a cat ages. This is why we do a physical exam and recommend full blood work and a urinalysis before anesthesia and surgery. We routinely see older pets with normal kidney function, normal liver function, normal red blood cell counts, normal everything. If one or several values are abnormal, we need to know before anesthesia and surgery, because we may change a few things.

For example, abnormally high kidney values may mean that a pet will be on IV fluids before anesthesia can be undertaken safely. We may also choose different anesthesia drugs and different pain killers after surgery if the bloodwork is worrisome.

In other words, it may be much safer to anesthetize a healthy 12 year old patient with normal blood work than a sick 5 year old with kidney or liver disease.  This is the difference between a pet’s actual age and the “functional” age, which takes into account all health factors and not only the age. Age (actual age) is merely a number. Health (functional age) is what we should focus on.

I regularly have this discussion with pet owners.  For example, laryngeal paralysis is a condition where the larynx (or voice box) becomes paralyzed, which causes severe difficulties breathing. And this typically affects older patients, primarily older Labradors.  It is sometimes difficult for these clients to believe that while their older pet is literally suffocating, it is a fixable condition with surgery.  The condition is merely an unfortunate "bump in the road".  Of course, there may be financial considerations, but that's a whole different subject.

Another common question I hear is "How old do (insert breed) get?" Books and web sites give us the answer to that

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at