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Testing and Exams in Older Pets

“Doc, how old is my dog/cat in human years?” Many of us have heard the ratio that one human year equals six to seven dog years. That is relatively true but somewhat variable depending upon the breed of your pet. However, it is true that our pets do not live as long as we do.

Your pet is considered to be entering their senior or “golden years” after about seven years of age. I was once told the “golden years” mean that you simply spend more gold (money) in addressing all the additional medical ailments as we age. Yes, most of us have more aches and pains and are more susceptible to ailments as we age. This is also true with our pets. This is why it is vital to have, at minimum, once-yearly health examinations for your pets. These “senior” exams will likely include an overall physical and should include both blood work and urinalysis as a minimum database.

Even though your pet may appear outwardly healthy, internally there may be early disease processes occurring that are not readily acknowledged by appearance. One such example is kidney disease. Think about if you were standing on the downside of a dam with water on the upstream side. The water may be rising on the upward side of the dam, but you are unaware of this until the water starts to spill over the top. In the case of kidney failure, this “spill over” point is when 75 percent of the kidneys are not functioning properly. That is half of one kidney! Although none of us can stop the aging process, (wouldn’t that be awesome if we could), we can, in the case of kidney disease, slow the process down if detected early (when the water is rising) with proper nutrition and other medications.

As our pets age you may notice that they are not as active, or “slowing down.” This could be due to the aches and pains of arthritis or, in the case of dogs, low thyroid levels. There are many newer medications and dietary supplements that can help maintain a good quality of life for your pet, allowing them to be more active and energetic. We can “steer” you in the right direction regarding your options. Since the liver and kidneys in part metabolize some of these medications, we want to know they are healthy before some of these medications are recommended.

In the case of our feline friends, you may notice mild weight loss, but your feline is still active and eating normally, or even have an increased appetite. This could be a sign of an overactive thyroid gland or what is termed hyperthyroidism. While it might sound great to be able to eat more and still lose weight, the additional affects of this disease such as hypertension, cardiac disease, and detached retinas are not desirable.

Yes, it is inevitable that we and our pets all age and can’t live forever. And yes, our pet’s life expectancy is shorter than ours. However, with routine health examinations and proper testing and monitoring of body functions through laboratory testing, we can extend that longevity and quality of life for our pets so we can enjoy their wonderful companionship even longer.

Remember: once yearly examinations and testing for our pets is like us having that done to ourselves every six to seven years. A lot of health changes can occur in that period of time.

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