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  • Writer's pictureSieske Valk

Why we should perform regular veterinary health checks for senior pets

Updated: 1 day ago

When you have a senior pet, your veterinarian will tell you that it is very important to visit them regularly for check-ups. That once-per-year check-up for their yearly vaccinations won’t cut it anymore. I’m here to tell you they are not wrong.

I too strongly advise performing regular veterinary health checks for senior pets with at least yearly blood- and urine checks and less-invasive checks done every 3 months to make sure nothing creeps up in the meantime. It’s also very important to monitor their weight to spot a downward trend quickly and perform Quality of Life assessments regularly.

 

In this article, I will take you along on one of Lewis’s many vet visits and the choices I’ve made along the way. I often joke that Lewis is lucky to live in a household where the people don’t take holidays, they just spend all their money on the cat.

Even though I’m mostly joking, and Lewis does have pet insurance, they only cover a part of his adventures to see his friend Simon (the vet) and veterinary care ís expensive. Yet, I still choose to do regular blood checks to nip any disease and vitamin/mineral deficiency in the bud and maintain a high Quality of Life for him. Anticipating is easier than fixing.

Is your dog or cat very anxious about going to the vet? Keep reading to find out how I deal with this issue and make sure the experience ends on a high…


My cat's physical health history in a nutshell 

A calico cat looking sleepy and wrapped in a bright red blanket
Cat says no (to going to the vet). Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

Lewis his last blood check was in July this year, and it turned out his liver values were slightly elevated. This may be due to his long-term low dose of NSAIDs or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs that relieved him from his pain from osteoarthritis and pancreatitis flare-ups.

Lewis’s vet recommended to stop giving the NSAIDs and start him on a VERY low dose of oral steroids to keep the pancreatitis at bay. We also continued with acupuncture to support him in his osteoarthritis, and we started him on a liver supplement to support the organ.

He had his yearly check-up with vaccination in September and now that we are in December, it’s time to check his blood and urine to see how his liver is doing and whether anything else pops up after having been on a new drug for a few months.


What does the perfect (cat) vet look like to you? 

I scheduled an appointment with our favourite local veterinarian, Simon at . He is appointed as the clinic's cat advocate by International Cat Care (previously ISFM), and you can really tell by how he approaches his feline patients, that he understands his craft. He also knows what kind of communication works best for each pet owner, is very pragmatic and knows Lewis’s medical history, likes and dislikes. This is why we always book with Simon so that both Lewis and I are at ease and know we are taken care of.


If your pet gets a bit anxious at the vet, here's what to do 

Even though Lewis has recently turned 17, he can still be quite spicy when you need to take his blood. Something happened to him before I adopted him, so I don’t know what he has against needles, but the moment he feels one going into his skin, he explodes. In the past, multiple nurses have piled on top of him, and taken him to the back of the surgery in the hope he would allow a blood sample to have taken there and they have tried fully sedating him, but Lewis would still hold strong.

 

Fortunately, we now know of the power of Gabapentin and because he already receives this medication for his osteoarthritis, it’s very easy for me to give him a bit extra the morning of the consultation. Mind you, he only gets a high dose when we need to take blood, he doesn’t need it for a less invasive check-up.

Gabapentin is pain relief but also takes away anxiety and makes cats a bit more ehm….mellow. When you give a higher dose of the drug two hours before the consultation, they are very easy to handle when at the vet. There’s no need any more for the stress for either of you!

Ask your veterinarian about this magical drug if you have a spicy or fearful cat so that you can make the vet visit a lot less anxiety-ridden. There are similar drugs for dogs so just ask your veterinarian about them.

 

It's all in the preparation

Our consultation is booked at 10 am, so I give Lewis his high dose of Gabapentin at 8 am. After this, he has breakfast and a pee. Because we also want to check his urine for kidney function, I prepared a special litter box with KatKor the night before. These are tiny plastic granules that feel like cat litter but don’t absorb liquid. Here you can see how I can easily use a pipette to take the urine and put it in a test tube. I then stored it in the fridge to prevent excess bacteria growth, which can give a false result of a UTI, until I left for the clinic.

 

Because we travel with Lewis, I use a backpack to take him to fun places and an easy-to-open carrier to take him to the vet. This way, he knows that when he goes into the backpack, he doesn’t have to worry about going to the vet. I then spray the carrier with Pet Remedy spray to make sure he continues feeling mellow. Pet Remedy has valerian in it and calms pets down, but Feliway, the pheromone-based spray should have similar effects.

At 9.30 am we leave the house to leave enough time for him to settle in the waiting room and for his heartbeat to slow down before the check-up. Just in time, I remember to bring the urine sample and to bring my diary in which I keep Lewis’s Food, Mood & Loo chart. It reminds me when he’s due flea and worm treatment, when he was having an off-day and when his stool indicated a pancreatitis flare-up.


You are Safe. You are Loved. You are Sleepy.

During the short bike ride to the vet, Lewis is very chatty, and I continuously tell him where we are going, what we’re going to do and that I will bring him home after so that there is no need to worry. I have no idea whether Lewis understands everything that I say, so I tell him this in both Dutch and English, in the hope that somewhere in the waterfall of words, he manages to understand that he’s loved, cared for and safe and that I won’t leave him alone in a scary place.

 

There are no shouty dogs in the waiting room, but I still place him in the dedicated cat cubby to keep him as calm as possible. This cubby allows him to see me, but nobody else, and more importantly, no other animals. There’s also a Feliway diffuser plugged in near the cubby so the pheromones continue to keep Lewis calm. After 15 minutes of calm waiting, we are called in by Simon and enter the consultation room.

Simon knows that with Lewis, it’s important to get the whole blood sampling out of the way as soon as possible. First, he chats with me and asks how Lewis is doing before taking him out of his carrier.

It would have been better if the carrier had a top that could be removed from it for easy access to Lewis, or if I would have used the larger side doors, but I sometimes forget to be the perfect cat guardian, so I pull Lewis out through the front flap.


A quick but thorough veterinary health check for senior pets 

As you can see in the video below, I hold Lewis, just like I promised him. I always tell him what we are going to do and that we’ll be home quickly. I believe he knows I have his best interest in mind, so he stays calm and together with the heavy dose of Gabapentin, taking Lewis’s blood is a quick job.

Simon then checks over his whole body, heart rate, eyes and ears and discusses with me what kind of blood and urine check he will do. As I already weigh Lewis on a baby scale every month, we already know his weight is stable and there’s nothing to worry about there.

Simon finally advises me to perform a blood pressure measurement at home, not because he feels that something is up, but because it’s generally good practice to do this regularly with ageing cats. And because I have the special cat blood pressure measurement equipment at home for Autumn Animals, this is very easy for me to perform on Lewis.


Making the most out of the snoozing cat 

We’re back home within an hour of leaving and Lewis has a severe case of the munchies. I take this opportunity to clip his nails and cut the fur from between the pads on his back paws because he normally doesn’t like me touching his paws. With his sedation though, he minds less.

Unfortunately, Lewis is not allowed to go outside for the rest of the day as he is on a heavy dose of Gabapentin, but he can eat and snooze for the rest of the day. And while he’s doing that, I make sure to file the vet’s invoice with Lewis’s pet insurance and wait for them to pay the costs back within a few weeks.

 

The verdict is in...

At the end of the day, I receive the results. His liver values have not improved, but the liver is still working fine. We need to continue supplementing to support the liver and add potassium to his meals twice per day. It turns out, he is a bit low on it, which can be the cause of him being a bit sleepier lately. Simon noted that most people don’t spot a lowered potassium (K+) until the pet has severe symptoms, so it’s been very useful to have checked his blood and be able to (like I said before) nip anything new in the bud. Lewis also gets a prescription for a short course of antibiotics to finally get rid of the lingering snotty nose he’s been having and after his new regime has been put into place, he is all ready for the new year.


2024 and Lewis’s 18th birthday, here we come!



 

 

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