In a study recently published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice researchers set out to test the value of senior wellness exams. They recruited 45 senior dogs/pet owners who were not coming in for senior wellness exams. They performed the senior wellness exams and compared the results to what the pet owners already knew about their dogs. Eighty percent of dogs had an important medical problem of which the owner was unaware. The medical problems included ear infections, respiratory distress, arthritis, abdominal masses, heart murmurs, and lung cancer.
The owners reported being aware of a number of changes in their pets. Some of these changes were normal signs of aging, but some were signs that an important medical problem could be developing. Here are some top warning signs that pet owners in this study did not heed:
• Increased thirst
• Increased urination, especially new onset of inappropriate elimination
• Decreased mobility that seems to stem from pain or stiffness
• Bad breath, yellowed teeth
• Increased labor for breathing while at rest
• Weight loss accompanied by decrease in body condition (i.e. less muscle mass over the spine, etc.)
• Changes in appetite
We think there may be three big take away messages from this study:
1. Give your pets the advantage of routine wellness exams, especially senior wellness exams. It is common for people to miss the signs of discomfort and disease in their own pets until the problems are very progressed.
2. Know the top signs of declining health so you can identify potential problems as soon as possible.
3. Identifying and treating health problems early in the progression of disease lowers overall spending, improves the outcomes of treatment, and improves the happiness of pets.
The study: Davies M. Geriatric screening in first opinion practice – results from 45 dogs. J Small Anim Pract. 2012; 53 (9): 507-13.