Caring for Aging Pets: Helping Our Pets Age With Grace

Caring for Aging Pets: Helping Our Pets Age With Grace

Caring for Aging Pets: Helping Our Pets Age With Grace

By Jeff Werber, D.V.M.

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Wouldn’t we all do everything we can to keep our aging pets with us for as long as possible? 

Well, with good preventive care, and of course lots of love, we can hopefully make this happen.

Caring for Older Pets

Age is not a disease!!  Age is a condition that we need to prepare for, and deal with, as time passes us by.  I work with a number of rescue organizations, and am often shocked at the number of senior pets that are abandoned at shelters and rescue groups just because they were old!

I had to say goodbye to 3 of our dogs over the past year and a half. my 16 ½ your old Labrador, my 14 ½ year old Frenchie (whom I delivered by C-section—my hands were the first human hands to touch him), and my 14 year old Labradoodle.  Sure, as aging dogs, they had their issues and challenges, but they were amazing until the end.  I actually had to perform major surgery on my Labrador on his 15th birthday.

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Was I crazy doing major surgery on a 15 year old large breed dog?  Possibly!  But, his lab work was good and he was otherwise in good shape, so despite his advanced age, I went for it.  Well, he made it another year and a half, so maybe I wasn’t so crazy after all.

A few years ago my son and daughter-in-law adopted a 9 year old English Bulldog from “death row” at a local shelter. He was a great playmate for their new Frenchie.  They knew that English Bulldogs don’t often live very long, but figured they’d give this sad looking guy a good life while he lasts. Well, he lasted, alright—over 3 ½ years!!! And, he didn’t have a good life, he had a great life. It’s all about “quality of life,” and his was terrific!  There are a number of things that we can do to help our pets age gracefully. With a little planning and effort, we can keep them healthy throughout their “Golden Years.”

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When are Pets Considered Seniors?

When do we consider our pets ‘elderly?’  For larger breeds of dogs, usually by 7 years of age, and for cats and smaller breeds of dogs at around 8 years of age.  These ages are equivalent to us hitting our mid  50’s! Even though they often seem to still have a lot of energy, they are getting older. Taking the right steps now can dramatically extend the life of your furry family members.

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Preventative Medicine for Aging Pets

Preventive medicine is a key to maintaining an aging pet’s longevity!  Many diseases in their early stages are clinically undetectable to us.  This might be an evolutionary “self preservation” phenomenon, as animals who displayed any outward signs of weakness or illness would be a target for a predator.  And, unlike many of us, our pets just don’t complain—life goes on!  This is why it is essential to have your senior pets examined by your veterinarian annually for a physical examination,  blood and urine testing, and possibly for radiographs and an electrocardiogram.  These tests can help identify problems early on, before they become clinically apparent, allowing us to begin preventive measures.

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There are a number of diseases that can actually rob our aging pets of precious years. This is why prevention, early recognition, early treatment and lifestyle changes is so important. When done properly, it may add years, and good quality, to their lives!  Some of the more preventable conditions are obesity, oral disease, and gastro-intestinal, or GI, imbalances. 

Pets that are overweight or obese are at risk for many serious problems!  They can suffer from joint and mobility issues, and increased risks of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. They can also  have an increased incidence of skin diseases, diabetes, reproductive problems, and even a statistically proven increased incidence of cancer!  This is all totally preventable by keeping you pets lean!!  If your pet is overweight or obese, it is important to work with your veterinarian to help identify any underlying metabolic issues, assess their overall health, and start a diet and exercise program as soon as possible.

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Dental Care for Aging Pets

Dental disease can be lethal–that’s right, it sounds scary, and it should!!  If dental and periodontal disease is left unchecked, oral bacteria can enter the blood stream and can colonize in the heart valves causing endocarditis; as well as in the glomerular apparatus of the kidneys causing glomerulonephritis.  Both of these conditions can be life threatening.  Make sure to have your aging pets’ teeth checked regularly by your veterinarian, and to start a program of regular home care—there are many options available to you to help prevent these serious diseases, from regular brushing (which is, of course, the best), appropriate chews and chew toys, gum treatment gels, water additives, and oral supplements like sea kelp (Ascophyllum nodosum).

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Finally, nutrition and gut health are huge factors in maintaining overall health of a aging pets.  As our pets get older, their nutritional needs change, as does their gut flora (the good bacteria in their gastrointestinal tracts).  To maintain good health, we need to make adjustments in their diets as well.  Check with your veterinarian for recommendations—such as diets with less protein and lower in fat.  Depending on an aging pet’s condition, I also recommend supplements like Probiotics (for GI support), Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM (for joint health), added fiber (for colon health), and even additional vitamin and mineral support if indicated. 

Remember, it’s not about “age,” which you can’t control. It’s all about overall health and quality of life, and you can make a difference!!  Enjoy your senior pets!!

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