Your senior dogs hold a special place in our hearts, and over the years, we’ve grown to love them almost as much as you! To ensure they are living their best lives, we want to see them a few times a year for check-ups and to check-in with you about any changes you’ve noticed with their health and behaviour. Among the many things we’ll talk about, here are five points we want to cover during these visits.
- Body and muscle condition.
These describe outwardly what your pet looks and feels like. Your dog’s body condition score assesses whether they have too little, too much or a healthy amount of body fat. Too little fat can be a sign of a nutritional deficit or an underlying medical condition that burns excessive amounts of calories (such as cancer). Too much fat indicates a nutritional excess and can cause unnecessary damage to your dog’s joints, stress their heart, and lead to diabetes.
Your dog’s muscle condition score assess their degree of muscle loss. Muscle loss can be a sign of sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle), chronic disease such as heart disease or kidney disease, a neurologic condition, or painful osteoarthritis.
2. How to recognize pain, treat it, and make daily living more comfortable
Dogs are excellent at hiding pain, especially the chronic pain of osteoarthritis (OA) so as their caregivers, you need to be alert to their subtle cues. Pain (especially chronic) has a powerful impact on wellbeing, affecting sleep patterns, anxiety, and behaviour, sometimes even causing aggression. We’re happy to discuss supplements, pain medication, and other treatments such as chiropractic care that would help your dog.
When it comes to their home environment, senior dogs are like senior people; they will need modifications to their home to help them get around more easily. These can include thicker/softer bedding, elevated dishes, the use of mats around the house for increased traction on slippery floors, and ramps to help them get to the yard, or into the car.
- Laboratory testing
Along with twice yearly examinations, bloodwork and urinalysis can give us important clues about your dog’s health that might be not be visible from the outside.
- With a complete blood count (CBC) test, we can check a pet’s red blood cells for signs of anemia, white blood cells for deficiencies or excesses caused by disease, and platelet counts for signs of deficiencies that could lead to abnormal bleeding.
- A biochemistry profile will show signs of kidney disease or liver dysfunction as well as evidence of hormonal diseases such as diabetes and pancreatitis.
- A urinalysis is a great way to examine the urinary tract from the kidneys to the bladder looking for signs of kidney disease, infection, bladder stones and cancerous cells.
Putting all these test results together, our veterinary team can make health recommendations specifically tailored to your dog. These tests guide our dietary recommendations, the need for additional tests your pet would benefit from, and even the safety of certain medication being prescribed. Screening tests not only give us an opportunity to get a jumpstart on treatment, but if they come back negative, they can give you peace of mind.
Senior dogs often have very different nutrient requirements than their younger selves, possibly even requiring a diet that is more easily digested. Some dogs will need nutrients that provide extra joint support in their diet, including green-lipped mussel and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that also supports brain health. Many dogs will need a less calorie dense diet to maintain normal weight in their senior years as their activity levels decline. As well, certain medical conditions associated with aging require dietary restrictions of certain nutrients (I.e. protein and phosphorus restriction in dogs with kidney disease). We take all this into account and can make specific dietary recommendations for your dog at their senior wellness exam.
- Cognitive function
Just like humans, dogs can experience cognitive decline as well as cognitive dysfunction, a syndrome similar to Alzheimer’s disease. By evaluating certain behavioural changes, we can let you know if your dog would benefit from medications, supplements, or special diets created to reduce cognitive decline. We can also recommend environmental enrichments and physical activities you can do with your dog to improve their quality of life.
How wellness exams can help
In addition to helping keep your pet healthy throughout their life, regular checkups give you the opportunity to ask us about any questions or concerns you might have.
But don’t wait!
If you notice that your dog is behaving differently or just seems “off”, don’t wait for their scheduled wellness check. Get in touch with us right away. When possible, we want to catch anything that isn’t normal as early as we can.
We look forward to seeing you and your senior dog for their wellness checkup at least twice a year to help you give them their best life!