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You get that postcard in the mail reminding you that it’s time for Baxter or Snowball's regular checkup. He looks fine, you think to yourself, and he’s up to date on his vaccinations. I bet we can put that off for a while.
Think again. Even if your dog or cat doesn’t need vaccinations, his regular exam — especially as he gets older — helps to ensure that no serious problems lurk beneath what seems like a healthy exterior. Pets can develop a number of health problems that you may not even know were there without a veterinary exam (and maybe some diagnostic tests). Here are a few of them that can trick you or even go unnoticed until the condition is far advanced.
“Wow! Look at Lucy race around the house! You’d never know she was 11 years old.”
If your senior cat has a lot of energy, you might be patting yourself on the back about what great shape she’s in. She may be, but what’s also possible is that she has developed hyperthyroidism, an excess of thyroid hormones in the blood. It’s a problem we usually see in aging cats. Other common signs include weight loss and an increased appetite. So though you think your cat is active, eating well and not overweight, what’s actually happening is that she may be on the road to developing high blood pressure, heart failure, sudden blindness, and chronic vomiting and diarrhea. Left untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to death.
The good news is that hyperthyroidism is treatable for some cats and manageable for others. The disease can be managed with a daily pill or special diet, or cured with radioactive iodine treatment or surgical removal of the thyroid glands.
Hypothyroidism This disease, a deficiency of thyroid hormone, is the opposite of hyperthyroidism. It usually affects middle-aged and older dogs.
Signs of hypothyroidism tend to be vague. If you notice anything at all, it might be that your dog is less energetic; seems to get infections more frequently; or has a ratty-looking coat that seems dry, scaly, itchy or greasy. He may gain weight, even if he’s not eating anymore. On exam, your veterinarian may notice a slower heart rate.
Like hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism is diagnosed with a physical exam and blood test. It, too, is manageable with daily medication.
Your senior cat has been peeing outside the litterbox — a lot. He must be mad at you, because you’ve been working late, right?
Wrong. “Stinking outside the box” can be a sign of many different health problems, but in an older cat it may well signal kidney disease.
Kidney failure is a common problem in older cats. Clues to its presence include drinking more water than usual and then, of course, peeing more than usual — so much so that the cat may start to miss the box, because he can’t get there in time or it gets too full or smelly to suit him.
Though kidney failure can’t be cured — unless you can fork over the big bucks for a kidney transplant — it can be managed for months or even years with diet, medication and subcutaneous fluids, which you can learn to give at home.
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