While it seems everyone knows the importance of having puppies and kittens checked over by the vet, not everyone is aware of just how vital it is to bring our elderly pets to the clinic, whether they seem well or not. The annual vaccination is a good time for a full nose to tail check, but older animals should usually be examined more regularly than this; at least every six months. This allows for their weight to be recorded, any concerns you may have noticed to be discussed and for any underlying issue that may be present to be detected quickly.
The Vet Visit
It is in their old age that an animal’s health will generally begin to fail and they will need veterinary assistance more so than ever. Remember, not every ailment is easy to spot and many senior pets will suffer in silence with conditions such as heart disease and arthritis going undetected. In fact, often when an animal slows down or loses weight many will wrongly assume it is all part of the normal aging process, which is rarely the case.
During the visit, the vet can check for any issues such as matted fur or overgrown claws; common ailments in the elderly patient that can be quickly and easily dealt with. The vet may also discuss changing on to a senior pet diet, which may be more appropriate for some.
A thorough veterinary examination will also identify those issues that are tricky to pick up on at home, such as a rotten tooth or abnormal lump, and the best plan of action going forward can then be agreed. While some worry that treatment may not be an option for their senior citizen because of their age, this is rarely the case. Most older pets can have diagnostic tests and surgeries performed and can undergo sedation or anaesthetic; age alone should never be a barrier to treatment.
It is generally a good idea to perform some basic tests every year or so when an animal is in their golden years, as not every illness can be easily detected from the outside. This can mean a general blood and urine analysis as well as perhaps a blood pressure screen. These simple tests can be performed during a routine consult and results are usually available within a day or two. Performing these checks gives us the opportunity to pick up on illnesses when they are in the early stages, allowing us to start medication or initiate lifestyle changes that can have the potential to improve a patient’s prognosis dramatically.
Below are some examples of issues we frequently diagnose during a senior pet check:
In our feline friends, one of the most common diseases we see as they age is chronic kidney disease. Those cats with kidney disease will suddenly become very thirsty and may urinate a lot more than they used to. They may seem ‘scrawnier’ than before, due to a reduced muscle mass, and will usually have a poor appetite. Kidney disease is easy to diagnose in both a blood and urine sample and it is important to run these tests as there are other illnesses, such as cancer, which can mimic kidney disease. While there is no cure, we can slow down the progression of the illness. We should offer those affected more water and change them on to a more suitable diet. Some may need medicine to control their blood pressure, while others will require treatment to reduce the protein they lose through their urine. When managed well, cats can live happily for several years with chronic kidney disease.
A very common diagnosis in older dogs is arthritis, especially in larger breeds and in those with pre-existing issues such as hip dysplasia. As the condition progresses slowly, it is not always obvious to an owner that there is something wrong. Many dogs will benefit from daily medication to improve their mobility and reduce their pain, and the difference we see in some animals can be really quite amazing. In cats, the condition is also common, but is hugely underdiagnosed. If your cat is struggling to climb or jump, it may well be arthritis making it painful to do so.
Lumps and bumps are common in the older animal and, while most will be benign growths such as fatty lumps (lipomas), there is always the chance that a new lump is cancerous. Lumps that grow quickly, are firmly attached to the muscle below, change or bleed are more likely to be cancerous, but the only way to know for sure what a new growth is, is to take a sample of it for analysis. Those that do turn out to be cancerous can be removed and the earlier that this is done the better.
Frequent visits to the veterinary clinic can ensure that our pets have the opportunity to age gracefully and that any illness they may develop can be detected early. So, don’t delay, book your senior citizen in today!