Health Screening For the Older Dogs
Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
First written: 21 September, 2011
ate:  17 September, 2015

Most dog owners in Singapore live hectic lives. There are just too many distractions and too much work or enjoyment.

After an intense period of love and care for their new puppies, the senior dogs are just left alone as there is no time for them after their puppy hood. It is usually too late for many old dogs when they are sent to the veterinarian for some chronic disease problems. Veterinary costs become high as the dog is in poor health and need more intensive care.

Senior dogs are:
Small and Medium-sized breeds: Over 7 years
Large and Giant-sized breeds: Over 5 years.


For those who may want their senior dogs to live longer, here are the following health screening recommendations by Toa Payoh Vets:

1. Veterinary examination every 12 months including examination for tumours and growths, ear infections, eye diseases and skin diseases. Prostate enlargement, perineal hernias, breast tumours are common in the older dog.  Early detection saves lives.  Skin diseases are the top 3 cases in Toa Payoh Vets. An educational video is at: Video: Microscopic exam of ringworm 

2. Blood tests to check for blood disorders, diabetes, liver and kidney diseases. Special veterinary diets can be given to prevent further health deterioration when such health screening show disorders of the liver and kidneys, prolonging the dog's life.

Some senior dog/cats may be suffering from chronic kidney diseases which can be detected early by blood tests.
 Early detection and veterinary treatment prevents further kidney damage and expensive dialysis. The cost is $150 for a Complete Blood Count. Contact or tel 6254 3326 to get a blood test for your dog.

Blood test interpretation:

3. Urine tests to check on bladder and kidney infections and presence of urinary stones. Urine tests for bladder stones 3-months or periodically after operation as advised by your vet, but many Singaporean owners don't bother and bladder stones recur 3 times. 

Some owners euthanase their dogs when stones recur but others incur high veterinary costs to get them operated. Monitoring of the urine and X-rays as advised by your vet after bladder stone removal would have prevented much medical costs.  Case study: Five surgeries for bladder stone problem in a Shih Tzu

4. X-rays for arthritic hip joints (can't stand up easily), spinal column, heart and lungs.
X-rays for bladder stones 3-months or periodically after operation as advised by your vet.

5. Ultrasound scans of the abdomen for abnormal growths of the internal organs.

6. Dental check up and scaling every year. Prevention of oral tumours and oro-nasal fistulas (carnaissal tooth abscesses) in the old dog can be done if the owner checks his or her dog's teeth at the vet yearly.

Oro-nasal fistula: Follow up 6 years later

7. Heart check for murmurs and heart diseases. X-rays, ECG and ultrasound can be done.

8. Stool test for blood inside the stomach and intestines and parasites.

9. Blood tests for allergens affecting your chronic itchy skin-diseased dog.

10. A report and discussion about the delay in senility, obesity, behavioural problems, skin problems and any questions related to each individual dog.

Old dogs are very high anaesthetic risks as they are seldom in the best of health unlike younger ones. Everyone is happy when the old dog does not die on the operating table after surgery. But every vet will have cases of old dogs dying on the operating table as it is impossible to get good clinical outcomes when the vets undertake high-risk anaesthetics.

16 years old fox terrier, not neutered, male, circum-anal, tail gland tumours, toapayohvets, singaporeThis is one main reason why some vets discourage or reject old dog surgeries. "The old dog will pass away before the circum-anal tumours grow much bigger," one vet said to the owner. But the dog lived longer, splattering the apartment with blood from the bleeding tumour and requiring frequent cleaning up.

When a dog dies on the operating table, it is just too emotional for everyone including the operating veterinary surgeon. Such  deaths may be bad-mouthed by the owner or the family members to friends and recorded on the internet forum. The bad news adversely affect a vet's reputation that takes so much time and effort to build.

So it is understandable if a vet does not want to operate on high-risk cases. I do avoid such cases if possible as deaths on the operating table means a beloved family member that has been growing up with the family children who have become adults is lost forever.
The average life-span of a big breed dog is 12 years. The oldest small breeds in Singapore can live up to 20 years. However, many die before they are 10 years of age due to bad health and other preventable causes such as bacterial infection of the heart valves due to severe gum diseases (preventable by regular 2-yearly dental scaling and checks), pyometra (preventable by early detection or spaying), kidney diseases, diabetes and  tumours like breast, testicular (undescended testicle), gum and circum-anal tumours (much less occurrence in a male dog that has been neutered).

11. Tips: Excision of small skin, mammary, circum-anal and other tumours.  Tumours detected early can be excised saving the dog's life and reducing veterinary costs. Delaying treatment results in tumours growing and multiplying as in the circum-anal tumour. Many Singapore dog owners delay removal of their senior dog's tumours till they grown big, become smelly and bleeding, messing up the apartment. In such cases, the anaesthetic risks are very high and the dog may die on the operating table.

Large cancerous gum and hard palate tumour. Jack Russell, 10 years. Toa Payoh Vets

Many diseases such as circum-anal and undescended testicular tumours rarely occur in male dogs that have been neutered. If you don't wish to neuter your dog, please check his backside monthly as small circum-anal tumours are easily removed and cost you less too.  

Tumours like breast tumours are best removed
when they are small.

Case study.
Mammary adenoma. A kind Buddhist teacher



Shih Tzu X Silkie. 7 years. Mammary tumours, nodules. MG4. Toa Payoh Vets

Case study. Breast tumours have spread to two breasts. If excision is not done, all 10 breasts will be cancerous. The surgery was done at Toa Payoh Vets in 2008 and the owners had not returned as at April 4, 2013.

Original article with more images:
More images of cases done

An example of the investigation tests and surgeries done for one older dog with heart disease is at:

subcutaneous swelling - edema - cardiac tamponade - heart base tumour likely - toapayohvets, singapore

Cardiac tamponade, 13 days after pericardiocentesis, lab retriever, toapayohvets, singapore

Cardiac Tamponade in a Labrador Retriever - Pt 1
Cardiac Tamponade in a Labrador Retriever - Pt 2

BE KIND TO OLDER DOGS & CATS --- GET TUMOURS REMOVED EARLY --- WHEN THEY ARE SMALLER.  More case studies, go to:  Cats  or  Dogs

Make an appointment with your vet. Or tel 6254-3326, 9668-6469 for an appointment to discuss health screening for your senior companion. Or e-mail your requirements. 


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All rights reserved. Revised: September 17, 2015
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