Tip of the Month

10/10/2008 Senior Wellness in Pets

Due to advances in veterinary medicine, and the commitment of those in animal jobs (such as your veterinarian and veterinary assistant), our pets are living longer and healthier lives. However, they can suffer the same ailments as senior humans – diabetes, dental disease, liver and kidney disease, stiff joints, heart disease, and cancer. As pets age seven times faster than their human companions, a 10-year-old, 20 to 50 lb dog would be 60 in human years, while a 10-year-old feline would be the equivalent of a 64-year-old human senior.

Many conditions can be detected early by your veterinarian and treated successfully by your vet assistant (with guidance from your veterinarian) while adding years of a comfortable and active lifestyle to your pet’s life. A routine, semi-annual physical exam with blood testing and other diagnostics along with careful observation by pet owners can assist the veterinarian and veterinary assistant in detecting possible problems. Diagnostics are usually recommended when pets reach the age of seven years old.

Indications of possible problems could include:
• Increased water intake, more frequent urination, or “accidents” in the house
• Changes in hair coat (thinning or roughness), lumps, or changes in the color of the skin
• Inability (or unwillingness) to jump up, limping, or difficulty getting up
• Drooling excessively
• Bad breath
• Coughing or choking
• Reluctance to play or tiring easily

The following tests, done often by the veterinary assistant, can help the veterinarian detect the possibility of certain problems:
• The Complete Blood Count (CBC) and chemistry panels can detect infections, problems with the liver and kidneys, assess the condition of the pancreas (which produces insulin and enzymes), and check the level of calcium and phosphorus in bones and electrolytes in the body. Blood is drawn and tested by your vet’s veterinary assistant or technician.
• Thyroid testing for hormonal imbalances by your veterinary assistant or technician can indicate the pet’s thyroid level. Too low of a thyroid level can result in weight gain, poor hair coat, and listlessness, while a thyroid level that is too high (mostly in senior cats) can cause kidney and heart disease along with weight loss.
• Urinalysis (also completed by the veterinary assistant or technician) will help detect bladder and kidney problems.
• Parasite exams, done by your veterinarian and/or his/her veterinary assistant or technician, include flea control and identification of internal parasites such as giardia, coccidia, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms.
• Heart exams could detect heart murmurs. Further diagnostics using x-rays, ECGs and/or ultrasound imaging may be required if a murmur is found. Your veterinarian will conduct the heart exam, though imaging is usually done by the veterinary assistant or technician.
• Skin inspections by the veterinarian and/or veterinary assistant include checking for bumps or changes in skin color which could indicate cancer.
• Eye exams include checking for cataracts and/or glaucoma.
• Radiographs can help in detecting masses in the abdomen, bone cancers, and conditions of the chest and lungs. Radiographs are often completed by the veterinary assistant and then assessed by the veterinarian.
• Dental exams are done by veterinarians to detect infections in the mouth and dental disease which can occur by the time your pet reaches the age of seven years old. Tartar and broken teeth need to be removed and/or repaired.

Keeping your pet at a healthy weight through a good diet and plenty of exercise, scheduling him or her for routine exams and proper vaccinations, and giving him or her lots of love will help your pet to live a longer, healthier life.

Reference: Your Vet Connection

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