Senior dogs and cats have special health care needs, just like humans. Pet owners can help our loving companion-animals live happier, healthier, and hopefully, longer lives. Important things to pay attention to as our pets age include activity levels, nutritional needs, vaccination status and overall physical well-being.
A yearly, if not twice yearly, wellness or “senior care” visit with your veterinarian is a good place to start. These exams can help you and your veterinarian to define potential health risks, detect and correct existing health problems, and detect more serious ailments early so a treatment plan can be enacted quickly.
History: If you’re a regular client, your pet’s medical history will be available in the doctor’s records. If you are a new client, be prepared with previous medical records, including vaccination history and details about existing or past illnesses.
Physical exams: During the physical exam, your vet will assess your pet’s overall alertness and appearance (eyes, ears, nose, throat, teeth, skin & coat). Your pet’s weight, temperature, heart and respiratory rates will be taken. His or her abdomen will be felt for lumps, bumps or organ enlargement. And finally, your vet will listen to your pet’s heart and lungs with a stethoscope.
Once this is complete, there should be time for you and your vet to talk about any questions you have or observations you have about your pet’s behavior and overall health. Since you know your pet best, it is important for your vet to listen to what you have to say.
The medical history discussion and exam may take about thirty minutes and covers dietary considerations, individual habits of the pet, and how the pet relates to his or her environment.
Routine lab check: A blood and urine sample is taken for a chemistry panel and a complete blood count (CBC). This is a complete set of blood tests that give your veterinarian a look at how systems such as kidneys, liver, heart , muscles are functioning. If anything abnormal is detected, follow-up tests will be suggested by your vet.
Evaluation: Based on the history, physical exam, and lab work, your vet may suggest other tests.
It’s also a good idea to check out your pet at home on a monthly basis. Perhaps it can become part of your regular grooming routine. And the more you do it, the more you’ll know what’s normal for your dog and what might signal a change or problem. So, while you brush your dog or cat, take note of the following:
His coat. For a dog, a shiny coat with just enough oil is a good sign of health. For cats, look for scaliness, excessive shedding and missing fur. If your cat stops grooming, it could be a sign that something is wrong so visit your veterinarian to be sure.
His skin. If the skin is dry and flaky then it could be a result of over-bathing or allergies. Look for lumps, bumps or abscesses. If you find something, don’t panic. It’s common for older dogs to develop lumps and pimples. Many lumps are lipomas, which are harmless fatty tumors. Have it checked out by your veterinarian as soon as possible.
His teeth and gums. For dogs, gums should be pink and not red or swollen. Teeth should not have tartar buildup. Tooth decay leads to harmful bacteria that can enter your dog’s bloodstream, leading to kidney or liver problems. In cats, look for red or swollen patches on his gums; swelling in the throat or tongue; broken, cracked or missing teeth and tartar build-up that can lead to infections or other health problems.
His eyes. For dogs, watch for excessive tearing, colored discharge or redness around the eyes or lids. For cats, his eyes should be clear, with no cloudiness, bulging, redness or inflammation. Also, see if his “third eyelid” or the white fold of skin that stretches from the lower eyelid to the inner corner of his eye) is clear.
His ears. The ears should not have a strong odor, the skin should be a healthy color and texture, and there should be no colored discharge.
His weight. Just like in people, your dog or cat is healthier if he’s within an ideal weight range, thus helping to prevent stress on joints or weight-related disease