by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Once is Not Enough
How often do you visit your doctor? Well, it probably depends on a number of factors. We are told gender makes a difference - women are likely to see their physician on a regular basis than men. A person's health status will likely influence the frequency of visits. Age is another significant determinant in deciding how often a doctor is seen.
Certainly some of these same factors will determine how often a pet visits their veterinarian. I don't know of any studies that show female pets visit more regularly than males. However, it has been shown that dogs, for some reason, see a veterinarian more often than cats. There is no question that, just like people, senior pets will benefit from more regular veterinary health care. The old advice to have a pet seen once a year for a checkup and vaccines no longer applies for most older pets.
In 2005, the American Animal Hospital Association released its senior care guidelines for dogs and cats. The document outlines common health conditions in older pets and describes aspects of screening, diagnosis, treatment, anesthesia, pain management and surgery that are particular to senior pets. It emphasizes the need for frequent wellness visits for older pets, coupled with regular laboratory tests. The guidelines also provide a framework for evaluating a senior per's quality of life and assisting pet owners with end-of-life decisions.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners plans to develop and release an updated version of its feline senior care panel report in 2007. Arthritis is recognized now as a much more frequent health problem in older cats than it was once thought to be. The importance of monitoring blood pressure in a number of conditions that affect senior felines is also now well documented.
Ailments associated with aging in dogs and cats include osteoarthritis, dental disease, cognitive dysfunction, congestive heart failure, chronic renal failure, liver disease, various hormonal disorders and cancer. There have been many advances in technology that allow veterinarians to detect problems early. Most veterinarians recommend twice-a-year wellness examinations to provide an opportunity for diagnostic screening for these health problems. We need to remember that pets age seven times faster than humans and therefore changes in their health status can occur rapidly. Two visits a year will allow veterinarians a better opportunity to detect, treat and hopefully prevent a number of life threatening diseases.
It is also important to remember that clinical studies have shown that more than 10 percent of pets that appear healthy on just a physical exam have some underlying problem that can only be discovered with blood tests or other diagnostic measures. Senior care checkups will vary from practice to practice. However, many, if not all, the following evaluations should be included in a thorough senior pet checkup: a complete medical history, a comprehensive physical examination, routine diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count, a biochemistry profile, urinalysis and thyroid screening.
Advances in nutritional, pharmaceutical and therapeutic treatments are constantly occurring and the awareness and knowledge about how to help a senior pet diagnosed with any of these disorders continues to grow. There are specialized diets formulated specifically for a senior pet. Specialized diets include those formulated to manage cognitive dysfunction, arthritis and obesity. Others are formulated to meet the particular protein and vitamin needs of senior dogs and cats. An ever growing array of pharmaceutical and supplemental options for treating ailments associated with aging in pets include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and animal specific insulin for the treatment of diabetic patients. Physiotherapy and rehabilitation treatment is another rapidly growing type of assistance for older patients with arthritis, hip problems and other orthopedic and muscular conditions.
There has never been a better time to be a senior pet. Regular visits to your veterinarian will help your pet to be living proof of this fact.