Senior dogs have special needs, and asking the right questions at their annual vet visit will ensure that all bases are being covered. Since geriatric dogs are at a higher risk for disease, you’ll want to not only ask about their current health, but also about what you can do to prevent and identify future problems. Here are the top 10 questions you should be prepared to ask the vet about your senior dog.
1. “Is my dog a healthy weight?”
This question should really be asked at any vet visit, regardless of your dog’s age. Of course, with an older dog comes higher health risks, so be aware of any significant weight gain or weight loss, as it could be symptomatic of hypothyroidism, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, congestive heart failure, bladder stones, or diabetes. A healthy weight is also important for a senior dog’s joint, bone, and cardiovascular health.
2. “Is my dog’s food OK?”
Many owners of geriatric dogs pick out their dog food by selecting a bag labeled “senior,” and calling it a day. While many foods formulated for senior dogs will be perfectly fine for yours, others might not meet their specific nutritional needs. Bring a bag of your dog’s food with you to the vet and they will let you know if you can keep feeding it to your dog or if you need to make a switch.
3. “Is our exercise appropriate?”
Exercise can help keep senior dogs from developing arthritis, congestive heart failure, and obesity. However, your dog’s exercise routine will likely change as they get older, and they may not be able to be as active as they were once. Ask your veterinarian to recommend an exercise routine that is appropriate for your dog.
4. “Do the hips look OK?”
Because dogs evolved to hide their pain as a survival mechanism, there may not be any signs if your senior dog is suffering from arthritis or hip dysplasia. Osteoarthritis in the knees can ultimately result in hip problems, as can crepitus, which is a buildup of air where it should not normally be. Your veterinarian will give your dog a once over to assess their bone health and provide tips on how to detect joint pain even if your dog is trying to hide it.
5. “Could supplements benefit my dog?”
Supplements can work wonders on a number of health conditions that plague senior pets. For example, the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin can help relieve joint discomfort and slow the progression of arthritis. After your vet has examined your dog, ask if they would recommend any supplements.
6. “Is my dog’s urine OK?”
This everyday act can say a lot about your dog’s health. Dogs who begin urinating more or less may be suffering from a condition such as kidney disease, cancer, or diabetes, and many age-related diseases such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, bladder stones, urinary tract infection, and cystitis can all have an affect on how your dog urinates. Talking to your vet about your dog’s peeing habits can help in determining if an urinalysis or other testing is needed.
7. “Does my dog have tumors?”
Cancer is not uncommon in senior dogs. In fact, fifty percent of all dogs over the age of ten will have cancer at least once. The initial symptoms of cancer can be difficult to spot, but asking your vet to check for tumors at each visit will help in early detection, which can greatly benefit your dog’s chances of survival. Watch how your vet examines your dog for tumors so that you can do it at home between visits. Many lumps and bumps felt on senior dogs will end up being benign cysts, but it is better to be safe and contact your vet for final diagnosis.
8. “Are my dog’s teeth and ears OK?”
A dog’s dental health can have a huge impact on their overall wellness, and periodontal disease is the number one condition affecting senior dogs. Talk to your veterinarian about what you can do to keep your dog’s teeth and gums clean, or how you can treat an already infected mouth.
Ear infections are the second most common health problem treated by vets. Most veterinarians will check your dog’s ears as part of the physical examination, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. When your vet checks your dog’s ears for infection they will also be checking their hearing, which can get worse with age.
9. “Is blood work needed?”
Many veterinarians recommend that senior dogs get blood tests every 6 to 12 months. These tests allow your vet to examine your dog’s blood chemistry, blood count, and thyroid condition. Regular blood testing can also help to identify kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes before they become severe. As with many other things, prevention is often the best treatment.
10. “What vaccinations does my dog need?”
Most dogs will receive vaccinations when they are puppies and then continue getting boosters for the rest of their lives to keep the vaccines effective. Of course, not all vaccinations are appropriate for all dogs, so ask your veterinarian which are right for your senior.