November is Senior Pet Awareness Month. So here we are, talking about what sort of things one might expect as your pets age, and the importance of screening for issues.
There are numerous health issues that can arise over an animal's life, anything from arthritis all the way to kidney failure and cancer. Many of these health issues cannot be predicted or detected until clinical signs arise, although some can be detected early with routine screening and testing. Here I will briefly discuss some recommended geriatric screening measures, and why they are important.
For most cats and dogs (with the exception of giant breed dogs), we generally start considering them senior/mature around the 7 year mark (with some variation of course). For us, many of our doctors recommend a yearly physical exam and screening testing every 3-5 years for some of the common diseases like diabetes, breast cancer etc. When detected early, treatment and prognosis are much better than when left unchecked for long periods of time. The same holds true for our pets, except we recommend yearly screening since they age much faster than we do. This comes in the form of yearly physical exams as well as bloodwork. I fully understand this can become expensive, but bear with me as I explain why we recommend doing so. It is not mandatory, but definitely recommended.
I will use cats and kidney disease as an example because it is such a prevalent issue, affecting over 50% of cats at some point in their life. The kidneys normally filter out waste products into the urine, and help to retain water in the body. Chronic kidney disease in cats occurs when the kidneys functional capacity is decreased, making it more difficult to filter out wastes and retain water. Some of the first clinical signs that most owners will notice include weight loss, increased urination amounts, or a decreased appetite. In order for these issues to occur, approximately 70% of the kidney function has already been lost. Until this point, there are no external clinical signs associated with early stages of renal disease. Since chronic kidney disease is irreversible, early detection is vital for the best long term prognosis. Our treatments and management strategies cannot cure this disease, but rather slow it's progression in order to prolong and maintain a good quality of life. Decreased renal function can be detected with as little as 40% kidney function loss. Early detection and early treatment has been shown to result in a significantly longer life expectancy.
There are several other diseases that we can screen for in our geriatric patients, some which present themselves sooner and other which stay silent for long periods of time. Regardless, we recommend routine screening in the form of bloodwork and a urinalysis in our senior pets, even if they appear to be doing well otherwise. The best result is normal bloodwork, but if something is found, early detection may be the key.