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Physical examinations are extremely important for your veterinarian to perform every year. Pets age much faster then humans; our year can age your dog or cat several years. This quick nose to tail examination can help identify changes in your pet's health and areas of need. As your pet ages additional concerns and diagnostics may be suggested to ensure your pet remains happy and healthy for years to come.
Dogs (Cats) over the age of seven are considered to be seniors as they age more rapidly than we humans. While physical exams are important in all pets one to two times a year, we can only examine the outside of your pet on his or her exam. There may be changes to organs such as the liver or kidney, thyroid changes or other problems that would only be known if we look at a senior blood screen.
Early detection of underlying health problems is crucial for diagnosing and treating or delaying progression of serious illnesses that are common in senior pets. Sometimes there are no outward signs of illness until it is too late. For instance, as much as 75% of a pet’s kidney function must be lost before that pet will shows signs of disease. If changes to the kidneys are caught early, progression of kidney disease may be slowed by making changes to the pet’s diet and watching for early warning signs of worsening disease. Additional lab diagnostic information.
This committee is dedicated to enhancing the service and visits for all senior pets to the Patton Veterinary Hospital.
Osteoarthritis—Most of our senior pets have some degree of arthritis. Arthritis is inflammation and pain caused by damage to or loss of cartilage in the joints. Signs may be mild or subtle, but many pets experience significant discomfort from arthritis and symptoms are not always recognizable.
Dogs with arthritis may have difficulty rising from a sitting or lying position, they may be very stiff when they first get up but will “warm up” and limp less as they are more active, and they may have difficulty climbing stairs or jumping on furniture. Many will limp or walk stiffly. Dogs will not usually cry or whimper in pain unless the pain is severe. These are all signs that your pet may have some degree of arthritis.
Early stages of arthritis may respond well to supplements like glucosamine fish oil/omega 3 capsules or injectable cartilage protectants like Adequan.
As arthritis progresses, the dog becomes more painful, and medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) which are aspirin-like drugs or other pain medications like tramadol or gabapentin may be used to reduce pain and keep your pet comfortable. Light exercise also seems to be helpful in keeping joints mobile.
Arthritis is more common in large and giant breed dogs and especially in pets who are overweight, so weight control is also an important factor in preventing and managing arthritis. Non-traditional treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and laser therapy are also helpful in alleviating arthritis pain. (link here to laser info?) Remember, cats and small breed dogs can get arthritis too, so, just because your pet is small does not mean he or she is immune to arthritis changes.
*(Not all glucosamine supplements are equal. We find Nutramaxx brands like Dasuquin and Cosequin to be superior to generics as the company performs quality control studies on their products and they are formulated to be better absorbed by dogs and cats.)
Heart disease—Patients of any age may have a heart murmur due to various causes, but heart murmurs and congestive heart failure are more common in older patients. Many older dogs can develop a heart murmur due to a leaky mitral valve. Over time, the disease in some patients may progress to congestive heart failure with fluid in the lungs known as pulmonary edema causing coughing and difficulty breathing as the heart no longer pumps blood efficiently. Diagnosing and treating heart disease in the early stages can help keep pets comfortable and prolong lifespan. Your pet may need radiographs (x-rays), ECG, echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) and periodic blood tests to diagnose and manage his or her heart disease.
As pets get older, they may develop new, undesirable behaviors. Causes of these behaviors include changes in your household, new stressors, or the effects of disease and aging on virtually any organ of the body, including the brain. In fact, even subtle behavior changes in eating, elimination habits, sleep habits, and activity levels might be the first signs of an emerging health problem.