Senior Wellness Checks for Dogs
Tips to help your oldster live long and prosper.
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When it comes to figuring out when your dog’s officially a senior, the “7 human years to 1 dog year” ratio we’ve all heard about can’t be taken literally, since size, breed type and other factors influence the aging rate. However, with that in mind, many vets recommend beginning senior screenings around age seven to eight to establish baselines and catch potential health problems that may not yet have surfaced.
It’s Time for Wellness Testing
Most dogs are good at hiding their discomfort, probably because we're not that great at noticing the signs of pain. As your geriatric dog grows older in age and health problems creep up, wellness testing should be done on a regular basis to help you keep a watchful eye on your doggo. The cost of a senior dog blood panel ranges from $150-$300 on average, depending on your area and insurance.
Complete Blood Counts
These baseline senior dog blood panel tests include complete blood counts, also known as a CBC, which check for chronic inflammatory conditions, platelet problems, anemia, and some cancers. After taking a sample of blood, veterinarians can asses the blood count, size, color and shape of the red and white blood cells to determine if there are any issues that may indicate illness or disease.
Your vet will also check your dog’s serum chemistries which test for diabetes, liver conditions, kidney impairment, digestive problems and hormone imbalances. This wellness test will review your senior dog’s protein, enzymes, lipids and hormones to determine if anything is abnormal.
A urinalysis is also recommended for senior dogs to check kidney function and bladder health. A urinalysis can also find other problems in other organs, such as metabolic diseases like diabetes mellitus, so be sure to get one during your dog’s next wellness check.
Specialized screenings—EKGs, chest X-rays, and thyroid, glaucoma and blood pressure tests—are also available and are sometimes recommended, depending on your particular senior dog’s type and history. Establishing baselines through wellness checks helps your vet more easily detect potential problems as your dog ages.
Keeping up Senior Dog Health
Vets also recommend paying increased attention to the standard “maintenance” issues, including dental care, diet and nutrition, and weight and parasite control. If you haven’t already done so, talk to your vet about vaccinations. Depending on your dog’s lifestyle and local legal requirements, it might be time to reduce their number or frequency.
Vestibular disease can come on quickly—suddenly, your dog can't stand up or walk straight, tilts her head, or seems dizzy and sick to her stomach. It's definitely an unsettling experience for both the pup with the problem and the person observing it. While not exclusively an "old dog" issue (or even exclusively a dog issue; it happens to cats, too), older animals tend to experience it more often.
As much as possible, keep your senior dog active and engaged in daily living. And finally, switch from an annual to a twice-a-year exam schedule—dogs can develop problems more quickly as they age, and a health issue that starts within a few weeks of a routine vet visit could develop into something more serious by the time the next annual exam rolls around.
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Claudia Kawczynska was co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Bark for 20 years. She also edited the best-selling anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot.