20 Healthy Tips for 2020 20 Healthy Tips for 2020

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Caring for Your Dog in His Second Half of Life

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

caring for your old dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • As dog parents, we want to keep our canine BFFs around as long as possible
  • Fortunately, as your dog enters her golden years there is much you can do to make the second half of her life as wonderful as the first half
  • Caring for your dog's oral health, feeding a fresh food diet that includes high-quality protein, and insuring she gets regular physical and mental stimulation are just some of the ways you can help your dog sail through her senior years

All of us with dogs in the family want very much for our canine companions to be healthy, happy, and right here with us for as long as possible. That's why it's important to realize that just as puppies require special care and attention, so too do dogs getting up in years.

I think it's beneficial to keep in mind that just as you devoted yourself to helping your pup get off to a good start in life, your older dog needs you just as much — and perhaps more — to help him live the good life in his golden years.

Since our canine companions are considered seniors after the age of 7, it means we're given a unique and perfect opportunity to make the second half of their lives as healthy and happy as the first half.

6 Tips to Keep Your Older Dog Healthy and Happy

1. Look after those teeth — The right diet, regular brushing and professional cleanings can keep your dog's teeth healthy for a lifetime. Oral disease, left untreated, can cause or worsen systemic diseases and can be painful as well. Contrary to popular belief, most older dogs (and cats) can be safely anesthetized for dental exams and teeth cleaning.

2. Adjust your older dog's diet as necessary and don't skimp on high-quality protein — Almost every dog thrives on a whole, unprocessed species-specific diet, but aging pets need more protein than younger animals. The more digestible and assimilable the protein, and the higher the moisture content of the food, the easier it will be for aging organs to process.

The healthiest food for most pets, regardless of age, is whole, unprocessed, and in its natural form — and this includes animal meat, which should be the foundation of your healthy dog's diet throughout his life. Foods that have not been dehydrated or processed are the most assimilable for the body.

Try to steer clear of any commercial pet food that contains a high percentage of fiber, no matter your dog's age or weight. The presence of fiber in commercial pet food is marketed to consumers as a healthy addition, very similar to how it's marketed when added to human food. But fiber in commercial dog food is typically nothing more than an inexpensive filler ingredient.

3. Keep it moving — Senior and even geriatric dogs still need daily exercise to maintain good health and physical conditioning. While it's true older dogs can't exercise or compete at the same level as their younger counterparts, they still need regular walks and other age-appropriate physical activity.

There are three types of antiaging exercises that can also be of tremendous help to aging canine bodies:

Passive range-of-motion (PROM) exercises

Exercises that maintain balance and fluid movement

Exercises that target the big, body-supporting muscles like the hamstrings and gluteals

Gentle stretching is also a great natural tool to improve the well-being and longevity of your dog.

4. Schedule twice-yearly wellness visits — Ideally, I like to see all my canine patients at least twice a year, but this is especially true for senior and geriatric dogs.

Around the age of 8 (younger for some large and all giant breed dogs), your dog's wellness and nutritional needs can require fine-tuning every 4 to 6 months. In older pets it's very important to review weight, muscle tone, joint range of motion, diet, supplement protocol, and exercise habits at least semi-annually.

The senior pet wellness screen is an excellent tool for early detection of changes in your dog's health so that treatment, including appropriate lifestyle changes, can begin immediately. Regular wellness visits allow your veterinarian to compare current test results with past results to check for changes that may need further investigation.

Ask your vet to perform a blood test to check your pet's internal organ health to make sure you are identifying possible issues early on. There's also a blood test that measures inflammatory fats you may want to consider.

5. Keep your dog's aging body comfortable — 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 your vet is in order. The sooner a health problem is diagnosed and treated, in most cases, the better the outcome.

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight and physically active will help control arthritis and degenerative joint disease as he ages. Chiropractic adjustments, water exercises, and acupuncture can also provide enormous benefits in keeping dogs mobile in their later years. In addition, talk to your vet about Adequan injections, which can stimulate joint fluid very rapidly in pets with arthritis.

Regular massage can help keep your senior dog'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, encourages lymphatic drainage, and eases joint stiffness.

There are a wide range of supplements that can be added to your dog's diet to help maintain healthy tendons, ligaments, joints and cartilage as they age. 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 (curcumin, proteolytic enzymes and nutraceuticals)

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. This can also help prevent injuries in aging dogs. If your dog is having trouble with balance or vision, consider gating off stairways or adding safety treads to prevent slipping.

Be sure to add rubber grippers under any throw rugs to prevent falls. Cover slick surfaces with yoga mats to prevent slips, trips or falls. For dogs with failing vision, you'll also want to avoid rearranging furniture, which can make the space difficult for your pet to navigate and use extra care to ensure they don't wander off when they're outside.

If your dog has problems hearing or seeing, use safe, nontoxic odor cues such as essential oils to help him find his way around.

6. Provide regular opportunities for socialization and mental stimulation — No matter how old your dog is she still needs regular social interaction with other pets and 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, scary place.

She needs regular exposure to other pets and people but take care not to over stimulate her – short periods of socialization and playtime in controlled situations are ideal.

Enriching your dog's environment can help alleviate or stall the mental confusion and decline of cognitive function that often come with old age. In addition, sticking to a predictable daily routine can help reduce anxiety and mental uncertainty, and treat release and food puzzle toys provide fun and mental stimulation.

Supplements for brain health may also be useful, including krill oil and other healthy fats, including MCT oil, as well as a source of SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine). Other supplements to consider are SOD (superoxide dismutase) and resveratrol (knotweed). Ginkgo biloba may improve blood flow to the brain. Phosphatidylserine and ubiquinol, which is the reduced form of CoQ10, feeds your pet's mitochondria and improves cellular energy.

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