Wellness for Your Older Pet
What is Senior Wellness Screening?
Most people are familiar with their doctor’s recommendation to begin running more tests around middle age. The purpose of this is to detect abnormalities that are present prior to any visible signs – a time when medical intervention, if needed, may have the most benefit. These screening tests also allow your doctor to establish a baseline for future comparison.
This same recommendation holds for our pets as well. Animals, like people, are more susceptible to various conditions as they age – including cancer, gastrointestinal disorders (e.g. inflammatory bowel disease, liver problems), kidney disease, and various hormonal disorders (e.g. thyroid imbalances, diabetes), just to name a few. Often, we can detect changes on labwork that indicate one of these conditions may be present before your pet shows any signs of a problem. This is very valuable because it gives the opportunity for earlier medical intervention.
When Does My Pet Reach Senior Status?
In humans, the start of middle age is approximately 42 to 45 years of age and is the time when senior wellness screening generally starts. Middle age for most dogs and cats equates to approximately 7 to 8 years of age (except for very large breed dogs, which typically reach middle age a year or two earlier). This time frame of 7 to 8 years is when we recommend starting senior screening for our pets.
Which Tests Are Recommended?
We advise running certain baseline laboratory tests for all middle age and senior pets, and these consist of the following:
Complete blood count. This test allows us to measure your pet’s red blood cell, white blood cell, and platelet levels. It gives us valuable information about immune function, blood clotting ability, and oxygenation of the body.
Blood chemistry. This is a very important panel that measures a large number of parameters, giving a good overview of the health and function of many body organs.
Urinalysis. Looking at a urine sample along with the bloodwork goes a long way towards evaluating kidney function, determining whether a pet has diabetes, checking for protein loss through the urine, and looking for evidence of urinary tract infections.
Thyroid level. We recommend checking thyroid levels in all middle age and senior cats and dogs. Hyperthyroidism in cats and hypothyroidism in dogs are common hormonal disorders in these older populations.
Blood pressure. High blood pressure in animals may be associated with a number of primary conditions, a few of which are kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and several others. We recommend checking a blood pressure along with the above-mentioned tests; if the pressure is high and routine screening doesn’t identify the cause, additional tests may be in order.
How Often Are These Baseline Tests Recommended?
In the healthy senior, we recommend the above screening tests at least once yearly (the equivalent of every 4 to 5 human years). As pets age and get into the last 25% of their estimated lifespan, it becomes ideal to begin running these tests every six months (the equivalent of every 2 to 3 human years).
Specific recommendations for each individual pet will vary depending on underlying diseases, medications being taken, and other factors. Additional tests may be recommended in these cases. We will advise a specific screening plan for your individual dog or cat to best suit its needs.
What About Radiographs?
An additional and very valuable screening tool for senior pets is radiography (x-rays). Like labwork, the purpose of radiographs in a healthy middle age to senior pet is to screen for problems before they reach a more advanced stage. This could make a huge difference in the available treatment options. Examples of problems that can be detected on radiographs (but not labwork) include heart disease, bladder stones, arthritic changes, and certain types of tumors.