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Another year for your pet, and this one is a milestone; your dog is now considered a senior. Though many seniors refuse to act their age, there is reason for change in the care of your pet after this point. Aging is a wearing process; organs and joints have been suffering wear and tear the length of your dog’s life. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, 30% of senior pets have a hidden disease. The changes in how we examine your dog help us catch problems while they are still in an early enough stage to treat; changes in the senior pet’s body can be rapid, and irreversible. Adding some new steps to your dog’s maintenance care is the best way to make sure you share more happy years together.

The most important changes come in the physical exam. The exams should now be every six months rather than every year; and will include a few more routine items. Most of the exam will be like the one your pet has received throughout his or her lifetime. Monitoring your dog’s weight and avoiding obesity is extremely important. The combination of years and pounds can have devastating results. We will check your pet’s weight at every exam, and more often if we need to get it better controlled. We will take a detailed history of your pet. This history is very important; we are depending on you to tell us about changes that we can’t see in the office. Some things to watch for as your dog ages are changes in drinking or urinating habits, trouble getting up after lying down for awhile, seeming lost in familiar environments, or changes in sleeping habits. There are many other changes you might see; so keep a list and bring them all up for discussion during this history. There will also be some added components that might have only been done earlier in your dog’s life to gather baseline, or normal, data. We will want to regularly test your dog’s blood pressure and the pressure in his or her eyes during this exam.

Dental care is another important facet of senior care. Over time, the build up of tartar will show on your dog’s teeth. This will gain more attention now, and removing it will be more strongly encouraged. Bacteria in the tartar has access to the bloodstream where it can then get to the heart and kidneys. Since we already know these organs have some wear, we want to make sure they are not compromised by extra bacterial disease. We will check your dog’s teeth at each visit, and will ask you to watch for signs of dental problems at home. Some symptoms you might notice are: a change in eating habits, only liking softer foods, chewing differently, changes in your pet’s attitude toward toys, or signs of pain like rubbing or licking his or her mouth. If you have not been brushing your dog’s teeth, you can always start. Daily brushing is the best way to delay the need for a complete dental procedure.

The laboratory testing that has been done yearly throughout your dog’s life will be continued to ensure the health of your dog. Fecal tests and the SNAP4Dx Plus test should be done yearly to check for intestinal parasites, heartworm disease, and tick-borne diseases.

At least yearly, there are certain tests we will want to run to monitor the health of your pet. An evaluation of your dog’s blood with a complete blood count and chemistry profile can provide a lot of information about your dog’s health and how well his or her organs are functioning. An analysis of your dog’s urine will also provide some information about the function of the delicate kidneys. Radiographs should be taken of your pet’s chest and abdomen to monitor their condition. For some individuals, ultrasound of the abdomen and/or chest will be recommended to monitor for early stages of diseases seen more commonly in older pets.

Your pet’s vaccine schedule may also be adjusted during this time. If there are changes in your dog’s risk of exposure, non-core vaccines will be reevaluated as necessary. Also, the balance of risks and benefits of every vaccine needs to be continuously evaluated for your one-of-a-kind pet.

Be sure to ask our staff about any questions you may have regarding your pet. There are questions you may have about your dog’s breed that affect how he or she responds to aging. Every pet, and owner, is individual and will be treated that way at our practice. With age, concerns of a sadder time may come to mind, but worry is not necessary. We will do all we can to prolong the quality time of your pet’s life. We hope to keep you informed of every option that is available for your dog, in hopes that there will be years of options left to consider. Once non-treatable conditions arise, there are hospice treatments to discuss; maintaining quality of life without trying to cure until quality of life is not sufficient to ask your companion to suffer further.