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Your older dog is a loyal friend, and you can show how much you appreciate her companionship by giving her the best medical care possible. Many excellent veterinary practices offer senior-wellness programs for the prevention and early detection of common diseases in aging dogs. And even if your veterinarian doesn't offer a special program, she will use examinations and diagnostic tests to keep a close watch-out for any health problems.

In fact, your veterinarian has myriad tests at her disposal. Some she will discuss with you and recommend when your pet becomes ill. She may recommend other tests every year.

These tests can help your pet's doctor detect diseases early, allowing her to use more conservative treatments. For example, early kidney disease often can be successfully managed with specially formulated diets, postponing your pet's need for medications and hospitalization.

Here's a guide to the most common tools in your veterinarians diagnostic arsenal:

Baseline testing. Dogs who are 7 years or older need a yearly blood test, urinalysis and radiograph. Your veterinarian will keep the test results and radiograph film on file and will use them as baseline results for comparison if your dog is ever ill.

Electrocardiograms and echocardiograms. Your veterinarian can use these noninvasive tests to evaluate your pets heart rate, rhythm, blood flow, and overall function. An electrocardiogram (ECG) measures the electrical activity of the heart muscle, while an echocardiogram uses ultrasound to evaluate the position and motion of the heart walls, the hearts internal structures, and blood flow.

Ultrasound. If your pet's radiographs show suspicious abdominal- or chest-cavity masses, your veterinarian can use ultrasonography to investigate the mass, guide a biopsy, and determine if surgery is necessary. An ultrasound machine sends and receives high-frequency sound waves that project an image to help your veterinarian evaluate your pets organ structure.

Other advanced tests. Additional diagnostic tests can help your vet diagnose diseases in your dog. For example, bile acid measurements test liver function. And if a veterinarian finds decreased thyroid hormone levels in an older dog with hair loss and weight gain, she will prescribe thyroid hormone supplementation.

Adrenal function tests can help veterinarians diagnose dogs with Cushings disease, a common endocrine disorder in geriatric dogs. Increased thirst and urination are signs of diabetes, a disease veterinarians diagnose and monitor with frequent blood glucose measurements.

And let's hope you never need them, but even advanced testing such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans, are available if your pet is ill. These imaging techniques can help locate lesions or tumors that are difficult to view with radiography or ultrasonography.

CT uses an ultrathin X-ray beam, while MRI uses a strong magnetic field to produce detailed cross-sectional images of the brain, spinal cord, eye and other areas of the body.

The Bottom Line
Like human medicine, veterinary medicine is constantly evolving to provide the best care for our canine friends - so visit your veterinarian. With advanced testing and early treatment, your dog can live a longer, healthier life.