If you live with a senior dog or cat (7 years or older) who’s starting to show some gray fur, you’re probably hearing familiar statements from friends and fellow pet owners, like: “Small dogs live longer than large-breed dogs…” or in my case: “I met a woman with an 18-year-old Dachshund once.”
The oldest dog on record lived to be 29; the oldest cat, 34. Aging is inevitable, and the time seems to pass in the blink of an eye. And because dogs and cats age approximately seven times faster than humans, we must cherish every moment we have with them.
So how to ensure the very best care for your senior dog or cat? The proof is in the pudding — or in this case, the diagnostics.
If you look at wellness plans for pets, some “senior” regiments may include:
- Wellness exams twice a year, including bloodwork. Frontier Vet Hospital in Hillsboro, Oregon recommends this schedule and provides various levels of wellness exams.
- Acupuncture — prescribed to treat Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and other conditions common to senior pets.
- Annual dental procedures (Doxies, for example have “junky Doxie mouths). Regular dental care is important for both dogs and cats to reduce plaque, which can cause and create multiple health issues in aging pets.
Why diagnostics are important
Some level of clinical disease is commonly diagnosed through screening tests. These may include blood panels and/or x-rays. Blood panels are used to detect diabetes, anemia, and liver, kidney and thyroid disease, while x-rays screen for arthritis, cancer and heart disease.
Once an animal reaches the geriatric stage, it’s time for a thorough physical exam including a blood count, blood chemistry analysis, and urinalysis. Frequent exams and twice-yearly bloodwork and urinalysis are the best preventive care for senior pets, according to the doctors at Frontier.
“Diagnostics, like blood and urine tests, help to determine if all body systems are functioning as they should, as well as screening for health issues to which your pet's breed may be genetically predisposed,” says Dr. Scott Loepp, DVM. “Bloodwork also tests for conditions like kidney or liver disease. Early detection and treatment can often make the difference between a relatively easy and affordable treatment and a more expensive, and perhaps riskier, intervention later on.”
Top health concerns for seniors include diabetes, kidney (renal) disease, thyroid disease, and heart failure. Blood and urine tests screen for dysfunction in the major organ systems, including kidneys and liver. Chronic renal disease is among the most common seen in geriatric patients, especially cats.
Bloodwork can show signs that a kidney is no longer functioning, and the earlier this is known, the better the chances of adding months or years to a cat’s life.
Endocrine disease can be managed once detected through diagnostics. Common disorders include Hyperthyroidism, Diabetes mellitus and Hyperadrenocorticism.
Well-known veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker recently discussed hyperthyroidism in cats 10 years and older in a VetStreet article. “The diagnosis can come as a surprise as owners think their cat is doing great given his good appetite, but blood work is needed to diagnose the condition,” Becker says. An annual thyroid test is the most effective diagnostic for identifying thyroid issues in both dogs and cats.
Diabetes Mellitus affects middle-aged to older dogs and cats. Signs to look for include excessive thirst, increased urination and appetite, and weight loss. Diagnostic screening helps identify developing diseases.
Doctors at Frontier state that one in 400 felines is diagnosed with diabetes, so it’s important to have blood work done routinely during your pet’s senior years.
The importance of X-rays
Longtime pet owner and Certified Vet Technician Grace Brown recently had an experience where prolonged diagnostics played a major role in determining why her beloved senior dog, Tica, started limping.
“Diagnostics with Tica were a really big part of figuring out what was going on,” Brown says. “As she aged, she started limping. Then, this spring, her limping got worse. She got really tired after exercise, and it lasted days after an outing instead of her being able to sleep it off. I did her annual dental cleaning, checked her blood work (which was perfectly normal), ran a urinalysis and took x-rays looking for the cause of limping. We thought it was localized to her elbow and wrists because this was where she showed pain on palpation. Sure enough, x-rays showed Chronic Degenerative Joint Disease.”
A month or two later, the limp returned. Worse this time, says Brown. Even after Tramadol and Gabapentin regiments the limp continued. “She was limping even worse. So back to the vet for more exams. This time we went over her symptoms, and her increasingly long list of arthritis medications that were having no effect. The lameness exam showed ZERO response. We could have stopped there, assuming nothing was wrong. But we did more x-rays, and we found it. A mass on her right humerus.”
After consulting with an oncology specialist, Brown opted for amputation. “I really could not have known what was happening without prolonged diagnostics, and I couldn't have made the decision to amputate without much more testing. The one thing I did learn was: NEVER assume. Just a limp in an old dog can be so much more.”
Thankfully, Tica’s biopsy showed Chondrosarcoma, which is less likely to metastasize and requires no chemo. “All of the diagnostics and heartache could have literally saved my dogs life by giving me the information I needed to get the procedure she needed. I may just get her to 13 after all,” Brown smiles.
In fact, given the frequency of certain conditions, routine screening can add years of health to a senior pet’s life.
· “Geriatric and Hospice Care: Supporting the Aged and Dying Patient”
· More on the importance of wellness exams: http://frontiervet.com/client-resources/videos/wellness-visits/
As a Certified Vet Tech, longtime PR veteran and content marketing expert, Christy Caplan brings her unique understanding of social and digital media to connect dog lovers to brands both on and offline. She lives with three hounds – two Doxies and a Beagle/Basset Hound mix, who constantly teach her about life and companionship. Follow Christy at mylifewithdogspdx.com.