The last few weeks I’ve been getting a lot of calls and emails about older dogs. When we have pets that have a significantly shorter lifespan than us, this is a pretty common problem to face.

Dogs age at different rates by breed and size, and this is important to understand.

The largest of the breeds, like an Irish wolfhound or great Dane, may have a lifespan of less than 10 years.Sometimes much less.

The very small may be shorter-lived, but this isn’t always as dramatic and many live considerably longer.

The longest life span is most commonly in the mixed breed and middle weight range. And of course, there is a lot of variety in all of these situations to make predictions pretty difficult.

When dogs age, they have many of the same problems that we do, and a few that are unique. They slow down, they eat less, they sleep more, and so on. Their metabolism slows down. Their coat may lose its shine. Vets often get questions about this.

It’s important to remember all of these basics and help your pet age gracefully. Remember too, that when a dog urinates or defecates they have to squat. Sore hips and arthritis makes this difficult, bringing on problems well before we might otherwise see them.

As dogs age, hormonal problems can become more apparent. Thyroid levels may go down and other hormonal diseases may start to appear.

Some studies have shown a significantly higher number of breast tumours in dogs that were spayed after two years of age—good reason to spay earlier rather than later.

Male dogs that are intact will also develop a few diseases that don’t affect their neutered counterparts. But the biggest thing here is that with a strong desire to mate, they tend to run outdoors and get into accidents.

One study showed that the majority of ground squirrels running across the road and getting hit are the males. No jokes, girls… Please…

We see some of the same things in dogs that we see in humans in other ways too.

As dogs’ and peoples’ lifespans get longer all the time, we start seeing diseases of age that we didn’t see before. Many types of cancer that we rarely saw before now occur regularly because of the longer lifespan.

If we look at cancer rates and adjust for the lifespan, there really isn’t an increase at all. Yes, there are some types that are linked to environment and diet, but many aren’t.

Cats aren’t a lot different here, either. Years ago, a 10-year-old cat was considered old. With better diets, drugs, and vaccinations, 16 is not unusual now. I’ve worked on cats in their late 20s and they were doing just fine.

Just like most things with pets, choose your pet wisely and make sure it fits in with your lifestyle. Give it a good home. They aren’t little humans, but they should be part of the family.

Well looked after and with good quality food, most pets should live a long and healthy life. And don’t be afraid to ask questions about your pet’s health.

One thing I have been biting my tongue on over the last month is the extensive coverage of rabies in the Whitehorse media. Yes it is a very dangerous and deadly disease, but Yukon is, and as far as we know always has been, rabies-free.

There has never been a reported case of Rabies in Yukon. That’s in sharp contrast to Ontario, which has the second-highest rate of this disease in the world; second only to central Iran.

So please take all the stories about rabies with a large grain of salt. Yes, it a coastal problem in Alaska and a huge problem in Ontario, but not in Yukon.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t vaccinate your pet, however. If you want to cross into the U.S., rabies vaccination is mandatory. In fact, the pet has to be vaccinated over 30 days prior to crossing the border! It should be a part of every vaccination schedule.

There’s also the potential problem of private companies making this a requirement. The Alaska Marine Highway system used to require rabies vaccination to bring a dog on board. It’s not a governmental requirement, but you need it to get on the ferry.

It may also be required by the Medical Officer of Health (MOH). If a human is bitten, the MOH has the right to quarantine or destroy the animal that isn’t vaccinated.

I once had an owner, in Ontario, decline vaccination of their cat because it was an indoor cat. I gave all the arguments, but she had no interest in the vaccination.

Then the eight-year-old opened the door suddenly and the three-year-old grabbed the cat that saw this as a quick escape. The MOH ordered the cat held in quarantine for 14 days and then destroyed. She wanted the vet to do something. And there’s nothing that can be done at that point.

This really brings me to vaccinations in general. Vaccination is basically a way of genetically modifying the animal or human, and you can see where this controversy is going.

I had a client who absolutely declined getting their dog vaccinated for anything. “We don’t believe in it! What do you say to that?”

My immediate reply was, “To those who refuse vaccination, I say enjoy the disease.”

I figured I’d lost that client, but he came back the next day and agreed.

Vaccination is a way of lowering the risk of disease and is essential to good health.

But let’s save that one for next month.