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Wellness Care for Your Senior Dog
Comprehensive examinations and consultations
If your dog is 7 years of age or older, wellness exams are recommended twice a year. Dogs age much more rapidly than we do and, for them, even having an exam every 6 months is similar to a senior person having an exam only every 2-3 years. At your senior dog's exam, we will ask you about your dog's diet, home dental care, flea control program, and any medications or supplements you are giving, as well as any decline in specific behavioral or health concerns you may have. We try never to assume that any decline in your dog's health or quality of life is a normal, unavoidable consequence of aging. With the right treatment, which may include diet changes, nutritional supplements, medications, exercises, massage, acupuncture, behavioral modification, or environmental changes, many problems attributed to aging can be resolved or improved. The veterinarian will perform a nose to tail examination of your dog, checking his or her teeth, gums, eyes, ears, throat, lymph nodes, skin, coat, joints, body condition, abdomen, heart, lungs, and anal/genital region. After the exam, recommendations regarding dental care, parasite control, nutrition, wellness screening, and vaccinations will be made and the concerns and questions that you have raised or asked will be addressed. It is helpful to make a list of the questions and concerns that you may have and bring it with you to your dog's exam.
The most common health problems that we see in senior dogs (in addition to obesity and periodontal disease, the most common diseases seen in our dog patients overall) include arthritis, benign and cancerous tumors, and liver problems. We also see many senior dogs with thyroid problems, kidney problems, adrenal gland problems, urinary incontinence and/or chronic urinary tract infections, chronic bronchitis, heart disease, diabetes, mental changes associated with aging, and skin problems. With proper treatment, most of these conditions can be treated and, if not cured, at least improved. There is much we can do to improve the quality and quantity of life for senior dogs. We believe no dog should have to suffer just because he or she is getting older.
Wellness/Early Disease Detection Testing
Regular testing of your dog's blood and urine is especially important during your dog's senior years. We recommend wellness/early disease detection testing be performed twice a year in senior dogs. In dogs over 7 years of age who behave completely normal at home and who appear completely normal on physical exam, 23% have significant abnormalities that are revealed by routine blood and urine tests. When diseases are detected early, before they are causing obvious symptoms, they are much more likely to be treatable, often with just simple diet changes, medications, or supplements. The cost of testing is very small when compared to the cost of treating a disease which has progressed to the point where symptoms are obvious. A typical senior wellness/early disease detection blood panel will tell us about your dog's red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, kidneys, liver, blood sugar, blood proteins, electrolytes, pancreas, and thyroid. Checking a urine sample with the blood sample gives us additional information about the kidneys and is especially important in senior dogs because both kidney problems and urinary tract infections become more common with age. In senior dogs who appear normal, 11% have urinary tract infections and 4% have serious urinary tract infections which involve the kidneys. When blood and urine tests in a senior dog are normal, we have an excellent baseline from which to evaluate any future changes and we can all celebrate that your dog's health inside is as good as his or her health appears on the outside!
Diet, Body Condition, and Nutrition
Many of our senior dog patients are overweight and this increases their risk for arthritis, diabetes, skin problems, respiratory problems, and other illnesses. Weight control is a vital part of caring for your dog and too often we over use gifts of food as an expression of love for our dogs. We can help you with a weight loss or weight control program for your dog. We carry excellent weight loss diets that make the task easier and can help with advice and encouragement as you get your dog to a healthier weight.
Nutrition can help in the management of many diseases that are common in older dogs. We carry diets that can assist in slowing down the progression of kidney disease, improve brain function and decrease signs of senility, and decrease arthritis pain and improve mobility.
We also utilize nutritional supplements in the management of many conditions common in older dogs, including liver disease, arthritis, cancer, urinary incontinence, urinary tract infections, immune mediated diseases, and allergies.
The incidence and severity of periodontal disease and other dental problems increases with age. Most senior dogs need professional dental cleanings and all benefit from regular home dental care. Daily brushing, weekly anti-plaque gels, daily antiseptic water additives, daily dental chews with antiseptics, and daily oral hygiene rinses are all helpful.
The chronic inflammation and infection associated with periodontal disease or untreated dental fractures may not always cause obvious symptoms but is associated with a much higher risk for liver, kidney, and heart problems. Many dental problems also cause pain, reluctance to eat, and bad breath.
Oral tumors are fairly common in older dogs and can cause bad breath, drooling, oral pain, and difficulty eating. At the time of a professional dental cleaning, a thorough exam of the oral cavity for any tumors of the gums, tongue, tonsils, or larynx is also performed.
In the past, veterinarians were often reluctant to anesthetize older dogs for dental care. Now, with proper care, we can safely anesthetize even fragile geriatric dogs for the dental care they need to be comfortable and healthy. We use the safest anesthetics available, place IV catheters and give IV fluids to maintain blood pressures at safe levels and keep our patients well hydrated, use warm air blankets to keep our patients warm, and monitor our patients' heart rates, respiratory rates, blood pressures, temperatures, and oxygenation. By using generous pain control, we can keep the level of anesthesia as low as possible and keep our patients as comfortable as possible. It is rare that we have a patient where we feel the risk of anesthesia is so great that we should leave their dental problems untreated. Please feel free to discuss any concerns you have about anesthesia and dental care with us.
Please see the section in "Wellness Care for your Adult Dog" on vaccinations. We customize our vaccine recommendations according to your dog's lifestyle, health, and risk factors for diseases. All dogs should receive core vaccinations for Rabies, Distemper, Parvovirus, and Hepatitis. These are given every 3 years (for Rabies) and every 3 years or less often for the others. Some dogs should receive other vaccines to increase their protection against Leptospirosis, Bordetella, and Parainfluenza. These vaccines are generally given every year for dogs at risk as they protection they provide is not as long lasting as the protection provided by the core vaccines.
Please see the section in "Wellness Care for Your Adult Dog" on parasite control. Senior dogs are at the same risk for fleas and for intestinal parasites as are younger adult dogs and these parasites can have more serious health effects on senior dogs if they have other existing health problems. Regular flea prevention and yearly intestinal parasite exams are very important for senior dogs.
Please see the section in "Wellness Care for Your Adult Dog" on safety. Senior dogs are at high risk for accidental drug toxicities when well meaning family members give them pain control drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen, which can lead to severe stomach bleeding or kidney problems. Never give your dog any over the counter or prescription medication unless it is at the direction of your veterinarian.