Hidden Problems Your Vet Can Identify During Senior Wellness Exams
At Brook Farm Veterinary Center, we want to help pet owners keep their pets happy and healthy for as long as possible. As pets age, we know that certain diseases may be more commonly diagnosed. We also know that pets are good at hiding symptoms of a problem – especially when the problem has a slower than normal onset. If an animal is developing a disease or problem, the sooner we intervene to help the pet, the better the outcome will then be. This is why it’s important for all pets to come in and have an annual wellness examination. Many conditions don’t show up until later in life, just like in us humans. Furthermore, your pet’s conditions can be “silent” at first which typically means your pet may not be displaying any visible signs of a problem, or the signs they do display may be subtle and difficult to pick up on. Some owners of senior and geriatric pets opt to bring their pet in to see our team of professionals for a wellness exam every 6 months. This way we can work together to try and catch problems even sooner as they arise. We highly recommend this approach as it’s the most proactive way to care for your pets.
Here’s a list of some of the things that we can help identify during your pet’s senior wellness exams, even if your pet seems perfectly fine and normal at home.
Changes in weight:
Dramatic weight loss or weight gain is often noticeable to owners but subtle weight changes can be harder to pick up on through visual exam alone. Every animal that comes into our clinic gets weighed so we can track these changes over time. Did you also know that you can bring your pet by any time for a weight check? Seriously, just bring them into the lobby and ask our receptionist if you'd be able to weigh your pet. We do not mind and understand you’re trying your best as a pet parent to keep on top of your pet’s weight. It can even be a great way to get your pet more acclimated to coming to our office if he or she tends to get nervous. Coming in for a weight check, getting some treats, and then leaving can be a positive experience for your pet – making it easier for you to bring them in the next time for their scheduled visit. Don’t worry we will always have some treats on hand!
Red, painful, swollen, or itchy irritated eyes will certainly be noticeable to pet owners and vets during an exam. Internal eye conditions however, may not be as noticeable, especially in the beginning stages. Some changes are considered a normal part of aging – for example, lenticular sclerosis which is a cloudiness to your pet’s lens that often makes pet owners think their pet is developing cataracts. Another is called iris atrophy which is where the colored part of the eye – the iris – can start to thin which thankfully does not cause a problem typically. Something really interesting about the internal structures of the eye is that some internal eye problems can clue us in to the pet having a systemic disease.
For example, we can see evidence of high blood pressure in the retina. Cataracts, if discovered, can be an indicator that a patient has diabetes. Some diseases like lymphoma or certain infectious diseases can also cause changes in your pet’s retina.
Did you know when we do a mouth check we aren’t just checking your pet’s teeth? Of course we are assessing tartar buildup and taking note of any tooth abnormalities or breaks. However, we are also inspecting their gums, their tongue, and all the other soft tissue structures in their mouth. What are we looking for? We typically look for things like infection, inflammation, ulcerations, and cancer inside the mouth to name a few.
Generally speaking, cats tend to become HYPERthyroid and dogs tend to become HYPOthyroid. Hyperthyroid cats can have some characteristic findings on their physical exam that clue our medical team to check on your pet’s thyroid level. For example they may be experiencing weight loss, behavior changes, a heart murmur, an arrhythmia called a gallop rhythm (it is named this because it sounds like a horse galloping), and oftentimes we can even feel enlargement of their thyroid gland in the neck area. For dogs, who tend to become Hypothyroid, they may experience weight gain, an inability to lose weight, changes in their skin or coat, cold intolerance, or sluggishness that will clue us in to test their thyroid level.
When we assess an animal’s cardiovascular health, we check a number of things. We listen to the heart to check for a murmur or arrhythmia. We check the pulse quality to further assess the cardiovascular system. We assess blood perfusion by looking at the animal’s mucous membranes.
Kidney disease is one of the more common diagnoses we see in aging pets. During a physical exam, our doctors will feel the kidneys when they palpate the abdomen. Depending on the kidney problem, they can feel changes in size or shape of the kidneys and will be sure to note if your pet seems uncomfortable during the palpation. If they feel anything unusual, they will want to follow up with lab work and some type of abdominal imaging. Typically those are x-rays and ultrasounds.
While baseline lab work can typically clue us in to liver problems, we may also be able to identify liver concerns during your pet’s physical examination. For example, an animal with liver disease may develop jaundice – a yellow discoloration that may be seen in their skin, mucous membranes and eyes. The liver may also feel abnormal when we palpate the abdomen.
Lymph Node Enlargement:
Our team will check some of the peripheral lymph nodes during a wellness exam. These are typically located below the jaw area, in front of the shoulders, and behind the knees. If we find lymph node enlargement, it’s always a trigger for us to start looking further into why the lymph nodes are enlarged. This could indicate there is cancer present in this patient, or that there is an infection somewhere that needs to be controlled.
We all know that aging pets can develop arthritis like humans do. A physical exam allows us to check your pet’s joints for any pain or stiffness, and also assess their ability to move around comfortably. Furthermore, we assess an animal’s muscle condition to see if any muscle loss has occurred. With so many treatments available for arthritis, aging pets don’t have to suffer! Inquire within to learn more about how we can help treat arthritis.
If your pet is heading into their senior years, make sure he or she has had a wellness exam within the last 6 to 12 months. This helps to be sure you stay on top of any medical conditions that may become more serious over time. Remember, the sooner we catch problems, the greater success we have with treatments in the long run! For some body systems like the respiratory tract and gastrointestinal tract, owners are likely seeing problems even before the patient comes in. However there are also many times that we may find something unexpected during a thorough physical exam of your pet. We also find skin masses or internal masses that may not have been noticeable to the owners. Book your pet’s appointment today by giving us a call at (845) 878-4833.