A:  My practice offers two packages for older pets.  One is called the “Paws in Time” early detection program. It is designed to diagnose medical conditions as early as possible. We also offer a rider on our wellness plans that offer a monthly payment that covers all recommended wellness care.

But why provide additional testing for older pets in the first place? We know that almost every pet will develop at least one serious condition in their senior years. Our chance of successfully addressing a problem depends directly on how early we catch it.

Most people understand this concept from their own medical care. Cholesterol screening can lead to treatments that prevent heart attacks. Regular mammograms, colonoscopy, and prostate evaluations can catch cancer in very early, treatable stages. Thanks in large part to the success of routine screening, people are living longer, healthier lives than ever before.

Regular screening tests can have the same benefits for our pets. The major questions are when should we start screening older pets, how often should we screen them, and which tests should we run?

Pets should begin more frequent and more thorough screenings when they reach the rough equivalent human age of fifty. The age of seven is similar to a fifty year old person for many dogs. Giant breeds age more quickly, while toy breeds and cats age more slowly.

Every major organization that publishes guidelines for senior pet care recommends thorough examinations and laboratory tests every six months. Older pets age the equivalent of four to seven years in each twelve month interval. An issue that begins to develop a few weeks or months after a veterinary visit is likely to become an advanced problem before next year. Experts agree: a year is often just too long.

Senior examinations should be geared toward detection of the unique conditions of older animals. For example, both dogs and cats can develop high blood pressure as they age. They can also suffer from increased eye pressure, or glaucoma. Blood pressure and glaucoma testing are important parts of our comprehensive “Paws in Time” physical examination.

When pets enter the “over fifty” crowd, they should graduate to more thorough laboratory screening tests. Our custom “Paws in Time” panels are designed to detect problems early, including diabetes, liver conditions, kidney impairment, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, chronic inflammatory conditions, platelet disorders, anemia, and even some cancers.

For more information, you can visit facebook.com/ClevengersCorner to see the American Animal Hospital Association’s Canine Life Stage Guidelines and the American Association of Feline Practitioners’ Senior Care Guidelines.

Dr. Watts is a companion animal general practitioner at Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care. Questions can  be submitted through ClevengersCorner.com, Facebook.com/ClevengersCorner, or by calling his office at (540)428-1000.