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Karen "Doc" Halligan, DVM Shares Tips
On Caring for Senior Pets



























The Weekly Once-Over
When performing your weekly at-home exam, you want to take a systematic approach and do it the same way every time so you don't miss anything. Also, make it fun!!!

Face
Dogs and cats get many of the same diseases that we do, including cataracts, glaucoma, conjunctivitis, and dry eye, but if caught in the early stages, many of these conditions can be prevented from progressing and your pet's eyesight could even be saved. Cats and dogs can even develop tumors in the eyes, so look closely with a good light. Both pupils should be the same size and the eyes should be clear, bright, and shiny, not cloudy.

The whites of the eyes, or sclera, should be white, not red. Dogs and cats have what's called a “third eyelid,” which helps protect the eye as well as lubricate it by producing tears. The third eyelid should not be showing. When a cat or dog is sick or in pain, you will suddenly see this white-colored membrane covering the lower part of the eye.

Lips
Some dogs that have lip folds, such as spaniels, are especially prone to inflammation and skin infections on their lips. Lip tumors can develop on both dogs and cats. Check your pet's lips to make sure there are no crusts and there is no scaling and that the skin isn't dry and cracked like your lips when they are dry. Be sure to look for redness and hair loss around the mouth as well.

Nose
It's a common fallacy that a warm nose means a dog or cat has a fever. However, the nose should be smooth and without any scaling or roughness. Sneezing or nasal discharge can be signs of an upper respiratory infection, quite common in cats. Also look for color changes on your pet's nose. There should be no loss of pigmentation on a dark nose. White noses can get sunburn and even skin cancer.

Ears
Look at your pet's ears. They should have very little odor or discharge, but a small amount of wax is normal. If you see debris, redness, hair loss, or crusting or your pet seems to be in pain when its ears are touched, it could be a sign of an ear infection. Look for abnormalities on the outside of the ears, a happy home for some parasites. Hair loss, crusting, and redness can indicate mites, allergies, or infection. Ears should be flat, not swollen. Flies will sometimes bite at the tips of dogs' ears, so carefully check along the edges.

Mouth
Notice if your pet has any trouble opening and closing its mouth. Look for any drooling or difficulty chewing and swallowing. Hopefully you're brushing your pet's teeth daily or at least three times a week. Check your dog or cat's mouth for tumors, swelling, and bleeding gums. Look at the teeth. Are they white, brown, or green? There should be no broken teeth and no odor.

Look at the color of the gums. They should be nice and pink, not white or red. You can check your pet's circulation by using your thumb and briefly applying pressure to the gums and releasing. The area that you pressed should turn white and then rapidly return to the normal pink color. This is called the capillary refill time. For dogs and cats, one to two seconds is considered normal. If the refill time is less than one second or more than three seconds, it could indicate a serious circulation problem and necessitates an immediate trip to the vet.

Lymph Nodes
Before moving to the skin, feel under your pet's throat. Dogs and cats have lymph nodes in their bodies, just like humans do. Feeling for lumps, like the doctor does to you, can help detect enlarged lymph nodes, which can be the first sign of cancer or infection in dogs and cats. Dogs that get lymphoma, a common type of cancer, will have enlarged lymph nodes that are easily felt. Other lymph nodes that are readily detectable when enlarged are located at the shoulder, under the forearm, and on the backs of the rear legs.

Excessive panting or coughing is abnormal and your pet should not cough when you touch its throat. This can be a sign of a sensitive trachea or a common upper respiratory disease in dogs known as kennel cough.

Skin and coat
The skin is the largest organ of the body and is also the first line of defense against disease. Look closely at your pet's skin by parting the hair in several spots or blowing gently. It should be clean and dry. Look and feel for areas of swelling, heat, scrapes, pain, hair loss, crusting, or redness. Some pets have pigmentation or freckles on their skin, which is considered normal. Now run your hands all over your pet's body, including all four legs, and lift up the tail to look for problems with the anal glands. You'd be amazed at how many animals develop tumors or infections on the underside of the tail. And don't forget to look at the tummy. Check for lumps, bumps, and growths of any sort. Look closely under the fur because small bumps can be hard to see. The most common sites for tumors to grow are on the skin, mouth, mammary glands, and lymph nodes. Check under the coat for flakes, ticks, fleas, and flea dirt—small flecks of black debris that look like black pepper. This is actually flea poop, and if you get it wet, it will turn red—pretty disgusting!

Your cat's or dog's coat should be sleek and glossy, not dull, dry, or greasy. Run your fingers through your pet's hair. There should be no buildup or odor on your hands. Also check between the toes and look at the pads. Dogs and cats can get burrs, gum, and other foreign objects lodged there. During the summer months, dogs can easily burn their pads.

Proper hydration is very important. A good check to see if your pet is drinking enough water and is adequately hydrated is to gently pull up on the skin over your pet's shoulder blades, then release the skin. If your pet is hydrated, the skin will snap back quickly into position. If your dog or cat is dehydrated, it will take much longer for the skin to release; sometimes, it will even stay tented up. This can be a serious problem and requires a phone call or a trip to your vet right away.

Toenails
Keep those toenails short. Dogs and cats with overgrown nails are like women in stiletto heels. Walking is very difficult, and lameness, bone, or joint problems can occur as a result. Also, the nails can grow so long that they curl under the foot, embedding into the pads or skin, which is extremely painful for your pet. Nail trims need to be done regularly, depending on how active your pet is and how fast its nails grow.

Weight
Last but not least, check for weight gain or loss. This can be crucial in determining early signs of disease or illness. Even just a few extra pounds can be significant in animals, leading to arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and breathing difficulties. Some longhaired cats and dogs can appear healthy, when in reality they have lost weight, but because of their luxuriant coat, the loss may not be readily apparent. Catching weight loss or gain in the early stages is far better than waiting until it has progressed to something more serious that's much harder to treat.

Again, be aware of what's normal for your pet, so when changes occur, you can address them immediately by calling or visiting the vet to get the problem checked out and treated before it becomes severe.


For more information, visit dochalligan.com.



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