April 26, 2016

Recommendations for the Older Animal Wellness Exam

Medical advances are prolonging the life of animals and heightening the need for senior veterinary care. Both the AAHA and the AAFP have published guidelines on senior wellness examinations.
By Amy Karon, DVM, MPH
Advances in nutrition, medicine, and surgery are helping companion animals live longer, heightening the need for senior veterinary care. Eighty percent of dogs 9 years of age and older have had at least one previously unrecognized health problem that was only uncovered after a careful geriatric examination, according to a study in the September 2012 Journal of Small Animal Practice.
A thorough history, physical examination, and the minimum database can add months or even years to an animal’s healthy lifespan. Both the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) have published guidelines on senior wellness examinations.
Semiannual Appointments
For pets, the risk of developing chronic diseases is heightened during middle age, and cats and some dogs will compensate or hide symptoms until they are acutely ill. Therefore, the AAHA recommends at least one semiannual examination for dogs beginning in the second half of their breed’s average life expectancy. Likewise, seemingly healthy cats 11 years of age and older should be examined every 6 months, according to AAFP.
It is important to analyze the animal’s current habits in comparison to when the animal was younger. Starting with open-ended questions and following up with close-ended questions can yield more information than either technique alone. Asking the same questions in different ways helps owners recall details and bring to mind concerns they want to discuss.
Examples of open-ended questions include:
  • How has the pet been since his or her last appointment?
  • What behavioral changes have you noticed in the past few weeks?
  • How easily does (s)he get up and sit down?
  • How is his or her appetite?

Close-ended questions include:
  • Have you noticed changes in the pet’s eating, drinking, urinating, or defecation habits?
  • Have you noticed any coughing, sneezing, vomiting, or diarrhea?
  • Does the pet ever seem confused or disoriented?
  • How high can the pet jump?
  • Has (s)he been meowing or hiding more than usual?

Most owners will not expand on their answers to close-ended questions, but following up again with gentle, open-ended prompts can help with hesitation.

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