A study* conducted in Belgium evaluated the presence of abnormal findings on physical, ophthalmic, neurologic and orthopedic exams, as well as blood work and urinalysis among 100 older dogs (41 senior and 59 geriatric dogs) who were assessed by their owners as “healthy.”
Hypertension was frequently encountered. The most likely reason could be the “white-coat effect”. This finding emphasizes the importance of stress and may suggest that an acclimatization period of 5-10 minutes might not be sufficient. Systolic blood pressure was not affected by (over)weight, age, and gender.
A systolic heart murmur was detected in 22% of dogs, with no significant difference between the 2 age groups. However, the odds of a systolic murmur significantly decreased with increasing weight. Lung auscultation showed increased broncho-vesicular sounds in 14 dogs, 12 of which were panting.
Skin masses (cutaneous and SQ) were found in 56% of the dogs – from 1 to 9 per dog. Of the 151 masses, 19% were “warts” and 5% were malignant. Significantly more masses were found in geriatric dogs than senior dogs.
Orthopedic abnormalities affecting 1 limb were noted in 24% of the dogs. Abnormalities affecting 2 or more limbs were found in 39% of the dogs. Orthopedic problems were significantly more frequent in geriatric dogs than in senior dogs. The most frequently affected joint was the hip, with 1 or 2 hips showing painful or decreased extension in 44% dogs.
Over 10% of the dogs (again, “seemingly healthy”) had mild, non-regenerative anemia. Leukopenia was noted in 23% of the dogs. Thrombocytopenia was seen in 4% of them. Serum creatinine was increased in 32% of the dogs. Increased levels of liver enzymes were common and mostly minor.
Urinary sediments exam in 96 dogs revealed crystalluria (65%), bacteria (5%), microscopic hematuria (33%), and pyuria (5%). No significant association was found between food type and presence of urinary crystals.
In summary, platelet count, the frequency of orthopedic problems and (sub)cutaneous masses were significantly higher in geriatrics compared with senior dogs. Geriatric dogs also had significantly lower hematocrit, serum albumin, serum total thyroxine and body temperature.
Conclusion: this article provides objective data to have a constructive discussion with clients who question the need for blood work in seemingly healthy older dogs, including before surgery.
* A. Willems et al. “Results of screening of apparently healthy senior and geriatric dogs.” JVIM Oct. 2016, doi 10.1111/jvim.14587 – Epub ahead of print.