How to Keep Your Senior Pet Healthy

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There are several things you can do to help keep your senior pet healthy.

As with people, pets are certainly living longer and healthier lives today.  There are several things that animal guardians can do to help their pets live as long as possible.  Certainly past middle age it is important to have proper veterinary physical exams at least twice yearly.  Given the high incidence of periodontal disease in pets, and the link of periodontal disease with other organ health issues of the heart, liver and kidneys, it is important to begin a proper at-home dental hygiene program at a young age.   Products such as C.E.T. Enzymatic Toothpaste and PetzLife are two of my favorite at home dental products to use to help maintain healthy teeth and gums.

Many pets past middle age will often need proper dental exams and possibly ultrasonic teeth scaling to help remove unwanted plaque and bacteria from the teeth.  This often requires general anesthesia at the veterinarian, but there is also an increasing availability of anesthesia-free dental services now available.

Another important part of maintaining a healthy pet through the senior years is having annual to semi-annual blood and urine tests to make sure that all of the organs are functioning properly.  Probably the most critical aspect of helping a senior pet live longer is feeding a natural diet free of preservatives and byproducts.  Some of my favorite diets include PetGuard, Wysong, Halo and Nature’s Variety.

It is important to maintain an ideal body weight for pets, as well as allow proper access to sunlight and adequate exercise.  I often will recommend several nutritional supplements for senior pets, including probiotics and enzymes such as Naturvet Digestive Enzymes, antioxidants such as Proanthozone, and omega 3 fatty acids such as Nordic Naturals Pet omega 3 fatty acids.   Maintaining senior pets on year-round heartworm preventative, as well as some sort of external flea and tick control program is also important.

Cognitive Dysfunction in Older Dogs

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Cognitive Dysfunction in dogs can be managed with medical, nutritional and environmental therapy.

One of the hardest issues for an animal guardian to adjust to is when their canine companions develop aging or geriatric mental/emotional changes that can often affect quality of life.  Symptoms may include:  gradual loss of house training (leading to urine/stool accidents in the house), confusion, vocalizing/wandering/pacing behavior, decreased desire to play, lack of self-grooming, changes in sleep cycle (often waking up at night), and inability to follow familiar routes.

After a full medical exam and rule-out of other medical issues, a diagnosis of canine cognitive dysfunction is often made, if enough of these symptoms are present.  Genetic predisposition is believed to be the underlying cause, as no other factors have yet been identified.   Treatment is life-long, and may include a combination of medical and nutritional therapy, in addition to environmental therapy.

Although it won’t cure your dog, maintaining a healthy and stimulating environment may slow down the progression of the disease.  Daily retraining, exercise and play are recommended in this regard.  Medical therapy with drugs like Anipryl or Selegiline may help in some cases.  Nutritional therapy with good, preferably homemade or natural ingredient diets, as well as nutritional supplements can also help in patient management.  Omega 3 fatty acids such as Nordic Naturals Pet Omega 3 fatty acids, as well as beta caretene, coratenoids, and L-carnine can all be added.  I also like antioxidants for the brain, including proneurozone by Animal Health Options, and have seen many older pets regain much mental clarity when using these types of supplements.

Pet meds to Help Control Urine Leaking in Senior Dogs

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Using pet meds like Proin can help control leaking urine in some dogs One of the more common urinary complaints of older dogs is when animal guardians start discovering puddles of urine where dogs rest or sleep at night. This common problem is often due to a weakness of the nerves around the urethra, which is the outflow tract of the bladder. When the muscles around the urethra are loose or lax, urine leakage can occur when a dog is resting or asleep.

While this problem is fairly common in spayed and neutered pets there are several effective prescription medicines that can help.  For years we used to use low doses of the estrogen hormone with a product known as Stilbestrol or DES.  However, because of the small risk of hormonal side effects, another drug called phenylpropanolamine or Proin replaced DES as the most common drug of choice in treating incontinent pets.   Most dogs’ urine leaking  can be adequately controlled with Proin in my experience, which acts to tighten the muscles around the urethra.

However, it is important to have a full medical evaluation, including urine analysis and possibly blood work to rule out other potential underlying causes and urinary infections first before prescribing medicines for urine leaking. Other holistic products such as HomeoPet Leaks No More can also be tried, but in my experience these other drugs are much less effective in controlling urinary incontinence or leaking in dogs.

Helping Senior/Aging Pets

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Feeding your pet a healthy and balanced diet may be able to help their immune systems fight against certain illnesses and diseases
As better foods and medical and surgical advances are made, pets are indeed living well into their golden senior years.  Thus, there are a growing number of geriatric pets.  Depending upon the size of the pet, the average sized pet is considered entering the geriatric years at approximately the age of 7 or 8. With large or giant breed dogs, we can perhaps lower this age to 5 or 6.

There are many suggestions I can give to animal guardians to keep senior pets living long and healthy lives.  Certainly feeding a healthy preferably natural or proper home made diet tops my list and recommendations. Diets like Halo or Nature’s Variety Instinct are certainly wonderful alternatives to a proper home made diet. Feeding fresh minimally processed diets goes a long way toward preventing or slowing down development of many geriatric diseases.  As Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said, “Let food by thy medicine.” If your senior pet has a pre-existing liver or kidney condition, then a consultation with a veterinarian is always recommended before changing or starting a new diet.

Certainly twice yearly semiannual exams and bloodwork/urine testing allow veterinarians to detect early disease so as to institute the best possible treatment.  Especially if a senior pet is drinking or urinating more than usual, or suffering from a change in appetite or weight, such workups are recommended.  Given the high incidence of dental disease in senior pets, if possible some sort of at home dental care should be tried, including some of the great C.E.T. products available from 1800petmeds. If blood work checks out ok it is often great to supplement with antioxidants such as Proanthozone and excellent quality vitamins such as Super VitaChews, Omega 3 fatty acids such as those from Nordic Naturals or if appropriate joint supplements such as super joint enhancer or the Glyco-Flex products. If a pet is suffering from progressive debilitating weakness or stiffness of the limbs, 1800PetMeds now has available various orthopedic beds, steps and ramps, in addition to strollers which is helpful for long walks in pets with severe spinal or degenerative joint disease.

PetMeds® Vision Problems in Dogs

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How does one know when their animal companion is having trouble seeing? Certainly as pets age, they can develop degenerative diseases and conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, and problems of the retina, which can affect vision. Sometimes the eye can appear cloudy or bulging with dilated pupils. Other times the eyes can be very red and/or painful. Sometimes pets have no symptoms on a physical exam at all. Glaucoma, cataracts, and problems of the retina can often affect dogs as they age

Often clients will report pets bumping into things in normally familiar surroundings. When a hand is quickly moved in front of the eyes, there is often little blink reflex, which indicates a problem with vision. Certainly with any eye symptoms as mentioned here, a physical and ophthalmologic exam with a proper ophthalmoscope is needed to assess vision and the potential causes and specific treatment of vision problems. Full blood work and blood pressure is often done to rule out systemic medical problems.

When vision problem are noted and in some cases as a preventative measure, I will often recommend supplementation with antioxidants such as Proanthozone or grape seed extract, vitamin C, as well as the herb bilberry. Vitamin A can be helpful as well, but should be dosed under direction of a veterinarian.

PetMeds® Helping a Dog with Growing Pains

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growing-pains-dog One of the most common orthopedic issues found in young, particularly large breed dogs, is the development of limping. Limping can have many causes from trauma/soft tissue injury to infectious agents like Lyme disease. However, it’s important to not forget about many of the developmental bone disorders seen in young rapidly growing dogs such as Panosteitis or Hypertrophic osteodystrophy. Disorders like these are usually due to defects in elongation of the long bones of these dogs (the exact causes are often not known) and can lead to varying degrees of pain and limping in dogs from as young as 3-4 months of age most commonly up to 16 to 24 months of age.

The limping can appear in one limb and then resolve, while only later to appear in another limb a short time later. Some dogs can develop fevers and stop eating in severe cases. It is important for animal guardians and veterinarians to work these dogs up appropriately so as to properly diagnose the cause of the lameness, as well as the treatment and prognosis. Most pet’s symptoms will resolve with rest and anti-inflammatory therapy including prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Rimadyl, Previcox, or other pain medications like Tramadol.

I have found natural supplements like Proanthozone as well as Yucca Intensive to be helpful in some dogs. While the exact causes are not known for most of these conditions, many veterinarians feel that over supplementation and/or excessive protein intake may be involved.

PetMeds® Growing Pains (Panosteitis) in Dogs

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While growing pains are common amongst human children as a part of growth and maturation of the long bones, dogs often experience similar type pains as growing puppies.  While this most commonly occurs in larger breed dogs, any dog can be affected.  Usually between the ages of 4 and 18 months this often presents as some sort of limping or stiffness, which can often shift from one limb to another, after seemingly resolving on its own for a period of time. Some dogs can experience growing pains, similar to children do as they grow

It is important for a veterinarian to do a proper exam and workup to differentiate such symptoms from other causes of lameness that can present as any of the tick-borne diseases, especially Lyme disease. However, unlike Lyme disease, many puppies with growing pains or problems in maturation or calcification/elongation of their growing bones, present more with long bone pain, rather than the joint pain more common in infectious diseases. Usually through a combination of a physical exam, blood work and x-rays, these possibilities can be sorted out.

Some of the more common “growing pain” diseases in dogs include panosteitis and hypertrophic osteodystrophy (known as HOD). There are also certain calcification defects involving the joints of particularly large breed dogs, known as osteochondrosis or OCD that can also cause pain and lameness in young dogs. While in the latter condition of OCD, surgery is sometimes necessary, however, most of these other common “growing pain” conditions of young dogs can be treated through a combination of rest, nonsteroidal anti inflammatory medication such as Rimadyl or Deramaxx, and mild opioid medications such as Tramadol.

Some clients will also supplement with antioxidants like Proanthozone, as well as fatty acids or Yucca Intensive. While most puppies typically outgrow most of these conditions by sexual maturity, some dogs can be so severely affected that on rare occasions (if surgery is not an option) euthanasia is rarely needed. While many of these conditions are not well understood, in terms of exact causation, it is important to feed your puppy a good quality natural diet, but also to recognize not to overfeed or over supplement as well, which some believe can also play a role in some of these conditions. .

PetMeds® Helping Senior Pets with Pet Stairs and Ramps

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Aging dogs can suffer from arthritis which can cause lameness and cause your pet to have difficulty jumping on and off furniture

Many aging or senior animals, particularly large breed dogs, often suffer from degenerative spinal and/or joint disease, often limiting their mobility and agility, making it difficult for them to climb many stairs or jump up like they used to as younger dogs.

While we have an emerging group of options in treating such pets, including nutritional supplements, nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and other pet pain medications, many of these handicapped animals also benefit from various physical devices in helping them ascend different areas of the home, just as routinely help handicapped humans move around easier.

In addition to complimentary medical therapies such as chiropractic, acupuncture, and the emerging veterinary specialty of physical rehabilitation, I also find it helpful that guardians consider physical devices and assistants such as dog ramps and pet stairs to ease the work load on an aging or diseased spine or joints. In addition to pet ramps or pet stairs, many pets can be fitted for various type of carts attached to their lower body, which can often help dramatically as well in those pets with failing use of their lower legs because of spinal, arthritic disease, or even helpful in the post surgical disc disease candidate.

PetMeds®: How Can I Help My Pet From Developing Signs of Age-Related Decline?

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Pets may develop signs of declining mental function as they age How can I help my pet from developing signs of aging and declining mental function?  This common question asked by guardians of geriatric cats and dogs and can often be helped by a combination of several dietary approaches, including supplements and, if necessary, prescription medications.  In the canine world, this decline in brain function is often referred to as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.

Signs of this syndrome seen more common in dogs but also in cats include disorientation, changes in behavior ranging from dullness or apathy, anxiety to irritability, as well as exhibiting changes in the sleep-wake cycle often awaking their guardians in the middle of the night, sometimes in a confused manner and/or wandering around the house aimlessly or getting trapped in corners. Along with these above changes, frustrating house soiling problems can also be seen.

By using a combination of dietary and nutritional supplements and sometimes prescription medications, many aging pets can sometimes be brought around to increased levels of alertness and activity not seen in years. I have found a combination approach, using (first and most importantly) a proper and balanced fresh homemade diet or at least a natural brand like Be Well, Wysong, or Wellness, along with various supplements offers the best chance at response.  Recent research published in the journal Vet Therapy in 2008 showed in a double blind placebo study, how the supplement SAMe, which is particularly abundant in the liver and brain, to be helpful.   Denosyl is an excellent product to consider and has a sufficient amount of SAMe to make a clinical difference in many pets.

Vetri-DMG helps with chemical reactions in many cells, including the transfer of oxygen by the blood and into the brain.  My favorite antioxidants which can help with mental alertness and acuity include Proanthozone, Cell Advance, and Super VitaChews from 1800PetMeds used all together. I have not been as impressed with Evsco Antioxidant.  Fatty acids have also been studied and shown to help brain function at both ends of life, with my favorites being Nordic Naturals Omega-3 fatty acids, Pet Cod Liver Oil, and Super Pure Omega 3.  Combining many of these supplements, along with a natural minimal processed commercial diet offers the best approach in my opinion in helping these aging pets.

PetMeds®: Urinary Incontinence in Aging Pets

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As many pets get older, particularly in spayed or neutered dogs (being much less common in cats), the muscle tone often weakens around the urethra leading to the frustrating problem of involuntary urination and soiling of the home and pet bedding.  And while there are many factors often involved from anatomic problems, hormonal issues, and weakness of the nerves to the area, there are at least certain drugs that can help effectively control this symptom in the majority of pets.

One of the more common and effective first line choices often reached to by veterinarians is the prescription drug known as Proin.  By tightening the sphincters around the urethra, regular use of Proin can help pets better retain urine between incidences of voiding.  We will often use the lowest effective dose of Proin to control the problem, sometimes even being able to taper the dose to a few times a week down from the initial once daily to twice daily dosing often used. Urinary continence may occur in aging pets

Before your veterinarian places your pet on this drug, it’s important to rule out other medical disorders through a urine analysis, possibly urine culture and if indicated or needed, a blood panel and possibly x-ray studies. It’s also important, particularly in older pets to have blood pressure measured, as the increasing recognition of hypertension in dogs and cats from various cardiac and metabolic diseases can be exacerbated by the use of this drug. In fact, it was cardiac and hypertensive complications that led to the main ingredient in this drug being taken off of the human market only a few years ago.  However, in the vast majority of dogs this drug has proven safe most of the time.

When Proin fails to work, especially in spayed female dogs, the use of low doses of prescription estrogen or Stilbestrol (as it is known as) or DES, can sometimes be quite helpful in managing urinary incontinence in conjunction with Proin or by itself.  And while many of us learned in school of the dangers of estrogen therapy in dogs, I have not found in my 19 years of clinical practice many problems from using low dose hormonal therapy with estrogen to be problematic in dogs. However, these dogs all should be periodically monitored with blood work if taking DES or Stilbestrol long term.

I’ve found in my experience that some of the natural products out there like HomeoPets Leaks No More to not help most of the dogs I have tried it on. Sometimes chiropractic adjustments or acupuncture done by trained veterinarians can sometimes help those cases where weakness of the spinal nerves is involved with the urinary incontinence.