After being around this profession for 30 years I have learned a few very simple truths about our companions.
Fact 1 – They cannot speak to us to tell us when there is a problem. Often they wait far into the course of a disease before they demonstrate any signs of a problem.
Fact 2 – They age far faster than we do. The comparison of 1 year of their lives to 7 years of ours is only a rough estimate that varies with the size and species of animal.
Fact 3 – When problems are identified early, there are more options for medical management.
Veterinary medicine has traditionally been a flawed system. It is a “reactionary” form of medicine. It has relied on an untrained human to recognize a problem in an animal that tries its best to hide illness and weakness from its historical predators. This human often must recognize very subtle or slowly developing symptoms. Often there are no symptoms until way late into the course of the disease. This leads to animals being taken to get medical care only when it is too late to help. This also explains the owner that says, “My dogs never had any medical issues. They just lived in the back yard and died of old age.”
I think of this every time I euthanize a new patient for a chronic disease in its end stage. Chronic Kidney Disease does not cause acute symptoms until it has slowly progressed to end stage disease. How much life could we have given this patient if we had identified the issue with simple lab work 2 years before when it was just starting? What would medical therapy have done to prolong that animal’s length and quality of life?
As I have said in previous blogs, semi-annual examinations keep a trained eye in the picture to identify problems early. They also facilitate conversations and help guide the medical recommendations for testing of that patient. Senior screening for common issues leads to early identification of problems and early medical intervention. Simply put, this saves lives. This improves and lengthens quality of life.
This is what I wanted to bring to Lawton when I decided to return to my home town to practice. I wanted to bring Proactive and Preventative medicine centered around the individual animal and tailored to its individual needs. I felt this was lacking in our town. Too many vets wanted to avoid talking about money and therefore limited their recommendations to what they thought you could afford. I feel that veterinarians should focus on making the best medical recommendation for your companion. Sure, we will have an honest discussion about cost and payment options also, but not until after we educate you about all the risks and benefits of care.
Senior Wellness Testing should be individual for your furry friend. This at a minimum consists of the following four tests:
-a complete blood count to look for anemias, infections, blood cancers, clotting disorders, and evidence of tick borne diseases.
-serum chemistry panel to identify kidney and liver issues, diabetes, hypoglycemia, electrolyte abnormalities; screen for internal gland issues such as Cushing’s Disease, Addison’s disease and hyperparathyroidism; identify markers of chronic protein loss such as intestinal disease.
-urinalysis by ultrasound cystocentesis looks for early kidney disease, urinary tract infections, bladder stones, bladder cancer, polyps, cystic kidneys, and urinary incontinence.
-a thyroid screen for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
– in our feline friends we also screen for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficency virus.
Senior testing may also involve radiographs, ECG, and ultrasonography based on your pet’s individual needs. It is best done in series so that numbers can be compared from one evaluation to another to identify changes even before the values exceed the normal range.
When should this be done? There is NO MINIMUM AGE for this screening test to be done. I would recommend this screen test in certain cases even if an animal is younger than the set age. As I have stated every animal is a unique individual with its own concerns. In general terms only, I recommend screening for every dog over 7 years of age and every cat over 10 years of age.
Semi-annual examinations, senior wellness testing, preventative dental care, heartworm preventions, fecal testing, and nutritional counseling are just some of the things that we are doing to change this from a reactionary medicine to a proactive and preventative medicine. Our goal is to give your beloved four-legged friend the absolute best quality and longest life possible.