Vet Connection: Regular checkups save money, bring peace of mind
posted at 8/11/2012 5:42 AM EDT
Salem news.com, Salem, Mass.August 10, 2012
Dr. Elizabeth Bradt
---- — Your new puppy has just arrived, and you watch her frolic around the house with your family and perhaps your other dog. Amid the joy and mayhem of puppy/human training classes, the trips outdoors on leash to do “business” and at least two walks a day, there is just no time to contemplate the course of your dog’s life.
If you are the parent of a new kitten, the cuteness quotient is off the meter, and your kitten is running laps up the curtains and possibly the ceiling, being incredibly photogenic at every moment. It’s nearly impossible to think about your pet at a frail older age.
Cat and dog lives are much shorter than humans. The average cat life span is 15 years of age. The oldest cat I have cared for was 26 years of age. Dogs have an average life span of seven years for giant breeds such as Great Danes, 12 years for Labradors and retrievers, and 15 years or more for smaller breeds. We consider a dog mature at 6 months to a year for small breeds and 2 years for giant breeds. Cats are mature at 6 months of age. Because they are sexually mature and can breed at 6 months, cats and dogs should be neutered at 5 to 6 months of age.
When your pet is age 7 and older, it is considered a senior pet. It is important to realize that some behaviors are normal for a senior pet. The senior cat won’t run up the curtains and jump across furniture the way it used to. The senior dog is more sensible and doesn’t run headlong into granite stones or overdo the play at the dog park. They have some life experience and are more sensible.
You may notice changes in your senior pet such as weight gain or loss, decreased activity, and changes in appetite or water consumption. Your pet may be less willing to jump in your car or on a bed. These are changes that may occur so gradually that you don’t notice them, especially if you are a first-time pet parent. The big mistake most people make when they do happen to notice these symptoms is assume the aging process causes the signs. People tend to ignore the small changes as they occur and figure the pet is getting older.
The problem with this approach to your senior pet is that you could end up with an emergency situation that results in emergency care for your pet. It can be emotionally traumatic for you (and even more so for your cat) to have your cat collapsed and gasping for breath as you drive to the vet. It’s a shock when your dog is suddenly unconscious or having a seizure.
The unexpected is never convenient, and it’s always tough on everyone in the family. I have never had anyone say they are so happy their pet had a major catastrophe and had to be rushed to their veterinarian. Most pet parents want to avoid nasty surprises and day-ruining events.
The best way to avoid 95 percent of the emergencies is to have your senior pet examined by your veterinarian every six months, and more often if you notice rapid changes. Your veterinarian will have protocols for examining and testing senior pets. Your vet’s protocol may involve some early detection lab work, radiographs, blood pressure screening, glaucoma screening or ultrasound. The goal will be to find potentially devastating diseases early before they are causing symptoms that you would notice.
Why would you want to know about devastating disease early, you ask? Wouldn’t it be easier to just be in denial, know nothing, see nothing, do nothing? Well luckily, many diseases that are devastating at the end stage can be treated quite simply in the early stages. It will benefit your pocketbook, your peace of mind and your pet’s health to pay attention and have the early detection tests done to find out early.
For instance, 50 percent of cats have kidney disease when they are older. The early stages of the disease can be treated simply with dietary changes. The dietary changes can slow down the progression of the disease significantly. Your cat will be checked every six months to monitor the progression and add treatments if necessary. Treatment can extend the life of a cat by years if caught early.
Sometimes early detection lab work shows an easily treatable disease that would otherwise be missed. A year ago, I noticed that my springer spaniel, Daisy, was walking a little farther behind on walks and not jumping into the car as readily. She was due for her six-month medical progress exam and early detection labs. She had bacteria in her urine — a urinary tract infection — that would never have been detected with just a physical examination. Her treatment was inexpensive and simple. If I had not done the lab work, the bacterial infection could have traveled to her kidneys and caused kidney failure.
Heart disease in dogs and cats is another example. Caught early before any symptoms appear, high blood pressure, cardiac valve disease and some types of cardiomyopathy can be treated very successfully in the early stages. Sometimes no medicines are needed thanks to monitoring with blood-pressure checks, ultrasonography (echocardiogram) and sometimes electrocardiograms (EKG). You, your veterinarian and your pet’s cardiologist will work together to establish a schedule of rechecks so you know exactly how your pet’s heart is functioning. If you stick to a monitoring schedule, you and your pet’s health care team can add high-quality years to your pet’s life.
Lastly, look into pet health insurance to help with the unexpected. Veterinary pet insurance will insure new applicants with pets up to age 10. Trupanion will accept some pets older than 10 years. Talk to your veterinarian about the medical options and the cost so you can make educated decisions and avoid unexpected expenses. Your now grown-up pet will thank you in countless ways for your care.
Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and is the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem (www.creaturehealth.com). She is a member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists. Email your pet questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please title your email Vet Connection.