Is your pet over 40?
The annual physical examination of your pet is equivalent to every seven years in a person; and in both dogs and cats there are age related changes that predispose to disease such as major organ failure, tumours, arthritis, and loss of special senses (hearing and vision). A comprehensive evaluation performed on a regular schedule is clearly the best way to detect subclinical disease or to find increased risk factors of disease in senior patients. Many of the chronic disorders seen in older pets can be medically controlled, and in some cases resolved, if they are detected early enough; eg, a pet can lose 75% of kidney function before it will show any signs of illness.
A "wellness" program for senior pets involves diagnostic testing based on age and the initial physical examination. Testing may involve the following:
• Blood chemistry profile
• thyroid hormone level
• faecal examination
• ophthalmoscope exam
• ears exam (with MedRX videoscope)
• dental exam
• nutrition review
The most common diseases of insidious onset in the dog are heart valve problems, tumours, arthritis, dental disease (which also affects the body generally if allowed to progress), and bladder and kidney disease.
In cats, the common problems seen are kidney disease, tumours, dental disease, and overactive thyroids (which can cause circulatory and gastrointestinal disease, and sudden blindness). It is now estimated that hyperthyroidism affects 10-15% of older cats with non-specific signs. Kidney disease affects 30-40% of senior cats, and frequent testing is mandatory in this species. Many cats have concurrent hyperthyroidism and chronic kidney disease with minimal external signs. Owners often comment that their cat is just "not quite right".
If anaesthesia is required at any stage (eg, for dental disease or tumour removal), it becomes even more imperative to detect any underlying disease prior to the procedure. For example, a pet with subclinical kidney disease undergoing anaesthesia is not so much at risk during anaesthesia, but more the few days to weeks afterwards as the effect of the lowered blood flow through the kidneys brings on overt signs of kidney failure. This animal can be placed on presurgical IV fluids and other drugs to prevent the effect of hypotension from the anaesthesia.
Although performing these tests cannot guarantee the absence of complications, it can significantly minimize the risk to your pet and provide you and us with peace of mind.