Regular professional vet care for older dogs is essential to their health. Preventive veterinary care can add years to the life of your dog and help keep it happy and healthy for as long as possible.
Because many of our pets are living longer, the earlier the diagnosis of a disease can be made and treatment started, the better the outcome. Many animal clinics and hospitals have also developed special preventive care programs for older animals. Treatments can include combinations of various diagnostic tests including blood tests, urinalysis, x-rays, and EKGs. Your veterinarian can tell you which tests are pertinent for your dog.
Your dog’s life-long health is partially determined by the health of its father and mother on the day it was conceived. Vaccinations, nutrition, dental care, heartworm prevention, and other treatments your dog has received throughout its life have a direct impact on its current health. The healthier a dog is when young, the more likely it will stay healthy as it grows older.
Weight management and diet
Your dog should be weighed at every visit to your vet. Unusual weight gain which can lead to obesity is one of the most common and preventable diseases in older dogs. And an unexplained weight loss may be the first sign of a disease. Your vet can recommend which foods and supplements your dog should be fed based upon his weight, health, and breed. The digestive systems of older dogs do not handle sudden changes in diet very well. If your vet recommends an adjustment in diet, make any changes slowly over the course of a week or longer, gradually replacing the old diet with the new one your vet has recommended.
Medical and behavior history
One of the main ways your vet will use to determine if your dog has contracted a disease is through the use of an accurate medical history. For this reason it is important to monitor your dog and keep accurate records of any sign of disease and unusual changes in behavior . Your vet will ask questions such as ”When did this symptom first appear?”, ”Is it getting better or worse?”, and ”Is the dog demonstrating the symptom at all times or intermittently?”. These are questions that only you will be able to answer. If you are not sure whether certain behaviors or observations are indicative of a disease, be sure to mention them to your veterinarian.
Older dogs should receive regular physical exams. How often these exams should be scheduled depends upon the health of your dog. At the very least, your dog should have an annual physical. For some older dogs, two or more exams a year may be indicated. A physical exam should include an examination of the mouth, teeth, gums, tongue, and throat. A rectal exam is also an important part of a physical exam for an older dog. Your vet will examine the inner pelvic area, internal lymph nodes, the lining of the colon, and in the male dog, his prostate gland.
As dogs grow older, eye exams are also recommended. Older dogs are more at risk of developing cataracts, glaucoma, and ”dry eye,” a condition in which there is insufficient tear production. Ophthalmic exams will help identify these problems and may prevent permanent damage to the eye.
Because the immune system of an older dog may not function as well as it did during the dog”s younger years, it’s important to keep your dog up-to-date on all vaccinations. Ask your vet which vaccines your dog should receive, and how often.
Many veterinarians will recommend a urinalysis for older dogs. A urinalysis encompasses a series of tests which provide an abundance of information for the vet in determining a dog’s health. A urine sample is usually easy to obtain, and the test results are quickly available to the vet. If you notice any changes in the color, odor, or amount of your dog”s urine, or any difficulty urinating, it is important that a urinalysis be performed.
There are many blood tests that can be performed on your pet. The specific tests needed will be recommended by your veterinarian. In addition, a chemistry panel may be run to evaluate the various chemicals, enzymes, proteins, hormones, waste products, and electrolytes in your dog’s blood. The chemistry panel is a valuable tool in identifying diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, and several hormonal diseases.
Thyroid testing may also be recommended by your veterinarian, based upon the results of the physical exam, the breed of your dog, and any signs of thyroid hormone deficiency or excess. Dogs who need to take thyroid medication will need to have their thyroid hormone levels checked at regular intervals.
If your dog has a history of heart, lung, kidney, liver, or gastrointestinal disease, x-rays may be recommended. As a dog grows older, it is helpful to have available an x-ray of the chest and abdomen taken at an earlier date while the dog was in prime health. If the dog later develops signs of disease, these ”normal” x-rays are valuable in providing a baseline by which to evaluate the x-rays taken after a disease process has started. In most cases, a dog who has or has had cancer will have x-rays taken, especially of the chest, to look for any spread of the disease.
Vet care for older dogs is far more important that it is for puppies or young adult dogs. Older dogs need regular veterinary care to prevent disease or diagnose it at its earliest stage. Many veterinarians have special programs to monitor dogs in their later years of life and can institute changes to keep your dog healthy and make his senior years a wonderful time of life.