By Dr. Becker
The canine lifespan seems too short, doesn't it?
By the time a large breed dog is 10 years old, he's considered retirement age in human years. Giant breeds age fastest of all, but even the littlest guys at age 18 are the equivalent of a 90-year-old human.
Most committed dog owners want to keep their furry companions with them as long as possible, well into old age. Caring for a happy, healthy senior means providing:
- Physical and emotional comfort as your dog ages
- Balanced, species-appropriate nutrition, especially high-quality protein
- Ongoing, regular opportunities for exercise, socialization and mental stimulation
Providing Physical and Emotional Comfort to an Aging Dog
If your dog seems physically uncomfortable, it's important not to assume it's just a natural part of aging. You want to make sure she's not in pain, so a visit to the vet is in order.
Twice-yearly vet visits are very important for older pets so that you and your vet can stay on top of physical and mental changes that may indicate a disease process underway. The sooner a health problem is diagnosed and treated, in most cases, the better the outcome.
Keeping your pet at a healthy weight and physically active will help control arthritis and degenerative joint disease as he ages. Chiropractic adjustments, stretching, water exercises, and acupuncture can also provide enormous benefits in keeping dogs mobile in their later years.
There are also supplements that can be added to your dog's diet to help maintain healthy tendons, ligaments, joints and cartilage. These include glucosamine sulfate with MSM and eggshell membrane, omega-3 fats (krill oil), ubiquinol, supergreen foods like spirulina and astaxanthin, natural anti-inflammatory formulas (herbs, proteolytic enzymes and nutraceuticals), and Adequan injections, which can stimulate joint fluid very rapidly in pets with arthritis.
Regular massage can help keep your senior pet's muscles toned and reduce the slackening that comes with aging. Massaged muscles are looser, which makes it easier for your pet to move around comfortably.
Massage also improves circulation and encourages lymphatic drainage. It can ease the stiffness of arthritis, which helps your pet maintain his normal gait and active lifestyle. Massage also loosens the muscles around joints, which helps promote ease of movement.
If your dog is having some urine dribbling or incontinence as a result of his age (and not caused by an underlying condition that should be addressed), provide him with more frequent potty trips outside. You can also reintroduce him to his crate if he was crate trained initially.
If your dog has problems hearing or seeing, use odor cues like scented candles or other aromatherapy products to help him find his way around.
Consider purchasing or building ramps for a dog who is having trouble getting into the car or up on the bed or a favorite chair.
For sleep problems in older dogs, try increasing his daytime activity level. Let your pet sleep in your bedroom. Sleeping near you should help ease any anxiety that is contributing to his nighttime restlessness.
Guide your dog with clear cues and easy-to-follow instructions, especially if he's showing signs of mental decline. And when you talk to your dog, keep your voice quiet, calm and kind.
The Importance of High-Quality Protein for Older Pets
Contrary to what many pet owners and even veterinarians believe, studies indicate dogs (and cats) need more protein as they age, not less.
The reason senior dog food formulas boast reduced protein content is because the poor-quality protein they use is difficult to digest, especially for older dogs who've been fed the stuff all their lives.
The rendered protein sources used by most major pet food manufacturers put chronic strain on the kidneys and liver, so by the time a dog is into her senior years, her organs can no longer do their job efficiently. This is why commercial reduced protein diets for senior pets were created.
It's an unfortunate situation, because your dog actually needs more protein as she ages – not less – in order to maintain healthy lean muscle mass and good organ and immune function. But the type of protein most dogs thrive on is whole, unprocessed, and preferably raw.
Older Dogs Still Need Exercise, Socialization and Mental Stimulation
Senior and even geriatric dogs still need daily exercise to maintain good health and a resilient frame. Certainly older dogs can't exercise or compete with the same intensity as the younger set, but they still need regular walks and other age-appropriate physical activity.
There are three types of strengthening exercises that can also be of tremendous help to aging canine bodies:
- Passive range-of-motion (PROM) exercises can benefit both incapacitated and physically healthy pets.
- Balance and proprioception (spatial orientation and movement) exercises help older pets remain flexible while also encouraging improved balance and physical stability.
- Targeted strengthening exercises are designed to work the big muscle groups that help with standing, walking and running.
No matter how old your dog is, she still needs regular social interaction with other pets and/or people. As is the case with humans as we age, if your four-legged family member doesn't stay active and involved in life, her world can become a confusing, intimidating place. She needs regular exposure to other pets and people, but take care not to over stimulate your dog – short periods of socialization and playtime in controlled situations are ideal.
Enriching your dog's environment can help to alleviate or stall the mental confusion and decline of cognitive function that often come with old age. Sticking to a predictable daily routine can help reduce a pet's anxiety and mental uncertainty.
Puzzle toys like the Clever K9 provide fun and mental stimulation.
Supplements that can help improve mental decline in aging dogs include S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), vitamin B6, vitamin E, resveratrol, ginkgo biloba, and phosphatidylserine.