When your dog reaches the age of 8 years, he or she is considered a senior pet. Preventive medical care for your senior pet should continue as it always has. However, since senior dogs have different health issues than younger dogs, an expansion on the preventive health care plan is appropriate from the age of 8 years onward. Preventive medical care for the senior dog still consists of a check-up, a yearly fecal parasite exam, vaccinations, proper diet, home dental care, professional dental care, heartworm prevention, and flea and tick control. Additional measures for senior dogs should include blood and urine tests.
BIANNUAL CHECK-UP: A physical examination by your veterinarian twice a year is very important for your senior dog. During this examination, you should report health or behavior changes you have noticed since the last time your dog had a check-up. Just as for younger dogs, your senior dog will receive a thorough examination of all body systems. Some of the more common medical conditions of senior dogs that may be detected during this examination are skin tumors, cancer, heart disease, osteoarthritis, dental disease, cataracts, thyroid gland disease, obesity, prostate disease, and cognitive dysfunction syndrome (the canine version of Alzheimer’s disease). Early detection of these and other problems during a check-up can afford your pet a better chance at successful treatment.
YEARLY FECAL PARASITE EXAM: As a senior pet, your dog will still be susceptible to infections with intestinal parasites. As such, a microscopic examination of your dog’s feces at least yearly is recommended in order to detect these infections.
VACCINATIONS: The vaccination program recommended for adult dogs should be continued in senior dogs. Senior dogs are still susceptible to infectious diseases, and “old age” is not a good reason to stop vaccinating your dog.
PROPER DIET: Older dogs should receive a diet formulated for senior dogs. As dogs get older they develop changes in their metabolism that in turn change their nutritional needs. Senior canine diets contain more antioxidants and vitamins and fewer calories, and protein levels to meet the nutritional needs of senior dogs. Many good senior diets are available. We only recommend feeding your senior dog foods whose label contains the AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy.
HOME DENTAL CARE AND PROFESSIONAL DENTAL CARE: Dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions of dogs, especially senior dogs. Dental tartar build-up can lead to infection of the gums and bones of the jaw, which in turn can get into the bloodstream, adversely affecting the heart and other internal organs. Most senior dogs tolerate general anesthesia very well. Your veterinarian can perform laboratory tests to assess your dog’s anesthetic risk and identify many unknown medical conditions that may be present, so that the most appropriate anesthetic may be chosen. Daily home dental brushing is also as important in senior dogs as it is in younger dogs.
HEARTWORM PREVENTION AND FLEA AND TICK CONTROL: These aspects of preventive medical care are just as important in senior dogs as they are in younger dogs and should be continued throughout your pet’s entire life.
BLOOD AND URINE TESTS: Many medical conditions of senior dogs do not cause noticeable symptoms until they are advanced. An organ function blood panel and urine analysis, however, can often detect these conditions early, allowing successful medical intervention. Examples of some of these diseases include kidney disease, liver disease, Cushing’s syndrome (an adrenal gland disorder), diabetes mellitus (i.e., sugar diabetes), thyroid gland disease, parathyroid gland disease, bladder infections, and others. These tests should be done at least once a year. If your pet has a medical condition or is receiving certain medications, these laboratory tests may be recommended more frequently than once a year.
As your dog ages, his or her nutritional and medical needs change. Early disease detection is the most important factor in the successful management of many diseases for which senior pets are at risk. A comprehensive preventive medical care program as outlined above will ensure that your senior pet has a long healthy life.