How Can I Help My Aging Pet?
I have noticed that over the past year, my eldest dog Skeeter has been slowing down. He’s only 11, and I thought that I would have a few more years before I really started to see signs of aging! However, he has been tiring quickly, limping after playing sometimes, and has become arthritic. Just last week he got a crick in his neck which caused him to hold his head to the right and walk in circles for almost two days. He got a diagnosis and medication from the wonderful Dr. Clay at Utopia Animal Hospital and was feeling better quickly. This was just the most recent of several vet visits I’ve had with him! I am always expecting a worse problem than he turns out to have, thankfully.
As our pets get older, it can mean more worries for us and for them. We start to notice little things like weight gain, aches and pains, and more health problems and trips to the vet. We all want to make sure our pets can live to a ripe old age, and do so without pain and with a continued love for life-so what can we do to help?
The Link Between Weight Gain, Decreased Activity and Decreased Mobility
With age, our dogs and cats tend to slow down, play less, sleep more and gain weight. With less activity, our pets lose muscle mass and their metabolism slows down. This leads to weight gain. Weight gain, loss of muscle mass and less exercise make it harder for our fur babies to get around and the weight gain can add extra stress on aging joints. Here are a few things we can do to help:
We can help our pets out by making sure we don’t let them sleep all day! Get them out of the house to play and go for walks. They will be more likely to want to be active if you are active with them. Play with your cat, too! Your pet needs to stay active to continue to have a high quality of life in his old age. Just be careful that your pet does not overestimate his abilities and injure himself. My ten-year-old dog, Annie, will still run and jump like she’s a puppy when I get a ball out, so I have to limit our play time.
Change In Diet.
Our pets may need something easier to digest with old age. Talk to your local Hollywood Feed sales associate if your aging pet needs a new food. If your dog or cat starts to gain weight from decreased activity, then you may want to choose a food with higher protein and less fat (and fewer calories), as well as simply reduce the amount you are feeding your pet. Maybe your dog’s 2 cups of food a day will need to go down to 1 ½ cups a day. It can be that simple to keep extra weight off of your pet-and don’t forget that any people food or treats you feed him throughout the day all contain extra calories!!!
Consider Supplements and Mobility Aids.
We can also look into a supplement like Prudence Ultimate Hip & Joint to help out dogs who are having trouble with arthritis and sore joints. Prudence is very easy to use-just a scoop on top of Skeeter’s food once a day is what I do at my house. And he really loves the taste, so that makes it even easier!
Another thing to consider as our pets age is getting them a set of steps or a ramp to get in and out of the car or on and off the couch. If your dog is having trouble gaining traction on your slippery floor, there are options such as grippy socks and putting down rugs in your home.
Stay Alert and Watch Closely for Changes in Health and Behavior
Besides watching our aging pet’s weight and mobility, we need to keep an eye out for other health and behavioral changes. We may need to keep a closer eye on our pets over the age of ten than we used to do. A limp on a young dog will usually go away quickly, but a limp on a senior dog may turn into a real problem. Seemingly small symptoms can be the sign of a bigger problem.
Vision and Hearing Loss.
Our older pets will most likely start to lose vision and hearing. You may notice this when you get frustrated that your dog is not following your commands and coming to you when you call. Don’t become angry, instead try to find out if your dog can hear you or see where you are! Loss of vision and hearing do not have to be a huge burden for our pets-their sense of smell is what they really use. We just may need to help them around a little. Deaf dogs can feel vibrations in the floor, so sometimes stomping near them will get their attention. And you would be surprised at how quickly a blind dog can learn to get around your house and yard-as long as you don’t move your furniture!
Teeth are Important.
Our dog and cat's teeth are very important to their overall health! With age comes increased problems with dental health, especially if you have been feeding a food high in carbohydrates for a while. If you notice your pet losing his appetite or seeming to have trouble chewing his food, make sure to have your veterinarian check his teeth. Dental disease can lead to major issues with your pet’s organs, it can lead to weight loss, and it can be very painful for your pet-who may not show it. Learn more about your pet's dental health here.
The Big C.
The risk of cancer increases in our pets with age, especially in our dogs. If your dog develops lumps on his body, you should get them checked by your vet. Sometimes they may simply be a benign fatty tumor, but sometimes they are cause for concern. My Annie has a lump on her neck that is a fluid-filled cyst, and Skeeter has a lump in his mouth. I have had them both checked and they have been determined not to be cancerous, and I feel much better having that knowledge. Annie’s neck lump is not pretty, but it doesn’t bother her at all. If your pet does have cancer, there are treatment options available-but catching it early is key, so if you find a lump, get to your vet’s office! Learn more about canine cancer here with Puppy Up! Foundation.
Disorientation and Confusion.
Our older dogs may have some changes in mood and behavior. This can simply be due to aches and pains making them grumpy-and to this I would say more exercise and less weight gain! However, some changes can be due to something very similar to human Alzheimer’s Disease. It can be very difficult for us to watch our dog’s behavior change and see confusion on his face. One way we can help our dogs is by keeping our routines as consistent as possible. Another thing we can do is avoid rearranging our furniture or making major changes in our home. The familiarity will make things easier on our confused dog.
Also, we can try to prevent this age-related disorientation from happening or happening too early by keeping our pet’s mind engaged and active on a daily basis. Get puzzle toys for your pet to solve, and get him a slow-feeder bowl so that he must think and work to get his food. Interact with and talk to your dog frequently throughout the day. Never stop teaching him new commands. Exercise your dog regularly and keep him fit!
Aging can be hard for humans and it can be hard for pets, but there are things we can do to prevent age-related health issues, and solve them. Make sure to keep a watchful eye on your aging pet, and most importantly-keep him active!
- Jessie Isbell