Geriatric Wellness

geriatric_headerOlder Pets Need a Thorough Yearly Veterinary Examination.

      It is no surprise, that with age, most animals undergo a variety of degenerative changes. Commonly, this results in a decline in performance, sometimes in conjunction with discomfort or disease. As your pet may not complain and the changes can be outwardly subtle, it is easy to underestimate their significance. However, through the miracles of modern medicine, the wellness of ageing cats and dogs can often be greatly improved. The process begins with a visit to the veterinarian for a thorough examination.

      The examination begins with the skin. Many older dogs and cats have dry, greasy, itchy or scabby coats, and a prescribed regimen of baths, supplements, medication or a special diet can make a world of difference. The discovery of fleas can be an unwelcome surprise to many pet owners, but modern flea treatments are easy and effective. Ears that exhibit chronic infections tend to worsen progressively if untreated. Cleansing and medication may prevent more serious problems late.

      The eyes, of course, receive careful examination for a number of potential problems. An oral exam is important; each tooth must be evaluated for soundness and proper dental hygiene techniques demonstrated. Periodontal disease is often present, which can have far reaching detrimental effects to the rest of the body. Cats are susceptible to a type of painful cavity that forms underneath dental plaque. Cats may have their teeth scraped free of plaque during the office exam, but other problems require dentistry performed under anesthesia. Modern anesthesia is very safe, and if pre-operative tests are satisfactory, can be recommended with confidence.

      Next, the throat, chest and abdomen are looked at, palpated and listened to. Problems in any of these departments require further investigation. For instance, cats over the age of ten may demonstrate problems related to an enlarged thyroid gland. A rectal examination is routine for all dogs. The scent glands should be evacuated, since they cause discomfort if they become impacted.

      If you have a male dog, the prostate gland and testes are assessed, whereas if female, mammary glands are inspected for tumors. If she is unsprayed, we’ll talk about what to look for to avoid potential problems later. Arthritis initially presents as stiffness. I manipulate each joint and check for hip dysplasia. In the past, this type of pain had to be endured, but now a number of excellent treatments are available that cause no side effects and are fairly inexpensive. A nail trimming and grooming of the paw pads round off the exam. I recommend yearly testing: routine parasitology (fecal, heartworm test in dogs) should be accompanied by blood work and urinalysis to assess internal organs, thyroid hormone level and blood cell count. By recognizing disease before symptoms appear, therapy can be initiated, often prolonging life considerably. Electrocardiogram and x-rays may also be recommended as part of a full geriatric work-up.

      Finally the immune system also ages, becoming inefficient at remembering the vaccines your pet was given as a youngster. Therefore, it is important to boost them yearly. The entire examination should take at least half an hour, even an hour if chronic problems have accumulated. Ensure that your veterinarian can spend that much time with you when you make your appointment. Your attention will be rewarded by a happier, healthier pet.