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How often does my senior pet need a health check?

How often does my senior pet need a health check?

As a general rule we tend to recommend a twice yearly check up for all pets, especially for those who are getting older. When you consider that there are 7 dog years to one human year, for your beloved pooch this equates to a checkup every 3.5 years in dog terms! Senior pets who are on ongoing medication, or have health issues, may benefit from more frequent check ups.

History

We may provide a senior pet questionnaire or ask you questions about how they’re doing. In particular, we’re interested in your pet’s weight, thirst, appetite, grooming habits, general demeanor and mobility to obtain an up to date history. If you have any concerns or worries you should discuss them with us – in particular if you have noticed any of the following signs:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Reduced appetite
  • Increased/ravenous appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Reduced grooming or dull coat
  • Bad breath
  • Reluctance to jump up
  • Bumping into objects
  • Becoming more clingy, or hiding away
  • Sleeping more
  • New lumps or bumps

Clinical examination

During a senior health check, our vets will give your pet a full physical examination. They will do a general check over; in particular they will assess your pet’s weight and body condition score to check they are not gaining or losing weight unexpectedly. They will assess your pet’s mobility and check for the presence of any stiffness or discomfort in their joints. The vet will examine their mouth, checking for dental disease, and check their eyes for age related changes, cataracts or any sign of damage to their retina caused by high blood pressure.

Diagnostic tests

For pets over the age of 7, we may recommend further diagnostic tests, especially if there’s anything unexpected on the physical exam. These tests may include blood/urine tests and a blood pressure check. We use these to screen for any underlying disease processes which may be causing hidden changes – for example chronic kidney disease is particularly prevalent in senior cats and dogs, but most pets won’t show any outward clinical signs until around 75% of the kidney function is irreversibly lost.

A senior blood test will generally include checks of:

  • Complete blood count
  • Biochemistry – urea, creatinine and SDMA to check for kidney disease, glucose to check for diabetes, liver enzymes and bilirubin to check for liver disease, and thyroid hormone to check for hyperthyroidism in cats.
  • Further blood tests may be indicated if changes are present, to diagnose certain conditions eg Diabetes, Cushings, Liver failure.
  • Urine sample – urine specific gravity to assess for kidney disease, analysis for blood or infection.
  • Blood pressure – to check for raised blood pressure caused by diseases such as chronic kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism, which can result in damage to organs such as the eye (and can cause blindness) and kidneys.

If any problems are detected then we can discuss the results, next steps and appropriate treatment plan with you. The benefit of performing annual screening tests is it enables us to pick up problems sooner, resulting in earlier treatment and better outcomes for your pet.

Routine wellness care

The vet will review your pet’s general wellness care, including checking if they are up to date with their annual vaccinations and antiparasitic treatment. We can discuss your pet’s dental care – if dental disease or decay is present they may require admitting for dental treatment – performed under anaesthetic to remove plaque and tartar from the teeth, and extract any problem or decayed teeth.

During the examination your pet will be weighed, to monitor for any unexpected weight loss or gain. Weight loss (particularly if your pet is continuing to eat well, but also if they have a reduced appetite) can be a sign of underlying issues. If your pet is piling on a few pounds, we can give advice on how best to manage this. In some cases, especially in older pets, extra weight on arthritic joints can make their symptoms worse.

Older pets need a little more care, and our health checks are designed to make sure that any problems are caught early and rapidly dealt with!

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