By Dr. Doreen Hock

What testing should elderly cats routinely get?

Senior cats (11 years and older) are prone to a few diseases that can be tested for by doing a yearly blood panel. Renal failure is the most common problem to watch out for. Symptoms include excessive water consumption and urination. If yours is an indoor cat, you may see larger clumps in the litter box. Hyperthyroidism, caused by an excess of thyroid hormone, can make cats act like they’ve had too much coffee. They are restless, vocal, and relentlessly hungry, although they usually also experience weight loss. Diabetes has symptoms similar to hyperthyroidism with excessive drinking, urinating, and weight loss. Most cats who develop diabetes are overweight. Your cat should also receive a thorough exam to find possible issues that can be difficult to detect at home, like dental/gingival disease, tumors, etc.

How can you tell how old a dog is?

It’s really difficult! During puppyhood, you can gauge a dog’s age by when certain teeth are lost or come in. The incisors are the first to fall out at around 4 months, then canines at 5 months, with the permanent canines coming in around 6 months. The best we can do for an adult dog is to evaluate how much wear and tartar are showing on the teeth. But just like us, dogs develop tartar at varying rates. Most dogs begin getting tartar buildup around 4 years old. Dogs older than 10 will often have worn teeth, with some missing. Additionally, dogs older than 7 may have some clouding of the eye.

Do dogs cry from sadness or happiness?

This is a great question! In veterinary school, we have been taught that only humans cry tears. Dogs, of course, vocally cry if sad, excited, lonely, etc. Certain breeds are more vocal than others (think Huskies and Malamutes). But by whining or howling, dogs tend to get their point across pretty well. A study published in August in Current Biology showed that the volume of tears in a dog increased when the pet was reunited with their owner or other people they knew. This study was the first of its kind, so it will take more studies to be proven, but it is a fascinating new twist in dog behavior knowledge.

My 5-year-old cat is constantly grooming and licking. We have her on flea medication, but she still has scabs all over her back. What could be causing this?

The little scabs you describe are similar to millet seeds, and hence the name for this condition is miliary dermatitis. This is a sign of some sort of systemic allergy. We can probably rule out a flea allergy as you use a preventative medication. The two other most common sources of allergies are food and environment. Food allergies are common. Most often, it is the protein source in their food that they are reacting to. One way to test for a food allergy is to feed your cat a protein they have never been exposed to for eight to 10 weeks and see if symptoms improve. Be sure to also check treats as a source of the offending protein. Environmental allergies often stem from pollen, dust mites, or molds. There are blood tests to check for these, and then desensitization can be done with a veterinarian. Your vet may also recommend medication like prednisone, medicated shampoos, or antibiotics to decrease the body’s reaction to the allergens.

Dr. Doreen Hock is a retired holistic veterinarian who has been certified as a Veterinary Acupuncturist since 1994, and in Chinese herbal medicine since 1996. She is the owner of The Healthy Pet, a natural supply store serving the dogs and cats of Eugene since 1997.