6 min read
By Emily Gantt
Published: 10/04/2021, edited: 10/04/2021
Save on pet insurance for your pet
You don't have to choose between your pet and your wallet when it comes to expensive vet visits. Prepare ahead of time for unexpected vet bills by finding the pawfect pet insurance.
Whether you adopted a senior dog from the shelter or raised your old fur-baby from a pup, one thing is for sure — senior dogs steal our hearts. But taking care of a senior dog has its challenges. With old age often comes the onset of new or worsening health conditions and more frequent trips to the vet.
Any concerned pet parent may wonder if they're taking their senior dog to the vet too often or not enough. How often should senior dogs should go to the vet? What's the cost of veterinary care and common health conditions in elderly dogs? Keep reading to find out.
A healthy senior dog with no pre-existing conditions should be seen at least once every 6 months for routine checkups and geriatric screenings.
During these checkups, your vet will perform ordinary assessment tasks like:
Reviewing your pet's history, diet, and activity level
Testing your pet for parasites
Checking their vital signs
Monitoring your pet's weight
Examining your dog head to tail
Palpating your pet's abdomen
Inspecting the eyes, mouth, and ears
Manipulating your pet's legs and joints
Administering vaccinations and boosters
Reviewing anti-parasitics and maintenance medications
In addition to the normal checkup routine, the vet should also perform a geriatric screening, which is typically more involved. Geriatric screenings help identify progressive diseases in the early stages. Early detection is key for managing symptoms and prolonging life expectancy in elderly dogs.
Geriatric screenings typically involve:
Blood work (complete blood cell count and blood chemistry screening)
Urinalysis (to check for diabetes, kidney problems, and infections)
Parasite testing via fecal flotation
Testing for tick-borne diseases (like Lyme disease, among others)
Specific tests due to genetic predisposition (particularly in purebreds)
Unfortunately, senior dogs tend to develop medical problems in their golden years. There isn't much you can do to prevent age-related medical problems, aside from keeping your pet active and providing them with a balanced and complete diet.
Years of wear and tear on your pet's joints and organs can cause a slow decline in their overall health. Below are some of the most common health conditions that develop in senior dogs.
Arthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints that causes pain when walking or moving. A fifth of all dogs experiences arthritis at some point in their lifetimes.
Some types of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis, can be hereditary. However, arthritis is most often a symptom of aging. While arthritis can happen to younger dogs, it is usually a product of stress on the joints after years of use.
Symptoms of arthritis include:
Kidney disease is another common condition that affects dogs as they age. Kidney disease occurs when the body cannot filter the blood of toxins as well as it once did.
Genetics can put some dogs at higher risk for kidney disease, though dogs with no family history of kidney disease can also be affected. Blockages, infection, cancer, toxins, and other underlying conditions can impair renal function, leading to kidney disease.
Skin growths, bumps, and lumps often pop up as dogs mature. Often, these growths are benign, but sometimes, they can signal more serious issues.
Cancer is relatively common in senior dogs, but it often goes untreated if the dog has no outward signs. This is particularly true for internal cancers that vets may not detect until the dog has abnormal scans or blood work.
Signs of cancer in dogs can vary considerably and often coincide with other conditions like arthritis. Cancer symptoms in canines include:
Early detection is crucial when dealing with aggressive cancers, so make sure you get your pet checked if they display any of the above symptoms or if have growths that are new or increasing in size.
It's not unusual for a dog's hearing to decline with age. Age-related hearing loss is due to degeneration of the vestibulocochlear nerve in the inner ear.
Hearing loss usually progresses slowly and is rarely detected right away. The first sign of hearing loss is usually the dismissal of commands. You may notice your fur-baby not jumping up when you mention a walk or staring off in space when you call their name. Unfortunately, age-related hearing loss is irreversible.
With advanced age often comes neurological changes. Cognitive dysfunction is a common problem in elderly canines and is often compared to dementia in humans.
According to the Canine Health Foundation, "Studies show that 20 to 30% of dogs over 7 to 9 years of age show signs of cognitive dysfunction. In dogs over 14 years of age, it increases to 68% of dogs."
Dogs with cognitive dysfunction may forget their way around the home, regress in their house training, or stare off in space.
Years of plaque and tartar buildup can cause a dog's oral health to decline. Dental conditions like periodontal disease and gingivitis tend to arise as dogs get older. These conditions can cause tooth loss and make eating painful.
A few signs a dog is experiencing dental disease include:
Heart disease is another concern as dogs get older. Many types of heart disease affect canines. Smaller dogs with heart disease are often diagnosed with valvular disease, whereas larger breeds are more susceptible to myocardial diseases.
Experts often refer to heart disease as a silent killer since the early stages are rarely symptomatic. Only when congestive heart failure sets in do many dogs begin experiencing symptoms.
Nearly every aspect of a dog's care routine will change as they get older, from what they eat to how they get around. As pet parents, we must adapt to our senior dogs' needs to help them live the longest and most comfortable life possible. Below are some things to consider when creating a care plan for your aging fur-baby.
Most dogs require a change in diet as they get older. If tooth decay is an issue, you may need to replace your dog's favorite kibble with an easy-to-chew wet food. Many vets recommend pet parents switch their aging dogs to low-fat, low-calorie diet to prevent weight gain (and extra strain on the joints).
Vets often suggest adding nutritional supplements to the diet when pets get older. Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin help maintain joint health and decrease inflammation related to arthritis and old age. Omega-3 supplements can improve joint health and have the added benefit of aiding brain function.
Mobility problems often arise with advanced age, and pet parents may need to make some changes around the home to accommodate their aging fur-baby. You may have to gate off stairways to prevent your dog from hurting themselves while climbing. Pet ramps can prevent injuries from jumping while still allowing your pet to enjoy their favorite spot in the bed.
Like regular exercise helps keep the body healthy, regular mental stimulation is essential to keeping the brain healthy and maintaining cognitive function. Frequent walks, food puzzles, and engaging playtime are all great ways to keep a dog’s mind active.
Make sure your pet is current on all their anti-parasitic medications and vaccinations throughout their golden years. Older pets have weaker immune systems and may not be able to handle a parasite infestation or preventable illness.
Long toenails can interfere with mobility and worsen problems like arthritis. Clip your dog's toenails regularly to ensure proper foot posture.
Increased thirst is often a sign of underlying illness in senior dogs. Monitor your dog's water consumption and contact your vet if your pet is unusually thirsty for days on end — this could signal diabetes or kidney disease.
The cost of veterinary care often rises as pets age. More frequent checkups, increased testing, and new or worsening conditions often mean higher vet bills. Let's take a look at the average pricing for routine veterinary services for senior dogs.*
Standard office visit: $50 – $200
Geriatric screening: $85 – $115
Vaccines: $18 – $25 per shot
Heartworm testing: $45 – $50
Fecal testing: $25 – $45
Dental cleaning: $70 – $400
ECG (for heart disease detection): $250 – $350
Complete blood work panel: $180
* Keep in mind location also plays a role in veterinary pricing— use these numbers as a general guideline.
Vet care is expensive for any age group, but particularly for senior dogs who require a more advanced level of care. Frequent vet visits and testing can add up, but a pet insurance policy can reimburse all or part of those medical costs. Use our pet insurance comparison tool to see which plan is right for your woofer.
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