By: Kristi Sharpe, DVM
We are all well versed in yearly maintenance of young, healthy pets, but what should we be doing differently in our older patients? What should be considered old? While age is not a disease, it does come with an increased risk of chronic problems. We can’t completely prevent older patients from becoming ill, but we can monitor them to catch things early.
There is no concrete answer to when a patient is old. Cats and dogs age differently. Different size dogs age differently from one another as well. As a general rule, and for simplicity, we will consider anything over the age of 7 at an increased risk of developing chronic diseases. Once we get into that territory, we start talking to owners about yearly monitoring diagnostics. These tests can help us monitor for subtle, early signs of disease. If we catch things early, we can intervene and hopefully prevent sudden, acute illness and improve our patient’s longevity.
The basic yearly monitoring is a chemistry, CBC, and urinalysis. A chemistry lets us look at things like protein level, glucose (sugar) levels, liver and kidney enzymes. A CBC is a complete blood count. It lets us see if our patients are anemic or have inflammatory/infection markers. A urinalysis helps us monitor for urinary tract diseases, kidney concentration, and filtering abilities. Subtle changes in these parameters can help us detect problems before they make the patient ill.
The best example for the importance of catching elevations early is kidney disease in cats. Cats are notorious for developing kidney failure/disease as they age. We can see cats’ kidney parameters increase overtime with monitoring bloodwork and make recommendations for supplements and diet to help support their kidneys function. However, the success of these treatments is heavily dependent on starting them early on in the disease course. Unfortunately, cats are typically the patients we don’t see until they’re clinically ill from the disease. Once a cat presents to us in renal failure it is much harder to get them to a happy, comfortable state with our normal treatments.
Another benefit of yearly monitoring bloodwork is to have a baseline for which to compare results. Whenever we see sick patients that have bloodwork abnormalities there are always questions that arise. Is the abnormality chronic or is this new? If it’s a historical, chronic problem is it worsening? The distinction can help us narrow down an actual diagnosis and tailor our treatments appropriately. For example, let’s say we saw Fluffy for her annual exam 6 months ago and did baseline bloodwork. At the time Fluffy had mild liver enzyme elevations and had no symptoms. We recommended monitoring her and rechecking at a later date. Fluffy then comes in lethargic and vomiting. When we do bloodwork the liver enzymes are unchanged from 6 months ago. At that point we would likely be looking for some other cause of her current symptoms. Conversely, had her bloodwork 6 months prior been completely normal, but elevated when she was sick, we would be focusing much more on her liver as the potential culprit. If there is no previous bloodwork, we have to assume the liver is the problem and potentially waste time and money chasing that possibility down.
If you have an aging pet and would like to do monitoring diagnostics, feel free to give us a call to set up an appointment.