Senior pet care is hard. Seeing their faces get more grey, or their eyes becoming more opaque, or struggling for them to get up, is tough on us and them. What can we do for our senior pets to make sure they age well?
Being a veterinarian, I believe it is important for our seniors to be seen at least twice yearly. A senior depends on the size and age of your pet.
A large breed dog would be considered senior at age of 6-7 years old. A smaller breed would be around 10 years old.
Your veterinarian should perform a thorough physical exam consisting of:
- Evaluating their legs for muscle waste;
- An eye exam for changes in sight;
- An abdominal exam for palpation for internal lumps;
- An oral exam to check for dental disease;
- Blood work to make sure all the organs show signs of proper function.
It is also important for you to look for signs that may not seem to be right, as you know your pet to be. The pet should not be drinking more than usual. They should also not be urinating more than normal.
Take special note of any weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, or even strange behavior.
There are things you can do to help your dog age more gracefully.
First, a balanced diet is essential. This is to make sure that your pet is eating a diet that is meant for seniors. Many of the grain free diets are too high in protein for our senior pets.
Please, remember, dogs are not carnivores, they are omnivorous. So, when I hear my clients say they feed a meat base diet with their dog food I know this isn’t good for them.
Most companies make diets that are labeled for senior dogs. There are NO all-life-stage diets that are good for seniors.
Exercise is also important. One of the biggest issues we see is muscle wasting. As our senior’s age, it is important to make sure they stay active. Taking them for a walk several times a day is important.
The walks don’t need to be punishing, just enough to keep them from lying around. If all they do is sleep or lay up, their muscles will continue to atrophy.
Supplements are also an important part of aging. There are several very good supplements for pets. What I typically urge clients to do is try one product at a time for at least 8 weeks. Wait and see if there are any signs of improvement. That said, if none is noted, then stop, and try a different supplement.
Quality of supplements can vary significantly. It is best to ask your vet their experiences to see what they might recommend.
Be wary of diets unless they are prescribed by your vet. The supplements needed in a cookie or diet may not have enough of a supplement per serving in it to do anything.
One thing I always urge… if you are buying products with glucosamine in it, remember the quality of that product can vary. I would also urge clients to remember that pharmacy grade glucosamine is typically more expensive.
The next paragraph may be more controversial. There are those consumers that only believe in using supplements and feel medications are not safe. I believe there are many safe medications on the market that can help with arthritis.
I recommend using the lowest effective dose. Also, a lot of these medications need monitoring to make sure that patient is metabolizing the product well. Notably, I am also saying, there is a small percentage of pets that don’t do well on medication, however, the majority do.
The medications we are speaking of are NSAID category, Gabapentin, Tramadol, Amantadine. I am often asked how do we know if their pet is in pain. If it’s not picked up on exam it may be hard to see. There may be a subtle slowness to rise, or difficulty getting in and out of the car.
I typically try a “nsaid” (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) for a week or two (prescribed by your vet and not an OTC product) to see if there is any improvement. If so, we then modify this to find the lowest does the pet is comfortable at.
It can be eye opening for clients to try. Some report their pets running more, jumping, and getting up with ease. This can be very rewarding to witness, as we all love our pets.
Other Supplements & Procedures
Lastly, there are supplements/procedures, that are not medications or drugs, but which can also benefit your pet, including acupuncture, laser, and physical therapy.
I have seen drastic improvements with these adjunctive therapies. People do need to be patient with these treatments, as it can take several weeks to see clinical improvement.
Also to add, these therapies should only be conducted by a licensed veterinarian. Remember, the best approach is to take your pet to see your veterinarian, at very least, one time per year. Have them examined and create a plan that both you and your senior pet are comfortable with.