Look for and expect cleanliness, orderliness, friendliness, and openness to questions and discussion in your veterinarian’s office. Beware of overuse of vaccinations; most older dogs are fully protected from rabies, for example, because they have had multiple re-vaccinations. A titre can indicate whether your dog is protected. Note that a veterinarian is permitted to exempt a senior dog from rabies vaccinations on the basis of possible threat to health. Be aware that Lyme disease vaccinations have not been proven to be effective, yet many veterinarians continue to offer them.
Your dog must be under anesthesia to have teeth properly cleaned. Modern monitoring equipment and drugs make it safer than ever for all dogs, including seniors, to come through anesthesia without undue side effects. Although some pet grooming shops and veterinarians offer teeth cleaning without anesthesia, it is ineffective in getting under the gums, which is where most dental problems reside. A fully awake dog simply will not tolerate the kind of intrusion that is necessary to complete this type of cleaning.
Most people provide manufactured food for their dogs — dry, moist, or a combination. Raw food diets are another choice, and some are available in a freeze-dried form that is convenient. You’ll find endless information on dog nutrition on the Internet. Your veterinarian will also have suggestions. If you’re inclined toward cooking for your dog, you can find recommendations for various types of home-prepared food. Recipes abound — from the BARF (Bones And Raw Food) diet to cooked. Evaluate carefully and introduce your dog to any new food gradually to prevent g.i. upsets.
Diseases occur in older dogs that are not usually seen in young dogs, such as arthritis, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, cancer, and kidney, heart, and liver diseases. Blood tests done by a veterinarian will screen for many of these diseases, which is the reason that your veterinarian will do such tests during an annual or semi-annual visit. However, you can also be instrumental in keeping your older dog healthy by:
- keeping weight down (through good nutrition and regular exercise)
- keeping teeth clean (next to obesity, periodontal disease is the one most commonly seen in the vet’s office; brushing daily is a good preventative)
- seeing the vet for regular check-ups
- being observant about symptoms that might indicate a health problem (e.g., increased drinking and urinating, “accidents” in the house, loss of appetite, new lumps and bumps anywhere on the body, lack of energy) and getting prompt and appropriate veterinary attention
If your veterinarian wants to administer shots or to prescribe any kind of medication, always request a “Client Information Sheet” describing the intended effects of the shot/drug and the known side effects. All drugs have some side effects — some are worse than others. In fact, a frequently-prescribed NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) is suspected, and in some cases, has been confirmed as the cause of dogs’ deaths. (See information on Rimadyl.) Knowing the side effects to watch for, as provided in the Client Information Sheet, will prepare you to stop administration of any drug that’s causing troublesome side effects before it’s too late.
Perusing the labels on tick and flea medication is scary. “Don’t get it on your hands; wash them thoroughly after application to your dog; dispose of the empty vial by wrapping carefully and placing directly in an outside trash container.” Other flea and tick medication is systemic, in the form of a pill that your dog ingests. Before administering flea and tick medication, evaluate the danger of flea and tick exposure in your dog’s environment. In some geographical areas, it may be necessary to use it year-round. In others, however, it may be possible to use it less frequently in the winter months than in summer. See Dr. Jean Dodds’ notes on this issue.
Regular combing, brushing, and bathing — along with frequent vacuuming of surroundings and washing of bedding, etc. — are great methods of defending your dog against diseases and maximizing comfort and health.