The importance of senior health checks
As our pets get older, their bodies change, just like humans’ bodies do. Their organs have aged and the body systems will not be working as effectively as they once did. Your pet’s behaviour, lifestyle and medical needs will change. Below are a few common changes that we should look out for in ageing pets, exemplifying why geriatric health checks are so important!
Older animals often have reduced mobility. Less movement may mean a lower calorie diet is the best option to prevent weight gain. We can advise you on specific diets that will optimise your pet's health.
Shorter walks that are more frequent are best and you should try to control and monitor the amount of time they spend outdoors. A large, sudden increase in exercise level will negatively influence your pet’s joints. It is important to recognise when your pet is in pain and try different methods to minimise it. They may become more out of breath in a shorter period on walks because their heart and lungs become less efficient at providing the muscles with oxygen and removing any waste products. Any signs like these really need veterinary assessment - they may be a sign of an underlying disease process that we can help manage or treat, rather than a normal ageing change.
You may want to offer your pet extra supplements to help them maintain strength, as they grow older. The musculoskeletal system deteriorates with age, so joint and bone supplements may be recommended. An older pet’s immune system may stop working as efficiently so it can be beneficial to add vitamins and minerals to their daily intake. However, for many animals these are unnecessary - and expensive - so always talk to our vets before starting any new supplement or medication. This is particularly important if your pet is already on any medicine.
Another key issue in older pets is periodontal disease. This occurs when plaque on the teeth is converted to tartar due to dissolved minerals in the saliva. Most pets only have one set of adult teeth, so they are not replaced. Bad breath, bright red gums and stained teeth are key signs of tooth disease - a process that occurs over a prolonged period of time. Older pets have been around for a longer so therefore will have potentially experienced the build-up of much more plaque.
Many older animals may start urinating indoors. This affects their behaviour and comfort within the house. Remember, this may be embarrassing for them and telling them off or punishing them will not improve their bladder strength. It is best to ensure the animal often has the option to go outdoors, and get them seen as there’s a lot we can do medically to help!
Ageing of animals often affects their coat growth. If you notice the hair is growing irregularly, or bald patches are forming, you should seek help. Older animals often stop grooming themselves as regularly. You should keep a check on toenail length too. The length can remain short if they are worn down by walking on hard surfaces, but a decreased exercise will affect this, and it may not be enough. If not, regular nail-clips can be invaluable.
Older animals will want to sleep more. They will appear lazier and potentially more fragile. It is worth ensuring there is a bed downstairs, so your pet does not experience the discomfort of travelling upstairs in order to nap.
Why does my geriatric pet need extra health checks?
A larger number of older dogs suffer from diseases compared to younger dogs. It is, therefore, better to keep track of your pet's health and be aware of any minor issues so we can prevent them from spiralling out of control. Performing a physical and clinical examination of your pet increases the chances of disease being detected earlier and improving prognosis.
What happens in one of these health checks?
During these consultations, one of our vets will assess your pet’s behaviour and body language. A full body clinical exam will be performed, focusing on each major body system. Your pet's weight will be recorded, and compared to previous readings to see if they’re gaining or losing weight.
We will also take both blood and urine samples for testing (so please bring in a urine sample for us!). A blood test allows us to analyse liver and kidney function, electrolyte levels, the size, shape and number of normal cells in the blood, and certain hormone profiles (e.g. thyroid levels) amongst other things. A urine test will highlight urinary tract infections, signs of diabetes, and kidney issues.
In addition, we always check your pet’s blood pressure in a senior checkup. Older cats and dogs are prone to developing problems with their blood pressure, especially if they have kidney or heart disease. Regular checks make it easier for us to stay on top of these issues before they become major problems, leading to blindness or strokes.
Any abnormalities noted will be discussed, with preventative measures for potential diseases put in place. We can then advise you on how to help your pet to grow old gracefully and inform you of any specific symptoms to look out for.
We will be able to provide advice to you regarding any concurrent diseases or lifestyle changes that we feel could benefit your pet. If you fear your older pet may be in pain, we can discuss options such as hydrotherapy, massage, physiotherapy or acupuncture in order to relieve pain. If necessary, we can provide painkillers and formulate a suitable exercise programme to improve the quality of your pet’s life.
How often does my geriatric pet need a health check?
We recommend having these health checks every 6 months. The tests screen for the functioning of all of the organs in the body. This means that if we test frequently and notice a change between the readings, we may catch and prevent disease before the clinical signs have started to show. And to support you and your older pet, we’re offering the full service for only £99!
Geriatric health checks are important in preventing disease and maintaining a happy, comfortable life for our pets, so do get them checked out - let us help you to help them!