Senior clinics: How we can help your pet in their golden years
One of the joys of pet ownership is watching them grow and change throughout their lives, and their golden years can be among the most rewarding we spend with them.
We generally think of our patients as seniors from eight years of age, which – depending on weight, breed and size – places them at the equivalent of between 50 and 60 in human years.
This boundary does vary. With very large breed dogs we may start thinking of them as senior a little earlier, whereas with a sprightly Jack Russell it may be later.
At around this age we can start to see organ function begin to deteriorate. If we notice any changes in behaviour, or if clinical signs point to deterioration during clinical tests, we can aim to nip this in the bud and give them the best long term prognosis possible.
It’s important to remember that age itself is not a disease – disease comes with age.
But we do have to acknowledge that as our pets reach their golden years, though they may still be young at heart, we will start to see a deterioration in their function.
What are senior health clinics
From the age of eight – or as mentioned above, at an appropriate age for your pet – we offer annual senior clinics, in which we run a series of quick and painless tests that help us to understand your pet’s condition.
These senior tests include taking a blood sample, a urine sample and checking blood pressure.
We’re looking for indicators of potential problems, to spot them early and potentially, if we need to, intervene earlier to keep our patients happy and healthy for as long as possible.
We gain an insight into how the kidney and liver are functioning, and checking blood pressure can provide symptoms of potential disease, while it can also be a condition in its own right – just like in humans.
We are also checking for diabetes, and in cats for an overactive thyroid. One in three cats will develop kidney disease in their lifetime and one in 10 dogs. One in 10 cats develop an overactive thyroid.
All of these conditions can ultimately lead to quality of life deteriorating, with the problem being that if we wait for clinical signs, all of which are relatively similar, then damage to the organs will already be present.
By picking up any issues earlier we can try to prevent this damage, and we can make the decision to intervene at the correct opportunity.
What do senior clinics involve?
On the day of the clinic we will ask you to bring your pet into your normal practice, where the tests will be conducted.
We measure our patients’ blood pressure in much the same way humans are measured, with a cuff placed around a limb and listening to the pulse.
We usually take a blood sample from under the chin, a quick procedure which we find most of our patients are tolerant of, although some patients are happier with it being taken from a leg, which we’re absolutely happy to do.
The urine sample can be a time limiting factor! With our canine patients, it may be possible for an owner to bring a sample into the clinic with them, while we also have certain spots in our back garden where dogs can be encouraged to perform!
For cats we will generally replace their litter with something that is non-absorbent and allow them time to toilet naturally, to reduce stress as much as possible.
Due to this, and in order to allow blood pressure to reduce after a stressful car journey, we will often have a cat in to stay with us for a morning or even the whole day. This also allows us to stagger the tests, and generally to allow cats to have time and space.
We can generally perform the tests for dogs in a 30 minute appointment with one of our nurses.
Test results need to be interpreted alongside an examination of the patient in order for the significance of any symptoms to be ascertained, so your pet will also receive a nose to tail health check.
Doing annual tests is fantastic for establishing a baseline for what normal looks like for your pet, which in turn enables us to more easily recognise issues as and when they crop up, showing what is significant for a specific patient.
Unfortunately, at this point there is no blood test that we can run to diagnose cancers.
Why are senior clinics important?
Sometimes it can be hard to see the signs of disease and organ deterioration, as they come on very gradually.
For example, You may still be taking your dog for five mile walks, as you always have. But how are they behaving during the walk? Are they running ahead, investigating and playing, or are they now content to walk alongside you. It’s a small difference in behaviour – but it could mean a difference of two to three miles in exercise.
A happy, healthy cat sleeps for up to 18 hours a day – meaning it can definitely be tough to notice whether they’re sleeping more than usual!
One symptom that can be more measurable is weight loss, often alongside a change in eating habits, whether that’s reduced appetite, increased appetite, or a combination of the two – eating some days but not others.
Other signs may include their coat not looking as good, reduced intake of fluids and increased urination.
If your pet is struggling with their mobility, that may also be caused by age but is likely to signal a different clinical diagnosis. For more information on age and mobility, you can read more here.
Signs can be difficult to pick up on because they’re not consistent and they will fluctuate. That’s why our senior clinics can prove so valuable – by bringing them in for an annual appointment we can ensure we have the best chance of diagnosing any problems, regardless of whether we notice a change in behaviour.
We can treat and cure some conditions if we pick them up early enough, but unfortunately ageing and organ performance are not curable.
However we can considerably slow down deterioration, with relatively minor changes to a pet’s lifestyle.
What changes can I make to look after my senior pet?
One of the big changes we will generally make is to their diet.
We reduce the amount of salt they intake, especially if they have kidney disease, and we improve the quality of protein while reducing the amount of calories, meaning less waste, and less pressure on liver and kidneys.
For the majority of our patients, we find that diet change will make the biggest difference, and we will only use medication where necessary.
That means we’re helping their health without interrupting their quality of life. Often, the pet won’t even realise!
A simple change that is for you and can make a massive difference for your special friend in their golden years.
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