Our pets age an average of 7 years to every 1 year that we age. The significance of this is that they do not live as long as we do, and that they develop diseases that will shorten their life even more if left undetected and untreated. Many pets have enjoyed added years to their life because diseases were caught early and treatment was initiated to slow disease progression. Veterinary medicine continues to evolve. We are providing better preventive health care to our animals and they are living longer as a result. Our dogs are considered Senior when they reach 7 years of age, and our cats are considered senior at 9 years of age. We have a senior care program designed to catch diseases early so we can address them earlier and enjoy our pet’s company longer.
Our Senior Care Program initially consists of annual screening tests such as blood work to check organ function and a urinalysis to look for hidden infections, crystals, abnormal cells and check the concentrating ability of kidneys. We often will make recommendations for x-rays and/or ultrasound to better assess organ function if abnormalities are detected in blood work, urinalysis or physical exam findings. Our goal is to identify the root of the abnormalities and determine what treatments, if any, are needed.
The Value of the Senior Care Program
As our pets get older, we may start to check their blood values more frequently. These changes are based on their individual blood values, medications they are taking, or changes in their body. We monitor blood pressure which may be elevated due to kidney, heart, or thyroid disease. Nine years of age is when we start to check blood pressure in cats and dogs. As with people, elevated blood pressure or hypertension can place added stress on the body’s organs resulting in blindness, heart disease or stroke. If hypertension is diagnosed, further work-up may be indicated to identify the underlying cause. More frequent physical exams i.e. every 6 months also help us to catch subtle changes earlier. Chest x-rays may be done at any time to check for a variety of problems including increased respiratory rate, labored breathing, excessive panting or discomfort. Bronchial thickening commonly occurs as pets age and may result in a chronic cough, or just louder respiratory sounds. Many cancers often metastasize to the lungs and x-rays may detect these tumors as well.
Ultrasound is another tool we use to evaluate internal organs such as the heart, spleen, liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, urinary bladder, lymph nodes, prostate and gastrointestinal system. X-rays help us to evaluate the size of some organs, and ultrasound helps us to evaluate the integrity of the tissue in the organs, as well as identifying the presence of some kidney or bladder stones or tumors that do not show up well on x-rays. X-rays also help us better evaluate joint health.
Some dog breeds are prone to certain types of diseases and cancers that if caught early can be treated surgically with a better prognosis than if not detected until a problem occurs. One example is Hemangiosarcoma, a malignant tumor commonly found in large breed dogs such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labradors. It may occur as a skin tumor, or splenic or heart tumor. The splenic and heart tumors are best detected by ultrasound. The skin tumors often appear as small, purple colored, blood filled growths and must be differentiated from non-cancerous tumors by biopsy and pathology. Eight years of age is a good age to start ultrasound on these breeds to begin looking for these changes. We work with a boarded radiologist to have your pet’s ultrasound provided at our clinic.
Some cat breeds are more prone to kidney and heart disease. Polycystic Kidney Disease and Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy are two diseases that are usually only diagnosed using an ultrasound, although recently a specific blood test has been used to screen for this type of heart disease. Cats identified early with these diseases may benefit from a dietary change or medication to help their organs work better and decrease complications resulting from these diseases.
With your help, we will do the best possible to help keep your pets around for many years to come. Please ask us at any time if you are interested in x-rays or ultrasound for your pet.