Senior Animal Friends Examination (SAFE)
The primary idea if you have a senior pet is that old age is not a disease. Many changes that are often written off as the pet “just getting older” or “not as young as they used to be” are actually symptoms of underlying medical conditions. The healthcare team here at Hoof N Paw Veterinary Hospital is extremely excited to offer the latest in the treatment and management of health concerns of senior pets.
You know your pet best. Your job, as your pet’s advocate, is to speak up for your pet. Please tell us when you notice any changes in appetite (including water consumption), weight, elimination, behavior, skin/coat health, mobility or activity level. All of this is an important part of your pet’s complete medical history and can be very useful in making a diagnosis. Based on this history and the results of a comprehensive physical exam, your healthcare team will make recommendations tailored for your pet.
We have many programs specially designed to keep senior pets happy and healthy longer. Large dogs are considered seniors at 7 years of age (over 85 lbs.) and 10 years for cats and small dogs (dogs less than 25 lbs.). We recommend that all senior pets have a Senior Animal Friends Examination (or SAFE) as a profile of their general health. The SAFE includes a full physical exam, 15-panel blood chemistry screen, complete blood-cell count (or CBC), thyroid test, urinalysis, fecal check, viral or heartworm testing, blood pressure check, ECG, and screening radiographs of the chest and abdomen. All of these tests are performed at Hoof N Paw Veterinary Hospital and can be performed in one day. These tests are very beneficial as they can allow us to catch disease processes early in development, prior to any symptoms being exhibited, increasing treatment options and likelihood of a positive outcome.
As a pet ages, there are several changes that family members can make at home to help them cope with the changes occurring in their bodies. Probably the most obvious changes are occurring in the musculoskeletal (muscle and bone) system. Keeping a pet at their ideal weight will help keep additional stress off of joints, helping the pet to maintain better mobility. Managing living areas for senior pets is also very important. Minimizing the need to walk over slippery flooring, creating ramps as needed, and assuring easy access to eating, sleeping and toilet areas for seniors allow them to be successful in the home for a longer time. Exercise for senior pets should be very routine and not too strenuous. Regularly scheduled, leash-controlled walks are the best for seniors as this allows for adequate exercise while reducing the risks of injury that sometimes occurs with quick games like fetch. Massage and range of motion therapy has also proven very useful in maintaining mobility and managing pain in our senior pets.
The second most commonly noted changes in senior pets occur in hearing and vision. Pets need to have treatable causes of hearing and vision losses ruled out by a veterinarian. They seem to adjust very well to these losses, but need to be kept out of potentially dangerous situations. Keeping pets on a leash as these senses deteriorate is the best way to keep them out of harm’s way. The blood and urine testing (including a urinalysis, CBC, chemistry, electrolyte and thyroid screens) give us an overview of the pet’s internal organ function. This allows us to check for disease processes including kidney disease, liver disease, anemia, systemic infection, diabetes, and many others. Catching disease processes early in development allow us greater treatment options and an increased likelihood of a positive outcome.
The radiographs (or x-rays) of the pet’s chest and abdomen give us a 3-D view of the pet’s internal organs.
An ECG is used to measure the electrical function of the heart. The electrical impulses, generated in the pacemaker cells of the heart, are responsible for the rate and rhythm of cardiac contraction. Any irregularity can indicate heart diseases such as congestive heart failure, heart block, and cardiomyopathy.
Checking a fecal sample in cats and dogs goes a long way in helping to keep our senior pet intestinal parasite free. Heartworm testing in dogs completes the internal parasite screen. In cats, we recommend viral testing (checking for FeLV, also called feline leukemia, and FIV, also called feline AIDS) as these viruses significantly influence the health care plan for any cat that tests positive. Checking blood pressure in cats becomes increasingly important as they age. Cats often develop hypertension (high blood pressure) in their senior years and this can lead to sudden blindness, kidney and heart conditions.
Included in the SAFE is a consultation with the attending veterinarian after all of the test results have been compiled (usually within the week). During this consultation, the owner and pet’s veterinarian will develop a plan for the coming years together – when to repeat tests, medications & the supplements recommended for your pet, nutrition and exercise planning, etc. This time may also be used to go over other concerns that you may have.
The veterinary team at Hoof N Paw Veterinary Hospital feels very strongly that the SAFE is a necessary investment in the health and comfort of pets as they travel through their senior years. We would be happy to answer any questions that you may have about the SAFE and senior pet care. Please call our office today for more information about specialized needs for pets during this special time in their lives.