Nowhere is preventive health care more important than in our senior pets. As animals age, it becomes more and more likely that we will begin to encounter various health issues. Early detection and intervention is paramount to ensure our pets have the best quantity and quality of life possible.
For simplicity, we define a senior pet to be any pet seven years of age or older, although large breed dogs tend to age more rapidly than smaller breed dogs and cats. As disease is much more likely in these patients, it is important that a senior wellness program be more comprehensive in order to detect any issues before they become a major problem.
Semi-annual physical examinations
The physical examination is always the most important part of your dog’s veterinary visit. Through a comprehensive history and examination, we can often reveal “hidden” problems that may not be easily noticed. Heart disease, kidney disease, arthritis, cancer, dental disease and senility problems are only a few of the issues we deal with much more commonly in our senior canine patients.
Examinations every six months are one of the most important parts of a senior wellness program. Medical problems can occur quickly in our older patients, and early intervention is essential to effectively deal with them.
Many people assume that a pet is “slowing down” simply because it is getting older. Although this may be true, it is often an indication that there are hidden medical issues that are adversely affecting a pet’s quality of life. Chronic disorders such as arthritis and dental disease can occur so gradually, that pets simply learn to tolerate the pain. When these problems are finally identified and addressed, owners are often amazed at the difference in their pet’s quality of life.
At Yorkville Animal Hospital, we perform regular wellness blood testing in all of our patients. In seniors, this becomes even more important. Our senior wellness blood and urine tests are specifically designed to screen for the common problems that can be seen in our older patients.
Additional diagnostic testing, such as more detailed blood testing, radiographs (Xrays) , ECG, or ultrasound are sometimes necessary if specific abnormalities are identified during your pet’s examination or during routine lab testing. Routine testing such as fecal parasite examination, and heartworm testing is also continued annually, as it is in our younger patients.
As pets age, their nutritional requirements can change. Obesity is very common in many older dogs due to a slowing down of the metabolism and a decrease in physical activity. In dogs with arthritis, this problem can have serious consequences. Conversely, some senior pets can begin to lose weight due to kidney disease, diabetes, cancer or numerous other conditions.
We will make specific dietary recommendations for your pet based on his or her body condition score, laboratory testing, and health status. Numerous special prescription diets are available to help us meet your pet’s specific dietary needs.
As dogs and cats age, it is common to see changes in behaviour. Decreased hearing, sight, and smell in addition to chronic painful disorders such as arthritis can sometimes cause pets to become more “testy”.
Another common problem is called cognitive dysfunction, and is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people. Dogs may exhibit signs of confusion and forgetfulness, and may start to housesoil or decrease their interaction with their owners. In these patients, medication and/or a special diet formulated for cognitive dysfunction can often help tremendously.
Dental examination, cleaning, and home-care
Dental care is important during all stages of our pet’s life, but becomes even more important in our older patients. Gingivitis and periodontal disease cause chronic inflammation and stress to an animal, and may be associated with increased risk of problems in other organs, such as the liver, kidney and heart. In patients with already compromised organ function and immune systems, these added stresses can be potentially dangerous.
Many owners fear dental cleanings because of the anaesthetic required, especially in the older patient. Age itself is no reason, however, to deny a pet a healthy, pain-free mouth. If a pet is otherwise healthy, the risk in the older patient may not be significantly different from that in a younger individual. We have a wide variety of anaesthetics to choose from, and can customize an anaesthetic regime based on your pet’s specific medical history.
Through preanaesthetic diagnostic testing, careful monitoring, the routine use of intravenous fluids during anaesthesia and a customized anaesthetic protocol, we can go a long way to reduce any risk that may be involved in your pet’s procedure.