Senior dog preventative screening

Several years ago, I wrote an article about cancers of the spleen, hemangiosarcoma. Hemangiosarcoma is a malignant vascular tumor that occurs in veins and large organs such as the spleen, heart and liver. In many cases patients with this cancer may not show any symptoms indicating they are not feeling well.

I am compelled to write this month’s article on this condition for a couple of reasons. It is the start of the New Year, so optimal health is on everyone’s checklist, and it should be of concern with regard to your dog. Secondly, I have had several patients suffer from emergent conditions this week where they had these tumors and were bleeding to death. I feel it is very important to share some thoughts with readers who have older dogs.

One of the most important things to consider when caring for any pet is that prevention and early detection of diseases are key. If we can prevent diseases from occurring, our pets will not have to go through unnecessary pain/distress. As pets age, if we can detect and address diseases earlier they will often be less costly to address and a lot less stressful for the patient. If your pet has a skin tumor, it is always better to remove it when it is smaller and has not been there very long. Often the longer we wait, the more the mass will continue to grow, requiring longer anesthesia time and more pain control. Timing is truly everything.

I strongly encourage you to have your senior dogs examined every six months. Semi-annual examinations allow your family veterinarian to perform a thorough examination and detect these subtle changes and document them. The most important diagnostic test is an examination; there is no substitute. When a thorough examination is performed, the veterinarian will examine all body systems including looking in the eyes (ophthalmoscope included), examining the ears, listening to the heart and lungs, in-depth feeling of the abdomen, extending/flexing all joints, examining the skin, feeling all lymph nodes, examining the patient’s walk, and inspecting the external genitalia. It is important to ask questions during the examination, especially if you have any concerns.

More in-depth testing includes at least once-yearly blood analysis to assess organ function. Being able to compare blood values over time allows your veterinarian to evaluate trends and address those changes sooner. Even blood levels in normal ranges could point to a disease process in the making.

Some additional tests include sonograms and radiographs. I strongly recommend that dog breeds more predisposed to splenic cancers such as hemangiosarcoma have yearly ultrasound screening to check for potential tumors. Even mixed-breed dogs can have these types of cancers, so really all patients qualify for these tests.

If you have a senior dog, I strongly encourage you to seek these additional tests. If your veterinarian cannot provide some of these tests, or you feel your pet could use a more in-depth assessment, it is never wrong to ask for a referral/recommendation for another veterinarian in the area. It is important to remember that prevention and early detection are key. I would like to wish you and your pets a happy and healthy New Year.

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