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April 2010
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It’s not easy keeping our pets healthy. After all, dogs and cats are frequently exposed to organisms that can
cause disease or illnesses. Even pets that never go outdoors are at risk. What’s more, pets age seven times faster, on average, than people. That means major health changes can occur in a short amount of time. So what’s the best way to protect your best friend? With twice-a-year pet wellness exams and risk assessment. By visiting your veterinary clinic twice a year, you’ll help detect, treat and, ideally, prevent health problems before they pose a risk to your pet. National Pet Wellness Month promotes twice yearly examinations for your pet, especially those over 5-7 years old.


Do you realize it's been over three "pet years" since we've seen your pet (six months in "human years") - and that's if you bring your pet in to be seen every six months! Most people bring their pets in for yearly checkups - a time to reconnect their pet with their veterinarian, discuss any changes in the past year, and run routine diagnostic checks to make sure everything is going smoothly regarding the health of their pet.

Did you know, however, that waiting a year for an exam means your dog or cat is actually waiting over six years for a checkup? By age two, most pets have already reached adulthood. And at age four, many are entering middle age. By age seven, most dogs and cats, especially large breeds, are in their senior years.

Major health changes can occur in very short 'human' periods of time because dogs and cats age more than seven times faster than people. Risks of cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, heart disease, and other serious conditions all increase with age. And because today's pets are living longer than ever, chances are many can experience a potentially serious illness during their lifetime.


The first year of a pet's life is roughly equivalent to about the first fifteen years for a human and two pet years are equal to about twenty-four human years. After that, each year for a pet is equivalent to four years. This age comparison table provides general age comparisons between dogs and humans.



Cats are considered to be entering their senior years at age seven. The table below provides age comparisons for cats.



The most important aspect of care as your pet reaches the senior years is early detection and treatment of chronic health problems. As your pet reaches age 7 (5-6 for large dogs), your veterinarian will want to obtain a thorough history and perform a physical examination, along with  laboratory tests, to determine a standard against which to compare any future health problems your pet may have.

Working together with your veterinarian is essential to early detection of the degenerative changes that can occur as your pet ages. Careful observation of any of the following symptoms should be promptly reported to your veterinarian:

Dogs

  • Changes in appetite or water consumption
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Decreases in apparent vision or hearing
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Decreased activity, difficulty climbing stairs or refusing to walk long distances
  • Changes in the sleep/wake cycle
  • Loss of housetraining
  • Decreased interest in you or their environment
  • Changes in coat or skin, including lumps or growths
  • Bad breath

Cats

  • Changes in appetite or water consumption (especially increased consumption)
  • Lethargy or depression (listless behavior)
  • Change in urine production (watch carefully for increased amounts in litterbox)
  • Constipation
  • Change in litterbox habits (urinating or defecating outside of the litterbox)
  • Change in attitude (irritability)
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Bad breath
  • Lapse in grooming habits
  • Stiffness, trouble jumping
  • Lumps and bumps on the skin


The gradual onset of health problems in an apparently healthy pet often go unnoticed. Once symptoms appear the condition may be too difficult or costly to diagnose and treat. Age is not a disease; however, there are many conditions, that if diagnosed early, can be completely reversed or controlled for extended periods of time.

Regular dental care, vaccinations, parasite control and a balanced diet are essential for the health of your pet. Laboratory testing plays an integral role in the early detection of changes in your pet's health. Diagnostic tests provide essential information by which your veterinarian can identify blood disorders, kidney and liver disease, diabetes, infection, cancer, thyroid disease and other hormonal problems.


As an animal ages many of the normal organ functions gradually begin to decline, just as in humans. The eyes, ears, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys may start to function less optimally, possibly leading to significant medical problems. It is more difficult for older animals to fight infections and problems such as arthritis frequently set in. It is ideal for senior pets to have their owners and veterinarians work closely together to find and treat problems as early as possible.


Merrick Veterinary Group believes strongly in twice yearly physical examinations with laboratory testing (blood and urine analysis) at least once a year. If changes in behavior, physical condition, or bloodwork are found, additional testing may be recommended. These tests may include, but are not limited to:

  • Additional bloodwork
  • Chest Radiographs
  • Abdominal Radiographs
  • Cardiac Ultrasound (Echocardiogram)
  • Abdominal Ultrasound
  • Blood Pressure Evaluation
  • Urine Culture

If you have a dog or cat that is age 5-7 or older, consider having twice yearly physical examinations performed, with at least once yearly bloodwork to aid in the early detection of disease. Please call  the Merrick Veterinary Group at 516-379-6200 to schedule a Wellness examination today.

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