Scheduling regular veterinary exams is one of the most important steps you can take to keep your dog healthy and happy throughout his or her lifespan, and this becomes even more important as your pet ages. Just as physicians recommend certain tests, such as cholesterol screening and blood pressure checks, when a person turns 40, the American Animal Hospital Association recommends that annual screening tests should begin when your pet reaches “middle age,” which ranges from 4 to 7 for most dogs. These tests:
- ensure that your pet is healthy
- establish “baseline” values for comparison with future test results, and
- help your veterinarian make preventive care recommendations to delay the onset or progression of certain diseases.
As dogs and cats enter their senior years, typically at 7 or 8 years of age, twice-a-year wellness exams and laboratory tests will be recommended. Remember, your pet ages more rapidly during the golden years, and the risk of developing a chronic condition or serious disease also increases. Scheduling a routine wellness visit every six months will help your veterinarian detect diseases or conditions in their early stages when they may still be treated or controlled effectively.
The senior wellness exam should include:
- A comprehensive medical history
- A complete physical exam, which includes checking your dog’s overall appearance, temperature, body weight, heart, lungs, ears, eyes, teeth and gums, thyroid gland, and skin and coat
- Age-related laboratory tests (listed below)
- Preventive health recommendations
Screening Procedures for Healthy Senior Dogs & Cats
The most important screening tests for healthy senior dogs and cats should include:
- Complete blood count. This test helps in the diagnosis of infection, anemia and bleeding problems, and it may provide insight into the status of your dog’s immune system.
- Serum chemistry profile. This test is used for assessing the status of the liver, kidneys, pancreas and other organs.
- Urinalysis. A urine sample will be checked for evidence of infection and to assess kidney function.
- Fecal analysis. A fecal sample will be checked for evidence of parasites and unusual bacteria and protozoa.
- Other tests. Your veterinarian may recommend additional testing, including radiography (x-rays), echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart), abdominal ultrasonography, thyroid and adrenal gland testing, blood pressure measurement, or liver, pancreas, and small intestine function tests.
Preventive Health Recommendations
Your veterinarian will also discuss preventive health recommendations with you to help keep your senior dog or cat healthy and happy, including information on:
- Dental and oral care
- Diet and nutrition
- Weight control
- Exercise guidelines to maintain your pet’s mobility
- Parasite control
- Vaccination risk assessment
- Maintenance of your pet’s mental health
- Environmental conditions for maintaining health
Your senior pet has given you loyal, lifelong love and companionship. With a little extra care and attention, you and your veterinary team can help your pet enjoy the golden years and live a happier, fuller life.