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Answers from vets about your dog:

What to Expect from Your Senior Dog’s Checkup

Reviewed by Dr. Celeste Clements, DVM, DACVIM on Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Posted June 18, 2015 in Dog Checkups & Preventive Care

Woman petting older dog

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? It used to be that a straight linear multiplier was 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 standard 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 breaks down age equivalence by weight. According to the chart found here, a dog may reach senior years anywhere between 6 and 13.

Why is there anything different about a checkup for a senior dog?
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:

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 dog’s senior 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, however, that your veterinarian likely has a process, a routine if you will, 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. Almost 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 American Animal Hospital Association recommends that this testing include1:

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Chemistry Screening – To evaluate kidney, liver, sugar etc
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal Flotation
  • Heartworm testing
  • Arthropod-borne disease testing— Tick-borne illnesses such as Rickettsia, Lyme, anaplasma and ehrlichia

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).

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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.