Keeping Your Adult and Senior Dog Healthy

WHERE HAS YOUR PUPPY GONE? Once a dog has reached the one-  year mark, the pace of physical changes slows dramatically. You may miss that rambunctious baby but look at the bright side. If you continue to focus on preventive health measures such as good nutrition,  exercise, safety, and home dental care, you may now be able to limit your vet visits to once a year. The senior years—beginning anywhere from age 8 in an extra-large dog to 12 in a small dog—often bring an increase in medical concerns, but your continued good care will have an enormous impact on your older dog’s health and well-being.


Start by listing the qualities you find most important in a veterinarian.  These can include anything from personality traits to the location to office hours to philosophies on such things as diet and vaccines.

Then ask dog-owning friends and acquaintances which vets they recommend. Seek referrals especially from people whose dogs are at a  similar life stage (such as a puppy or senior), have similar medical issues  (such as hip dysplasia, skin problems, or seizures), or have similar temperaments (very nervous, very dominant, and so on) as your dog.  Remember that no vet is loved by every client all the time—we’re just like the rest of humanity that way—so don’t expect any vet to get straight As across the board. Focus on the issues that are the most important to you.

Once you have some recommendations, drop by the more promising practices during office hours and see if they seem like the kind of place you’d feel comfortable bringing your dog. Note whether the office is clean and whether the staff (receptionist, technicians, assistants) seems friendly, efficient, and well-trained.

If you have a clear favorite, schedule an office visit for your dog. Tell the veterinarian that you’re “auditioning” to find a permanent vet. Ask for the vet’s opinion about your dog’s medical issues and any other care issues you feel strongly about. Observe how you, the vet, and your dog all interact. Are you a good match? If so, great. If not, better to keep looking.

While you’re looking for a long-term veterinary relationship, remember that unexpected illnesses and emergencies do crop up, so be sure you have a backup plan of a vet or a veterinary emergency clinic to call if your dog should suddenly become ill. Also, if you find your veterinary soul mate at a large practice, remember that he or she may not be the vet who will care for your dog during an emergency: someone else may be on call that day.


Giving dogs yearly vaccine boosters against the Big 3 viral diseases—dis-temper, parvo, and infectious hepatitis—was accepted veterinary practice until the late 1990s. Why? Because exactly how long the vaccines protected dogs against those diseases was unclear. Vaccine manufacturers typically tested their products’ effectiveness under laboratory conditions to a year or two post-vaccination, and then stopped testing. Veterinarians wanted to be certain dogs remained protected,  and the vaccines themselves were considered perfectly safe, so we adopted a practice of giving boosters every year.

Then our conviction that dog and cat vaccines were absolutely safe was rocked. In the late 1990s, it was discovered that vaccinations had caused malignant tumors at the injection sites in a small number of cats (estimated at 1 or 2 per 10,000 vaccinated cats). Although this vaccine/cancer connection was seen only in cats, not in dogs,

veterinarians and animal owners alike began to question the more-is-better philosophy of vaccine boosters.

Researchers started compiling statistics on the long-term effects of vaccines. The data came mainly from vaccine manufacturers’ tests, measurements of antibody titers in vaccinated dogs, and natural disease outbreaks, rather than new “challenge” studies in which vaccinated dogs were deliberately exposed to viruses to see whether they would become ill. One influential report by veterinary researcher R.  D. Schultz, published in 2000, stated that the currently available vaccines against parvo, distemper, and infectious hepatitis remained effective for at least seven years in more than 90 percent of dogs.

Rabies is a separate issue. Schultz’s data indicated that the rabies vaccine is effective for at least three years (not seven years) in 85 percent of dogs (rather than 90 percent). In addition, rabies is a public-  health issue for people as well as for animals and states regulate how often cats and dogs must receive a rabies booster. The frequency ranges from every year to every three years, depending on how prevalent rabies is among the wildlife in that state.

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