Senior Pets: The Importance of an Extensive Yearly Health Exam

During the months of November and December, the Horizon Veterinary Group hospitals celebrate our long time friends by focusing on senior pets. Senior pets require more care and attention than our younger companions. Regular veterinary visits to your Horizon veterinarian can help monitor and discover any developing or ongoing issues that your pet may be suffering. Your elderly pet will benefit from an exam, lab work and being fed an appropriate diet to help manage the problems that come with old age.

During a senior pet examination, the Horizon Group veterinarians will perform a thorough physical exam that will help discover any abnormalities in your pet’s health. They will go over your pet from head to tail looking for any lumps or swollen lymph nodes which can be indicative of certain issues like cancer or infections, feel your pet’s abdomen (sensing any abnormalities or reactions that may be a sign of tenderness), and look at their eyes and ears in search of irregularities like cataracts or infection.   The veterinarian will also look at their skin & hair coat which can point to signs of a wide array of disease affecting the glands of our elderly friends. When listening to your pet’s heart and lungs they are taking note of any murmurs or congestion which may suggest heart disease. A thorough physical exam is the first step in evaluating your senior pet.

ARTHRITIS

Testing the flexibility & stability of joints helps the veterinarian see the subtle signs of pain that may be arthritis. Pets can hide many aches and pains that may not show on a day to day basis.  At Horizon, we understand how important it is for your companion to enjoy all the same activities that they always have with you such as hiking, swimming, and playing.  Our team can help your senior pet if they are starting to show signs of arthritis.

NUTRITION

Veterinarians will also determine if the pet is over or under weight. Senior pets that are overweight will have increased stress on their joints and sometimes can have more complications or exacerbate different diseases. Pet nutrition is important at all ages.

Proper nutrition allows a pet to be the healthiest they can be. Senior pets have a reduced ability to absorb nutrients. When you feed a proper diet, chosen with the help of our Horizon Group team, your pet will be receiving a diet that has been formulated for their special needs. These high quality diets are made with easily digestible nutrients because their body doesn’t process things as well as they did when they were younger. This means that your pet will need to eat less to maintain themselves and produce less waste, which mean you clean up less! Seniors require a different amount of nutrients than their younger counterparts so the diets contain the appropriate amounts. Some of the senior diets are also formulated to include components that can decrease signs of arthritis.

TEETH AND GUMS

Are you noticing bad breath?  When looking at those maybe not so pearly whites and gums the veterinarian can detect dental disease. The bacteria that grow in the mouth also like to live in or on the heart and other organs increasing the severity or creating other health issues, like heart disease.

DIAGNOSTIC TESTING

To be able to get a full picture of your long time companion’s health, the veterinarian may suggest doing some lab work including blood & urine tests. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, these tests will help the Horizon team diagnose the issue. Lab work may also detect the beginnings of a disease that has not started to affect your pet in a noticeable way.

With many of these issues, the earlier you can discover & treat, the better the outcome. The vet will be able to interpret the results in conjunction with the physical exam findings and come up with a treatment plan. Depending on the tests completed they can evaluate your pet’s chemistry which includes vitamin, mineral, electrolyte and enzyme levels. Using those levels, your veterinarian can diagnose an array of problems occurring in their internal organs, including those from the long term use of some medications.  We can also detect diabetes which can prevent the body from allowing energy (glucose, the basic form of sugar) into our cells from the blood. Increased glucose can be seen in the blood and the urine of a diabetic patient.

KIDNEYS

There are many different enzymes that can indicate the state of your companion’s kidneys. The kidneys filter waste or extra nutrients from your pet’s blood. Kidney problems can lead to excessive thirst and increased urination. We do not see any outwards signs of kidney failure until more than 75% of the kidneys are non-functioning.

LIVER

The veterinarian will evaluate the liver looking for signs of damage and disease. The liver filters our blood and removes waste.  Increased or decreased liver enzymes can indicate a host of concerns including Cushing’s disease which can lead to hair loss and an uncontrollable bladder. These enzymes can also signify an obstructed bile duct, which can decrease nutrient break down.

THYROID

Blood tests also look at our elderly pet’s thyroid levels which can become abnormal with age. Hypothyroidism can cause many non-specific signs which make it difficult to diagnose without running a blood test. Hyperthyroidism can cause excessive thirst and increased urination which can be confused with diabetes.

Bringing your senior pet in for a yearly examination can help you become aware of any physical abnormalities that your aging pet may have. Diagnostic testing can bring some light onto an ongoing issue or lead us to discover the beginning of a disease or illness. The earlier we find any health issues, the better it is for your pet and the quicker our Horizon veterinary team can help.  

 Make your appointment today to receive our Horizon senior month promotions and have your senior pet’s health evaluated!  We value making your pet’s senior years long and healthy. 

Article by:  Lisa Young, RVT