Whole Dog Journal's Blog August 18, 2015

Mid-life Surveillance

Posted at 08:32AM - Comments: (16)

I’m the owner of two middle-aged dogs. I’m also a friend to many people with senior dogs with serious medical conditions. I’ve started worrying about my middle-aged dogs, especially Otto, my 70-pound wonder mutt / “heart dog.” (Small dogs live longer, so I’m less worried about 10-pound Tito, who lives with us but who keeps his own counsel and has never achieved “heart” status with either my husband or I.)

I know that every disease is best treated early, so I’m scheduling a major middle-aged wellness exam for Otto next week, in preparation for his first dental cleaning. I’ve had his blood tested annually, for blood cell counts and blood chemistry – and for vaccine titers. (He was vaccinated a LOT at the shelter I adopted him from when he was about 7 months old, and not since, except for rabies as required by law and once, a bordetella vaccine that was required in order to admit him to an agility class. His vaccine titers have always come back super strong.)

In addition to blood tests, I’m going to discuss with the vet whether it might be a good idea for a full body x-ray or any other scans that might detect any abnormalities, such as signs of cancer or enlarged organs.

I’m also waiting for the recommendations offered by one of WDJ’s regular writers, Cynthia Foley, who is researching and writing an article for an upcoming issue of WDJ on this very topic. Yes, my paranoia is so great, that I asked one of our writers to prepare an article on middle-aged to senior-dog wellness exams, so that I could follow her/our experts’ recommendations for detecting problems early. Of course, I’ll be sharing that information with WDJ readers as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I’ll ask all of you, too! What early detection / senior wellness tips does your veterinarian recommend? What tests have been vital to catching your dogs’ illnesses early? (Or, conversely, which tests do you wish you had scheduled earlier than you did?)







Comments (16)

Any updates on the senior wellness exam recommendations? This is something I would be very interested in reading about. My older dog, a rat terrier, has just turned 7, which apparently makes him a senior, although we think of him as being in the prime of life! I would like to make the most of his wellness exams and easy screenings to catch issues early.

Posted by: rattie_mum | June 6, 2016 8:14 AM    Report this comment

I just want to state the importance of seeing the results of blood tests and discussing any abnormalities with your vet, even if the vet states that everything is normal. Last year, my 11 year old was diagnosed with an insulinoma. Her glucose level was low at her exam, but the vet did not tell us. We only found out a few months later when we were picking up a copy of her records. When we asked, the vet said that it was likely just due to the tube sitting out too long before being tested. We insisted on retesting her, and her glucose was low again. If we had not done that, it would have been another 3 months before her next scheduled exam. With the delay in treatment, she has weakness in her hind legs from having such low blood sugar. If we had just gone along with the vet's explanation, I'm afraid of what would have happened to her.

Regarding screening - I really wish that many of the screening tests available to humans were also available to pets. After her insulinoma surgery, we have been seeing an oncologist regularly to check for any new tumors. Nothing was found; however, she started having difficulty breathing last month, and she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension due to either a clot or a tumor in her heart - they are unable to tell which on the echocardiogram. This went completely undetected by xrays and ultrasounds.

I definitely agree with doing at least two wellness exams per year. Our pets can't tell us how they're feeling, and very often, they suffer in complete silence until it is so bad that they're unable to cope anymore, and at that point, it could be too late.

It's also important to remember that your pet getting old isn't a reason for him/her to be stiff or in pain. Any changes in activity level or behavior should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian.

Posted by: laurenn | August 18, 2015 8:38 PM    Report this comment

We are proponents of at least an annual wellness exam, including blood tests, for our senior dogs. It seems we end up going more than once a year with them because something always comes up, so semi-annual hasn't been necessary. Regarding ultrasounds and other diagnostics, I think you also have to consider your dog's personality and what they're willing to go through, and whether or not knowing would change a course of treatment or action you would take. I opted not to put our stressed out senior rescue beagle through a second ultrasound to check for bladder cancer, a year after she flipped out when she had one which proved to be negative. She would have been miserable having to go to a vet for treatment on a regular basis, for what would be a poor prognosis anyway. She ultimately passed a year and a half later, and it wasn't cancer. So, each individual has to be taken into account as well.

Posted by: mudhorse | August 18, 2015 3:15 PM    Report this comment

I would suggest an exam by a veterinary Ophthamologist. My 14 yr old dog had low eye pressure, and when tested by the eye doctor, was found to have both Erhlichia and Rocky Mt Spotted fever. He had been suffering periodic lameness for several years even though full body films showed him to have minimum arthritis. His eyes unfortuately have been affected by the delayed diagnosis and may not recover. Lesson learned. When we adopted a 10 yr old dog shortly after that, I asked that she be tested for tick diseases and be referred to an ophthalmologist. She also tested positive for Ehrlichia and has Uveitis!

Two previous dogs of ours went blind in their senior years. We didn't think much of it at the time, but now I wonder why didn't take them to an Ophthamologist early on. Thank goodness I've become more educated in pet health, and thank you WDJ for helping with that education!

Posted by: WillaB | August 18, 2015 3:04 PM    Report this comment

The VDI-TK test is not meant to be a screening test for cancer. It is used to confirm diagnosis and monitor progression of two types of cancer, Lymphoma and Hemangiosarcoma. There's a good article on this topic on the Tripawdscom Blogs. The article is entitled, "The Facts About Dog Cancer Screening Tests," dated August 24, 2012. You'll find it easily if you search for "Cancer screening tests" on their site (sorry, it won't let me post the direct link).

Posted by: Mary Straus | August 18, 2015 2:28 PM    Report this comment

Very much looking forward to the article !

I'm a proponent of exams every 6 months. A few years ago, my 15 yr old mixed breed dog, who showed no signs of illness, was found to have a faint heart beat on one side. Xrays showed masses throughout her body. The exam gave me heads up that her time was limited and we made the most of it.

I am also thankful to my vet who did an abdominal ultrasound on my present dog (now age 7) last year and detected gallbladder disease. We continue 6 month ultrasounds and now have just found early chronic renal disease. Blood work is completely normal and there are no clinical signs of problems so far.

Posted by: Snap's mom | August 18, 2015 1:55 PM    Report this comment

3 mos. ago my Chi nearly died. All of a sudden she lost 1/3 of her body wt. & she is 3 lbs. normally. She is/was normaly all of 3 lbs. so 1 lb was a heck of a big loss! In the end she had 2 diseases in her intestines. I am so lucky we have vets for everything, out here. I don't know how old she is as I rescued her 5 yrs. ago. I do know she was not a puppy when I got her...so now I will be getting my dogs a blood test every 6 mos. - as a precaution. I know the cost will be higher than "normal" but it is a lot lower than the thousands I had to pay to save her. Yes, she is worth the cost as she is the most loving & smartest dog I have ever met! Oh yes, she is doing great. In fact I have her on a diet, as she has to lose 3 ozs.

I wish some of the vets offered a "break" on the cost for, hopefully, unnecessary blood tests.

Posted by: ehb | August 18, 2015 1:49 PM    Report this comment

I've been taking my dogs to our vet for their "senior checkups" beginning around the ages of 8 yrs. A senior blood panel was always done along with a good hands on vet check - but, that was all. Then, unfortunately, both of my dogs had to be put to sleep (2 yrs apart) because of massive hemorrhoraging from spontaneously ruptured spleen tumors!! They were both around 14 yrs old and large mixed breed rescues - happy, running around playing and both collapsed suddenly. I've since read that if these are caught in time, surgery to remove the spleen can save their lives. So, I would say abdominal ultrasounds might be helpful. I have one senior lab left - he's 14 yrs old and just had his senior check from our new "Travel Vet". He's very arthritic and is doing well on pain meds, but we decided to have an abdominal ultrasound done. There was no tumor of the spleen, but showed diffuse liver cancer!!!!!! We had NO idea. His subsequent senior blood panel shows elevated liver enzymes and some other abnormalities. His last blood panel was not quite a year ago and was completely normal.

Posted by: Pixiejacq | August 18, 2015 1:30 PM    Report this comment

Haven't you paid attention to the over screening issues going on in humans - to the way mammography and PSA testing are finding things that might never have been a problem and are leading to over treatment? Don't you think the same might be true in dogs? Frankly I worry more about the x-ray exposure of a full body scan than I do about undetected cancer.

Posted by: Susan72 | August 18, 2015 12:54 PM    Report this comment

I would love to have a full body ultrasound since it does not require anesthesia and might catch tumors.

We do have glaucoma checks done on our older dogs.

One thing you need to make sure you have done with the dental is x-rays. I brush everyone's teeth daily and use a kibble-free diet so we have pretty teeth. I just took in one of my foster girls for a dental because we thought a tooth was "not right". Two separate vets at the clinic told us she did not need a dental but we insisted on a dental with full x-rays. It turns out she had five abscessed teeth which would not have been caught without the x-rays. She gobbled her food and showed no signs of pain but we "felt" she had an issue.

We were very happy the vet doing the procedure decided to trust us rather than relying on her clean teeth.

Posted by: Furrykids | August 18, 2015 12:41 PM    Report this comment

Not sure if you're doing the senior bloodwork in anticipation of Otto's teeth cleaning but we have been using the non-anesthetic cleanings for a few years now. No bloodwork required...

I have 4 dogs & the ones i thought wouldn't let them do it were the easiest to complete. Each dog has had their teeth cleaned twice in the last 3 or 4 years (the raw diet does only much...lol) & we love how clean their teeth are after.

I'm now doing the senior bloodwork on all 4 (3 are 9, 1 is 8) & it's not cheap. Even with the multi dog discount at the vet's...lol

If your dogs are on raw, you need to know which numbers will be higher than normal - I'm blessed with a vet who knows & supports raw feeding.

We discovered liver issues last year by having those tests & have been able 2 identify the cause & the cure.

Worth every penny...

Posted by: Scamp's mom | August 18, 2015 12:31 PM    Report this comment

I agree with pattylu on annual blood work. I think all too often, though certainly not most readers of WDJ, we give off the perception to our vets that we're worried about costs. That can make a vet a bit hamstrung to do the most thorough job, when a client is going to turn down and xray or blood work that is being done to catch issues early. It's a problem with both a "bargain hunter" mentality about pets and also the payment and insurance structure. But prevention is almost always far cheaper than acute care.

We have a wonderful 17yo dachshund and have learned a lot of valuable lessons. A few years back, she was playing with a toy and swallowed the squeaker. She had NEVER done that her entire life. When we took her in and got xrays, they didn't see a squeaker (nearly impossible to see on xray but we insisted on trying), but they saw a massive liver tumor. We are fortunate to have a wonderful vet who referred to the excellent vet school at Colorado State. Yes, CSU did find that squeaker in her stomach when they were removing the tumor.

In retrospect, we had noticed she was throwing up on occasion prior to this, but didn't have a lot of other symptoms. How would we have known if she hadn't eaten that squeaker? She also had a broken heart valve the next year, and we found that because she began lying on her side on the floor - instead of her bed - and breathing more heavily when resting.

I believe the mid-life wellness exam ought to include an annual xray and bloodwork. It should also include a thoughtful explanation of what symptoms we should be aware are not just "old age" and when to have concerns. We have been extremely fortunate, but many symptoms go unnoticed.

Posted by: ClaraLewis | August 18, 2015 11:30 AM    Report this comment

i now have an almost 9 yr old female GSD too. i also do annual exams and blood work, and take her in when necessary. what cancer went undetected?? i lost my last two GSDs to hemangiosarcoma, and so i do ask my vet to palpate my girl's spleen when we are in. but i would like to know what cancer it was that took your girl and was not found til a week before she died. pretty scary.

Posted by: kyri's mom | August 18, 2015 11:21 AM    Report this comment

My 15 year old Havanese had a strange event about 9 months ago. He began shaking all over, layer down on the floor and was limp and incoherent on the long 40 min drive to my vet, of which I was speeding to say the least) He was kept overnight, given fluids and when we picked him up, he appeared to be back to normal except tired from the ordeal. I was told by my vet that he had cancer (determined by an X-ray, and a blood test showing lots of white cells). He told us to go home and discuss the 2 alternatives: have him put down or having exploratory surgery, that he might not survive due to his condition. This was one of the most horrible nights of our lives. My spirit told me NOT to do either and 9 months later and he acts like a puppy excepts sleeps a lot (because he's FIFTEEN). I have 3 dogs and a cat that I can't imagine life without but this has made me very fearful of vets. I know, just like MD's they are necessary, but we could have made the WRONG decision. I believe, if we care for them as we would our children, then they will go when it's their time to go.......and unless they are in obvious pain, we should never opt to put them down. I'm very interested in this blood test specifically for Cancer and want to find out more about it.

Posted by: PattyJ | August 18, 2015 11:06 AM    Report this comment

I'm in the same boat right now with my male GSD. I just scheduled a wellness exam with complete blood work (kidney & liver function, CBC, etc.) and added a TK Canine blood screen that should hopefully detect the presence any cancer cells in his body. I'm still wondering if that's "enough". We just lost our seemingly healthy senior female GSD in Feb. to cancer that went totally undetected until 7 days before it claimed her. She was always checked twice a year and her exam & blood work were good in Dec, so we too are paranoid about missing something. I'm anxious to see what others & your experts say...

Posted by: WSEYBOLD@BWIMILLWORK.COM | August 18, 2015 9:28 AM    Report this comment

I take my dogs to the vet for regular visits twice a year, regardless of their age and health status, along with visits as needed when issues come up. We do a minimum of annual blood work to check liver and kidney function and CBC.

Posted by: pattylu | August 18, 2015 8:52 AM    Report this comment

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