When the Smith family decided they wanted a new dog, they also decided they would adopt a dog from the local animal shelter, because they had read that each year millions of healthy dogs are euthanized, simply because not enough homes are available. At the family meeting, everyone had settled on a small dog around 2 years of age who was already house-trained. But, when they got to the shelter, there was Annie, a medium-sized, 7-year-old mixed-breed with beautiful big brown eyes who seemed to beseech the family, “Choose me.” So they did.
At home, the Smiths realized that at age 7, Annie was considered a senior dog, defined as a dog in the last 25% of their expected life span, and would need extra love, attention, and veterinary care to maintain her good health for as long as possible. The first thing they did was schedule an appointment with Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital for Annie’s health screening, and to seek advice on the special care their already much-loved senior dog would require. Here is what they learned.
- Wellness visits — At Annie’s first visit, the veterinarian performed a complete physical exam, checking her weight, and for lumps and bumps and any abnormalities. Next, he performed routine screening tests, including a heartworm test and fecal analysis, to detect parasites that could seriously affect Annie’s health. Lastly, he performed blood work to evaluate her blood cell counts and organ function, and to screen for diseases like diabetes and kidney failure. All the results were carefully recorded so that at future visits, Annie’s tests could be compared with her baseline results, which would pick up changes and possible problems in their early stages when treatment was usually more successful.
- Vaccinations — The Smiths thought that an older dog would not need vaccines, but the veterinarian explained that the opposite was, in fact, the case—senior dogs were more susceptible to diseases, because their immune system weakened as they aged. Presuming Annie was not up-to-date, and considering that she would mostly be living quietly indoors, he recommended only the core vaccines for now, including:
If Annie’s lifestyle changed, he said, and she spent more time than expected outdoors, or at a boarding or grooming facility, they should consider other vaccinations against leptospirosis, Lyme disease, Bordetella, and canine influenza.
- Parasite prevention — Although Annie would go outside only for a daily walk and to eliminate, she still needed regular screening and prevention against parasites, both internal (e.g., tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms) and external (e.g., fleas and ticks), the veterinarian said. The Smiths ensured him they would not leave without the products he recommended, and that they would strictly follow the protocol he set up for Annie.
- Dental health — An oral exam is an important component of the twice-yearly screening, the veterinarian told the Smiths, because dental disease is the most common problem in dogs. Most have developed dental disease by age 3, so a senior dog, like Annie, who likely had not received regular care (i.e., tooth-brushing at home, regular check-ups, and professional dental cleanings), was no doubt suffering with advanced disease and pain, which would eventually affect her ability to eat. They immediately scheduled a cleaning at the hospital the next week.
- Diet — Most pet owners have to worry about their pets being overweight, but older dogs who are slowing down have different nutritional needs, the Smiths were told. They should feed Annie a diet made specifically for seniors, and ensure her calorie intake was reduced appropriately, to prevent excess weight that would strain any sore joints.
- Senior lifestyle considerations — Finally, the veterinarian set out special considerations Annie would need:
- Exercise, both physical and mental, to keep her body and mind agile and alert; for physical exercise, the Smiths were advised to take Annie for short walks, letting her move at her own pace to enjoy the sights and smells, while mental exercise could include food puzzles and treat hide-and-seek
- A “room” of her own—most dogs, and senior dogs in particular, need their own space (e.g., a crate, or a corner of a little-used room) stocked with several thick blankets or a supportive bed, and their favorite toys
- Help with stairs and slippery floors by providing ramps or a pathway of non-slip rugs
- Water everywhere—senior pets with mobility issues may need water and food bowls placed in several easily accessible locations on each floor of the house
- Identification, preferably a microchip, because senior dogs may sometimes be forgetful, and wander off and become lost
- Patience, as an older pet may take a while to get used to their new home and new family
As Annie left, tail wagging and basking in all the attention—and loving the treats—the veterinarian explained that, since Annie was a senior dog, she should come back for her next visit in six months. A senior dog’s health can change quickly, he said, and they need more frequent check-ups, generally twice a year, but sometimes more frequently, depending on their condition. But, he assured the Smiths, with proper care and regular veterinary monitoring to ensure any disease was detected as early as possible when treatment was most effective, Annie could be with them for many years.
If you have recently adopted a silver-sniffer dog, or your long-time pet has achieved senior status, call us at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital to schedule their routine wellness check. Together, we will work to ensure your senior dog’s good health, so they spend their golden years happily at your side.