Friday, September 12, 2014

Caring for Your Senior Pet

After many years of loyalty, support and companionship, doesn't your dog deserve the best care you can give? With the right routine and some loving care, watching your canine companion grow older can be a rewarding experience.

Most veterinarians believe dogs are in their senior years when they reach the last third of their normal life expectancy. For instance, a large breed dog, such as a Great Dane that lives to be an average of nine years old, would be considered "senior" when they reached the age of six. Poodles that normally live to be 15 years old would be considered "senior" at 10 years old.

As your pet ages, you may first notice outward signs: white around the muzzle, less exuberance, hesitation trying to stand up after a nap or difficulty climbing into your vehicle. Then there are the internal signs we can't see, like a slowing metabolism, and changing nutritional requirements. Just as we give special attention to the needs of puppies, dogs heading into their senior years require unique attention to help comfort them and extend their precious time with us.

If you're lucky enough to share your home with an older pet, here are some tips we recommend for their care:

Exercise is still important. Although they can still have a grand old time romping and playing, you may need to adjust the frequency and intensity of the exercise your older pet engages in. Using those muscles regularly will help their mobility and possibly even stave off certain diseases. Shorter, more frequent walks or swims can help keep your dog in shape and their weight under control, and the continuation of current activities, whether it is a game of fetch or agility, should be continued until your dog exhibits any sign of discomfort.

If your canine friend has arthritis or is stiff and sore, a ramp will help them to get up and down from higher areas like vehicles or furniture.  This will make it much easier on their joints, and will allow them to maintain some of the adventure they enjoyed as a youngster.

Morris Animal Inn offers aqua massage for recreational purposes.  Some pet parents select the aqua massage to ease the aches and pains of arthritis and to sooth their dog's muscles.

Be gentle on those joints. To protect older elbows and haunches, provide your mature dog with a firm, orthopedic foam bed. There are "medical-grade" beds out there specifically designed by veterinarians that distribute weight evenly and reducing pressure on joints. They are also much easier to get out of in the morning!

Elevated food and water bowls can make eating and drinking more comfortable for arthritic pets, particularly if there is stiffness in the neck or back.

Take your vitamins. Dogs that have arthritis often benefit from drug-free nutritional supplements that contain ingredients such as Glucosamine HCl, Chondroitin Sulfate, and Vitamin C. Just be sure to consult your veterinarian, who can recommend the best supplements for your dog.

Good Nutrition and Hygiene.   Read the dog food label and choose a diet that is appropriate for your dog’s age and lifestyle.  Overfeeding your pet can lead to obesity which may cause additional health problems. Also, brushing your dog’s teeth may seem like a silly idea but it can help keep your dog’s mouth healthy. If you cannot brush, consider dental treats and toys that help keep the teeth clean.

Give lots of loving attention. As your pet ages, keep a close eye on their movements, behavior, and habits. Look for the signs, such as loss of appetite, excessive sleeping, irritability, changes in gait (walking patterns),  weakness, and incontinence. If your pet shows these signs, have them checked by your veterinarian. Be prepared to treat them with a little more love and care than ever before.

Schedule regular visits with your veterinarian. Your dog needs to be examined at least annually, even if they appear healthy, as many diseases are hidden and not apparent.  Remember it is much cheaper to prevent disease than it is to treat it! Ask for a body condition evaluation during each vet visit. Body condition is crucial to determining whether your senior dog is overweight, underweight, or at an ideal body weight. 

Source: PetMD, MSPCA

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