The staff at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital in Frederick, MD, takes pride in providing excellent life-long care for our patients. As our patients age, our recommendations for their care change, too, because we want to help all animals live the longest, healthiest lives possible! Here, we’ll outline care for our patients who reach “senior” status.
One commonly asked question is “When is my pet considered a senior?” At Kingsbrook Animal Hospital, all patients over the age of 8 are considered seniors. As a side note, smaller-breed dogs such as Chihuahuas age more slowly than large-breed dogs like Labrador Retrievers. Good preventative health care is equally important for dogs of all sizes, though, so it’s important to be proactive with any patient’s care regardless of size! One easy way to do this is to switch a pet to a senior diet at the appropriate age. Senior diets contain lower levels of calcium, fats, and carbohydrates. This helps prevent less-active furry friends from becoming overweight, and it also puts less stress on their digestive tract and other organ systems. Most brands of pet food offer a senior formula, and KAH’s veterinarians are glad to discuss any nutrition questions during each physical exam.
Speaking of exams…Kingsbrook Animal Hospital recommends biannual office visits for all senior patients. This enables the veterinarian to perform a physical exam every 6 months, and catch any changes or issues much sooner. A good physical exam includes obtaining an up-to-date, accurate weight on a pet; listening to heart and lungs with a stethoscope; checking vital signs like body temperature and capillary refill time; feeling the patient for lumps and bumps; and looking inside the mouth at the teeth and gums. The exam is also an excellent time for pet owners to mention any changes noticed at home–for example: slow to get up in the mornings, not eating as well, or trouble seeing. Combining this information with the findings of the patient’s physical exam allows the veterinarian to determine if there are any issues that need to be medically addressed.
Another important recommendation is senior bloodwork. While many owners cringe a little at the financial implications, Kingsbrook Animal Hospital recommends performing lab work on all “senior” patients at least once a year. The blood work most often requested by the doctor includes a complete blood count (CBC), a serum chemistry panel, and a urinalysis. For cats, it will also screen for thyroid levels. The CBC portion looks at red and white blood cell counts, and differentiates between different types of these cells. Some problems detected by a CBC include anemia, dehydration, infection, and even certain bone marrow disorders. The serum chemistry gives values of over 25 different enzymes and proteins found in the blood. These enzymes help internal organ function.
Catching any changes to the liver or kidneys early can make an enormous difference in treatment and prognosis for a beloved pet. A urinalysis is an important adjunct to the blood panel, as it gives more information about the kidneys and allows the veterinarian to notice problems earlier than bloodwork alone will indicate them. Thyroid screening in older cats is very important, since hyperthyroidism is very common and can cause many other problems such as kidney failure, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, and digestive issues.
The staff at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital may make additional recommendations for senior patients–every pet is an individual!