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Managing the Health of your Senior Dog

Most pet owners realize that pet’s age more rapidly than humans. The gradual onset of old age problems in a previously healthy pet may be both unexpected and distressing. The object of health care of older pets is to make them feel better and have the longest productive, comfortable life possible. Although we have no cure for old age, we have many ways to help our older pets.

As our pets age, stress upon vital internal organs is likely to become more serious. Nutritional requirements generally change, and may differ greatly from those of younger animals. Sources of chronic infection, such as tooth and gum disease, can adversely affect internal organs and contribute to failing health. Aging also increases the risk of arthritis, spinal disc disease, and other skeletal problems. Many of these problems are readily detectable and can be controlled if diagnosed early and treated properly.

Optimum health care can add years to the life of your pet as well as substantially decrease your cost of treating medical problems associated with aging. We would make the following recommendations:

Comprehensive Physical Examinations: Since pets age 5-7 times faster than humans, it can be estimated that one physical examination for a pet is equivalent to one exam every 5-7 years in humans. The exam should include a very detailed medical history along with a “nose to tail” physical examination. In later years, a comprehensive physical examination should be performed every 6 – 12 months depending on any specific medical problems discovered in your pet. This screening should include an ECG screening and glaucoma screening.

Laboratory Screening For Diseases: Many medical problems can be diagnosed through the use of laboratory diagnostic testing long before clinical signs of disease become evident. Complete Geriatric Health Evaluations should be started at 8 years of age consisting of:

  • Have blood checked once each year for Heartworms, and give Heartworm Preventive all year long
  • Fecal Examination for internal parasites.
  • Urinalysis for early signs of diabetes and kidney degeneration
  • Complete Blood Counts
  • Blood Chemistry Screening for major organs function
  • Thyroid Screening

Vaccinations: Depression of the immune system occurs in older pets making them more susceptible to the common infectious diseases. Maintaining vaccinations is very important also because of the potential for decreased resistance in these pets. Vaccination recommendations must be individualized for each pet based on breed, age, physical condition, diseases prevalent in the area, etc.

Nutrition: The nutritional requirements of older dogs differ in amount rather than in type from those of younger dogs. The same nutrients are required, but in different amounts. One of the effects of aging is a slowing down in the metabolic rate the speed at which the body “burns” food for energy. The older dog typically needs fewer calories due to a decrease in activity. During the last third of a dog’s life span, it usually requires 10-30% fewer calories. The amount of reduction will be influenced by such variables as breed, living habits, and general physical condition.

Feed the highest quality pet food you can afford. Read labels carefully. Ideal diets for senior pets would have less sodium and fat, and more fiber than regular adult foods. Higher quality and premium foods are more digestible and result in less stool volume. If a specific medical condition is diagnosed, a specific prescription diet may be best for your pet. Vitamin supplements may help keep the skin healthy and may enhance the pet’s immune system. Fatty acid supplements may be useful for skin problems, arthritis, & inflammatory bowel disease. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been shown to be helpful for arthritic patients. They may be given as supplements or some foods now contain these amino acids. Do Not feed table scraps or snacks unless formulated for the senior pet.

Another change brought on by aging is a reduction of the functional capacity of body organs such as the heart, kidneys, and digestive system. As the digestive processes become less efficient, it is important that the ingredients in the older dog’s diet be of a high biological quality that is easily digested and utilized by the body.

This is the type of technical information known and used by scientists in the formulation of the higher quality pet foods. With these foods, the products are backed and proven by many years of research and testing. In pet foods, you really do usually get what you pay for. Quality pet foods do Not use cheap ingredients and therefore are more expensive to make than the generic foods available.

Prevent Obesity: Obesity is the most common problems in dogs. Potentially it has serious health implications for older dogs. Extra poundage puts a heavy burden on the heart, the lungs, the joints and muscles, and many other organs of the body. It lowers the dog’s resistance to disease and stress, makes it a poor surgical risk, and reduces life expectancy.

Obesity is the result of the consumption of more calories than is needed by the body. It simply is the result of too much food and not enough exercise. The aging dog is especially prone to obesity as it becomes less active and the metabolic rate slows. You’ll need to be his “weight watcher,” and the time to begin is before the pounds start adding up.

The first sign of a weight gain, give smaller portions of food to meals. Eliminate all table scraps, between-meal snacks and tidbits. These little indulgences can add pounds very quickly. Gradually increase playtime and exercise routines, but don’t over do it! Get in the habit of weighing your dog every month.

Weight loss is difficult. Once those pounds have been put on, it’s hard to get them off—but it must be done for the sake of your dog’s health. You must stick to the weight reduction plan from your veterinarian. It won’t be easy because of those pleading eyes and pathetic whimpers, but in time those hunger pangs will be lessened as it becomes accustomed to less food. Try to keep your dog away from the tempting odors of the kitchen and dining room at mealtime. See that he has plenty of fresh water and give him lots of loving support. Weight reduction is very slow. It may take several months before your pet reaches its goal. But once those extra pounds are shed, it will look better, move more easily, and get more fun out of life.

Older dogs require four times as much, thiamine, choline, and zinc. Zinc is very important for muscle function and hair coat. Even though Commercial foods contain Zinc; the Zinc is often not absorbed because of high calcium levels, which impair Zinc absorption.

Water: An essential nutrient, and your dog should have free access to water at all times. Change it often. Abrupt water changes can cause digestive upsets. When you go on trips or outings with your dog, be sure to take a supply of water with you. Offer it frequently. As the pet gets older, water consumption becomes much more important. Increased thirst and water consumption is a very important in several senior pet medical problems. Be sure to notify the clinic if you see changes in water consumption.

Keep Your Pet Under Control: Letting pets run loose takes years off their life. Statistics show pets spending the majority of their life outdoors do not live as long. Be sure your pet wears an ID Tag & has a microchip. Older pets lose their sense of hearing and vision; increasing the chances they will become lost.

Dental Hygiene: Periodontal disease is a very serious problem in senior pets. Tartar buildup is a result of bacterial infection in the mouth. Once this infection becomes attached to the teeth Below The Gum line, it becomes a “seed” of infection that spreads all over the body. Many respiratory, kidney, liver, and heart infections are a result of bacteria spreading from the mouth. It is important to note that the “real” problem is what you don’t see (what is below the gum line) rather than what you do see (above the gum line). What you don’t see can certainly be slowly killing your pet. Dental exams, routine use of dental hygiene products, are important for a healthy mouth.

Grooming & Nail Trimming: Maintaining healthy skin & toe nails makes your pet more comfortable, prevents odor, and makes your pet “shine.” Notify the clinic if you observe excessive scratching, flaking, fleas, ticks, sores, or bald spots. Skin growths are also more common in senior pets. Early removal decreases pain, your costs, and chances of spreading.

Flea & Tick Control: We now have excellent weapons in our war on fleas & ticks. We recommend the new topical flea control drops available at the clinic. Do Not Be Fooled! The over-the-counter “look alike” are not the same—and in fact can be fatal to your pet.

Medicating Your Pet: Never give human medications or medications prescribed for other pets to your senior pets. The liver and or kidneys must break down most drugs once administered. There can be very serious complications if a medication is given to a pet that has compromised internal organs.

Maintains A Constant Environment: Tolerance to heat and cold decreases with age. Warmth also lessens the signs of arthritis.

Present the pet for examination if you observe any of the following:

  • Sustained, significant increase in water consumption. {More than 1.5 cups (12 oz.) /10# body weight/day}.
  • Sustained, significant increase in urination. (Volume and/or frequency)
  • Weight loss.
  • Significant decrease in appetite or failure to eat for more than 2 consecutive days.
  • Significant increase in appetite
  • Repeated vomiting.
  • Diarrhea that lasts over 2 days.
  • Difficulty in passing stool or urine.
  • Inappropriate elimination accidents in the house or general changes in bowel habits.
  • Limping that lasts more than 3 days, or lameness in more than one leg.
  • Noticeable decrease in vision, especially if sudden in onset or pupils that do not constrict in bright light.
  • Eye discharges or reddening of the white parts of the eye.
  • Masses, ulcerations (open sores), or multiple scabs on the skin that persists more than 1 week.
  • Foul mouth odor or drooling that lasts more than 24 hours.
  • Increased size of the abdomen.
  • Increasing inactivity, especially time spent sleeping.
  • Persistent coughing, gagging, or panting.
  • Hair loss, especially if accompanied by scratching or if in specific areas of the body.
  • Episodes of sudden weakness, collapse, or fainting spells.
  • Seizures (convulsions)
  • Reluctance or inability to chew dry food.
  • Any changes in routine behavior or personality.

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