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Wellness Exams for Your Aging Pet

Wellness Exams for Your Aging Pet

By: Mark Hale DVM

Bolivar, MO


            Many of us can remember when our pet was a small fuzzy youngster. But since pets age so much faster than humans it is not long before "retirement age" is here. Many charts and formulas exist to compare a pets' age to corresponding "human years". However, most veterinarians consider pets as "senior" after age 7-9 years. Cats and smaller breed dogs have a longer life expectancy than large breed dogs.

            Senior pets, just like their senior human counterparts, are more likely to be affected with certain conditions. And since pets age so much faster (approximately 7 to 1 compared to humans), an annual exam is often not frequent enough. For this reason, most veterinarians recommend twice yearly comprehensive physical examinations for older pets. Conditions such as heart disease, dental disease, cancers, and kidney or liver problems, which are more likely as your pet ages, are better treated if diagnosed early. Owners should pay particular attention to changes in their pets' mobility, appetite, attitude, water consumption, and elimination behaviors. Informing your pets' veterinarian of any changes can give clues as to what diagnostics may be needed. Also watching for changes in lumps, or skin and hair coat change, is important.

            Diagnostic tests, such as blood, urine, or fecal tests, may be needed to evaluate internal organ function. Usually a complete blood count (CBC) is done to evaluate the red and white blood cells, as well as platelets, to make sure the blood and bone marrow are working correctly. Changes can indicate such things as infection, anemia, certain cancers, or clotting disorders. Blood chemistry tests may also be done to evaluate the kidneys, liver, pancreas, and blood proteins. Detecting any problem with these before severe changes have occurred can provide time for treatment, before it too late. Urinalysis may also be needed to evaluate the kidneys and check for diabetes. Radiographs and thyroid tests are other commonly utilized diagnostic procedures.

            Hopefully, when the pet is tested all the results will be normal. But that does not mean the tests were wasted. These values will be used as a baseline to compare with future results so that changes can be noted early.

            The moral of this story is to be involved with the healthcare decisions for your pet. By observing its behavior closely, you can often notice subtle changes that may indicate more serious problems ahead. These observations, along with your veterinarians' examinations and appropriate testing, can be used to provide your close companion with a longer and more comfortable life.