Getting old is tough. After pets reach about 6 years old, we consider them to be “seniors,” and their care and annual wellness visits change a little in an effort to keep them in the best possible health. Arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and organ dysfunction are commonly seen in elderly pets, so it’s important to keep a close eye out for signs of these and other potential health issues.
Signs of disease
Like humans, pets in their golden years tend to be set in their ways and behaviors, so a small change can be a big indicator of a problem. The following changes in your pet could signal the beginning stages of a disease process:
- Increased urination
- Increased thirst
- Change in appetite
- Change in activity level
- Change in weight, especially weight loss
- New or changing lumps
- Difficulty doing normal activities
- Change in elimination habits (both urine and stool)
- Breathing difficulties
- Foul odor from mouth
- Difficulty eating
Dismissing these changes as normal signs of aging could be a missed opportunity to help your pet.
Regular blood work
Just like human doctors, our veterinarians recommend routine blood work and disease screening tests to keep pets healthy. This blood work is so important to a pet’s health, veterinary laboratories have a “geriatric panel” with specialized tests geared toward the unique concerns of older pets. A geriatric blood work panel consists of three tests:
- Complete blood count (CBC) — Indicates anemia, dehydration, clotting issues, or infection based on the red blood cell, white blood cell, and platelet counts
- Chemistry panel — Shows organ function by quantifying enzymes, proteins, glucose, and electrolyte values
- Thyroid level — Reveals thyroid function, which affects many important metabolic processes within the body
What are we hoping to find when we perform routine blood work on your healthy senior pet? Absolutely nothing. That’s right; we hope to find zero abnormalities on your older cat or dog’s blood work. But it’s important to run these tests in order to establish a yearly baseline that is your pet’s “normal” so we can keep an eye on her organ function. A small change in a seemingly healthy pet’s blood work could indicate an early stage health condition. And, the earlier disease is diagnosed, the more treatment options your pet will have, and the better her prognosis will be.
If your pet is already in the midst of an illness, routine blood work helps stage the disease process and determine how well she’s responding to treatment. For thyroid disorders, blood work is required to verify that your pet’s medication is within the therapeutic range. This information allows us to adjust the dosage as needed to keep your pet healthy. Some long-term medications, such as steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), can cause serious side effects, potentially damaging the liver or kidneys. Regular blood work tracks organ health and helps us provide the best medicine for your pet.
Regular wellness testing
While blood work provides us with ample information on how the body is functioning, it is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to your pet’s health. Many organ systems don’t produce enzymes that can be measured in blood, such as the:
- Gastrointestinal tract
- Musculoskeletal system
- Neurologic system
Even if blood work appears to be within the normal limits, changes in your pet’s behavior or abnormalities noticed during the physical exam may indicate more testing is needed. We may recommend a urinalysis, fecal sample, ultrasound, or radiographs to help us reach a diagnosis.
Regular exams (we recommend twice yearly for senior pets), blood work, and other potential diagnostic tests will enable us to catch issues early and devise the appropriate treatment plan, giving you and your pet more quality time together.
September is Senior Pet Wellness Month. Until September 30, 2018, we’re offering 10 percent off wellness blood work for pets 6 years of age and older. Show your senior pet some TLC: Call us at 512-696-3980 to schedule an appointment.