Why does your senior pet need veterinary care?

So now that the ASPCA and I have convinced you to adopt an older pet, lets discuss the regular care we recommend for your new family member.

Just like humans, pets may have to be seen by a doctor more often as they age.  Organs and joints don’t work as efficiently as they used to, they can’t hear or see as well as they used to, and their breath, while never exactly appetizing, becomes unbearably malodorous.  Old age itself is not a disease, and “slowing down” isn’t always a natural progression that just happens with age.  Sometimes there are treatable, even curable, issues that can help your pet live long into her senior years comfortably and happily.

Pay particular attention to your senior pet- does it seem harder for her to go up or down the stairs?  Does she seem to be gaining or losing weight or does she seem unaware of her surroundings at times, even though you’re at home (animals can get cognitive dysfunction, just like people)?  These are some reasons to make an appointment for a check-up, at which we can run a few basic tests, outlined below:

Weight:  Gaining weight in an older pet is not ok.  He may slow down a bit, not be able to play or run as much as he used to, but that doesn’t mean he gets to get chubby- excess weight at any age is not healthy, and it is much worse for old bones and joints to have to bear the burden of extra pounds.  Losing weight can be a sign of a disease process or a malfunctioning thyroid.

Blood pressure:  Simple, non-invasive, and not even involving a needle poke, a blood pressure measurement in the clinic is a good idea for any senior pet.  Elevated or decreased blood pressures can point toward underlying cardiovascular disease but can typically be treated and resolved.

CBC/Chem:  Hopefully, basic blood work has already been recommended to you for your pets, regardless of age.  Once pets get older, blood work becomes even more important- just like humans, pets need more medical attention as they age.  Ideally, we would run blood work at least once while the pet is young and healthy so that if his health starts to deteriorate, we can draw comparisons between the values from then and now.

Basic blood work consists of a CBC, which stands for complete blood count, a serum chemistry panel, and often thyroid levels.

  • A CBC measures the number of red and white blood cells in the sample, as well as the number of platelets, or the cells that form into blood clots when we injure ourselves.
  • The chemistry gives us values for many liver and kidney enzymes as well as electrolytes like sodium and potassium.
  • The thyroid test checks for the levels of hormone released by the thyroid.

These simple tests, which we can run right in the clinic, can be extremely helpful, non-invasive first steps toward diagnosis in senior pets.

If the percentage of red blood cells is very high, for example, it could indicate dehydration in the patient, or if the number of platelets is very low, it could indicate a clotting disorder in the blood.

Likewise, in the chemistry panel, the deficiencies or elevations in certain values can point Dr. Scarlett toward a certain disease state or malfunctioning organ.

Increases in thyroid hormones can indicate hyperthyroidism in cats, which can cause them to lose weight and muscle mass, as well as possibly leading to heart disease and high blood pressure.

Dogs are more likely to develop hypothyroidism, which can cause lethargy, weight gain, poor skin condition, and hair loss.

Urinalysis:  Lots of pets have probably never had a urinalysis, or microscopic examination of the urine.  We can see bacteria, red and white blood cells, and crystals under the microscope.  Bacteria, along with a number of red and white blood cells can indicate a bladder or urinary tract infection, which can be quite painful.  Crystals are just what they sound like- tiny crystalline structures that can bind together in the bladder to form bladder stones, causing serious pain in the patient and often requiring at least a change in diet to dissolve the crystals, or at most, surgical removal of the stone(s).

Dental cleaning:  Performed under general anesthesia, thoroughly cleaning your pet’s teeth can go a long way to making him more comfortable during his senior years.  Especially if he has never had his teeth cleaned before, he may have undetected fractures to his teeth, gingivitis, and calculus built up on the surfaces of his teeth that you cannot readily see.  Can you imagine walking around with a broken tooth or severe inflammation in your mouth for years and years?  Eating and drinking would be so painful- oftentimes not eating is what owners first notice when their pet has severe dental disease.