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A Senior Dog Checkup: What to Expect

Posted June 07, 2015 in Dog Checkups & Preventive Care

Old dog on porch

Is my dog a senior? If you’re reading this article, this might be your first question. Most of us have an idea of when people are considered to be “seniors,” but what about dogs? A straight linear multiplier was once used to convert people years into dog years, but that was never really accurate. In fact, it is even harder to determine an age equivalent for dogs than it is for some other species like cats, considering that the wide range of sizes and all breed specific medical risk factors significantly impact life expectancy. It’s all extremely complicated, and by no means a “one size fits all” situation. That’s why Pet Health Network’s age chart breaks down age equivalence by weight. According to the chart, a dog may reach senior years anywhere between 6 and 13 years old.

What is different about a senior dog’s checkup?
Certainly most conditions can occur or manifest throughout your dog’s life. There are simply some problems that are statistically more likely to occur as your dog gets older; things like organ failure, cancer, arthritis and cognitive disorders. That means parts of a senior, annual check are the same as for a younger dog, but other recommendations will be tailored according to your dog’s advancing years.

What can I expect during my senior dog’s checkup?
First of all, you may have specific concerns about your dog and questions you need to have answered. Be sure that those are all addressed to your satisfaction before the conclusion of your visit. Also be aware that your veterinarian likely has a process that he tends to follow in order to minimize the odds that he gets distracted and misses something important. In general, your vet will likely cover the following steps:

  • History – Even if you have seen the same veterinarian every year of your dog’s life, this chat still needs to occur. Even if it’s just to establish if anything is new about your dog’s lifestyle, habits, mobility, attitude, diet, appetite, eliminations, etc.
  • Complete physical examination Your veterinarian may go about some of this process even while you are chatting to objectively evaluate your dog. All senses can be used (looking, listening, feeling, probing and even smelling odors) to externally assess everything from the tip of the nose, to the end of the tail.
  • Minimum database testing – Depending on your dog’s individual age and circumstances, your veterinarian may recommend routine laboratory testing (often called minimum database testing) even if your dog appears healthy on the outside. The AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) recommends that this testing include:
    • Complete blood counts
    • Chemistry screening – Blood tests to evaluate kidney, liver, sugar, etc.
    • Urinalysis
    • Fecal flotation
    • Heartworm testing
    • Arthropod-borne disease testing -- (e.g. Rickettsia, Lyme)
  • Routine wellness care – including appropriate parasite control, vaccinations, dental care, weight management, etc.
  • Discussion of age-related issues/changes – your veterinarian may take this opportunity to talk to you about things to expect or look out for as your dog ages like vision or hearing deficits, mobility issues or cognitive dysfunction.
  • Breed-specific testing – In addition, if you have a purebred dog, there may be other tests that are routinely indicated for that particular breed (like glaucoma testing for Cocker Spaniels or advanced cardiac testing for Dobermans).

How often should my dog have a checkup?
All dogs should have checkups every “people year” of their lives; but depending on your dog’s individual health issues, your veterinarian may even recommend more frequent visits. It is up to you and your veterinarian to work together to decide what is best so that you and your dog can enjoy her senior and geriatric golden years.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.  

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.