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Supporting Your Aging Companion

by Dr. Larry Siegler

We all dread the time when the inevitable signs of aging begin to appear in our companion animals. In supporting your aging dog or cat, however, YOUR attitude and expectations are important. Becoming stressed and upset at each new issue that arises as your companion ages will not help them or you. Aging is a natural part of life, and if we expect it, accept it, and prepare for it, it will be easier on you and your best friend.

Geriatric animals will sleep more, be generally less aware of their surroundings, and likely be less tolerant of cold than when they were younger. It is common for aging pets to have increasing difficulty hearing and seeing. Older dogs are not able to go for long hikes or run with their guardians as they have been accustomed to doing. It can be quite a dilemma for parents of aging dogs when deciding it may be time to leave a beloved hiking or running companion at home.

When is your companion considered “geriatric”? Here’s a rough guideline:

  • Cats – 10-12 years
  • Small to Medium Dogs – 9-11 years
  • Large Dogs -  8-10 years
  • Giant Breed Dogs – 7-8 years

Rather than becoming anxious about our companion’s declining abilities, we can become proactive in preventing or delaying the onset of age-related disease. We can also adjust our interactions with them rather than becoming frustrated by their lack of hearing, poor eyesight or other disabilities. Adjusting our expectations reduces stress for both guardian and companion.

Weight Management is of utmost importance in determining how well your companion will age. Overweight dogs and cats are much more susceptible to a variety of degenerative diseases at an earlier onset, such as joint stiffness and arthritis, diabetes, heart and respiratory problems. While your friend may not be able to play with as much vigor or endurance, or to go on those long hikes or runs, exercise is still VERY important to their health.

Tooth Decay and Gum Disease are more common as an animal ages. Proper dental care is a top priority in keeping your companion healthy into old age. Please see our article, " Dental Health Care for Your Companion," for tips and advice on keeping your cat's or dog's mouth healthy.

Joint Stiffness and Arthritis are almost inevitable for our aging companions. You can assist in a variety of ways, such as elevating water & food bowls and providing a comfortable and well padded bed – but one that is not so soft that it is difficult for them to get out of. Create steps or ramps to furniture or other favorite resting places that your cat or dog can no longer reach on their own. For a holistic approach to preventing and treating arthritis, please see our article, " Natural Alternatives for Arthritis & Joint Stiffness."

The incidence of Thyroid Disorders increases as animals age. Cats are prone to hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), and dogs are more prone to hypothyroid (underactive thyroid) problems. Treatment for hyperthyroid issues in cats will depend on the age and overall health of the cat. Kidney disease is frequently associated with treatment for hyperthyroidism in cats. Possible alternative treatments include homeopathy and Chinese Herbal Medicine – both of which must be guided by a qualified veterinarian, as the treatment is very specific to each individual case. 

Diabetes is also more common in older animals. Changes in diet and nutrition are often helpful, along with blood sugar support supplements such as Only Natural Pet Super Daily Greens or PetAlive GlucoEnsure for less advanced diabetes. Treatment for diabetes must be guided by a qualified veterinarian. The key to preventing diabetes is proper nutrition and weight control. Our article, "What You Need to Know About Your Pet's Food," has further information on this key health issue.

As our companions age, some form of Cognitive Decline is almost inevitable. A cat my roam the house at night yowling and disrupting the household. Dogs often pace and pant heavily – again, more frequently at night - and appear frightened by some unseen threat. Many owners of geriatric animals go to their vets with circles under their eyes, bemoaning the lack of sleep in their household now that their companion is keeping them up half the night. 

There are a wide variety of supplements to help treat cognitive problems in aging companions. I often recommend a supplement called Cholodin along with supportive herbs or supplements appropriate for the individual such as: Astra Essence from Health Concerns – a good general Chinese herbal tonic that can help with cognitive decline and frequent urination.

For night time stress and fears:

  • Only Natural Pet Relaxi-Herb Herbal Supplement
  • Genesis Resources Canine Anxiety and Stress Formula
  • Vetri-Science Composure Liquid
  • Animals' Apawthecary Tranquility Blend
  • HomeoPet Anxiety

It is often quite difficult to know which remedy will work for each companion. The process of trial and error is frequently the only way to determine the best combination for your animal.  It is best to use a product for at least 2-3 weeks before deciding about its effectiveness (unless of course there are side effects, which means any supplement should be stopped and a veterinarian consulted).

A very common and frustrating problem for aging pets is incontinence. The kidneys are one of the most common organ systems to wear out in a cat or dog, and as hormone imbalance affects the function of the kidneys and bladder, your companion may have difficulty with urinary incontinence. She may simply not be able to hold it as long as when she was younger, or urine may leak a bit while he sleeps at night. Excessive urination or incontinence may be indicative of a disease such as diabetes or kidney failure, and a trip to the veterinarian is very important to determine if either condition s present. 

Take a look at Only Natural Pet Store's selection of natural products for kidney support.

Only Natural Pet Store offers a variety of products that can help with incontinence.

Again, there is no way to know which will work best for your individual dog or cat. Start with one and if you do not see signs of improvement in two to three weeks, then try a different one. I often tend to start with Only Natural Pet Canine Bladder Control.

Kidney Failure or Disease is another common ailment in aging companion animals. For the prevention and treatment of kidney failure please see our article, "Dealing with Kidney Failure in Cats and Dogs."

Herbal Tonics can be an excellent way to support a geriatric animal’s system and overall health.  These include:

  • Only Natural Pet Senior Herbal Formula
  • Health Concerns Astra Essence
  • Animals' Apawthecary Senior Blend

Remember to adjust your expectations and keep stress levels low for your geriatric friend. Lots of attention is still needed even if he or she shows less interest than before. You will notice changes in his or her condition sooner if you are interacting closely on a daily basis. You may find visits to your veterinarian become more frequent as new issues arise during the twilight years. Working along with your veterinarian, you can keep your companion as comfortable and healthy as possible as he or she ages.

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The articles and information in the Holistic Healthcare Library are presented for informational purposes only and are not intended as an endorsement of any product. The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian. Instead, the content offers the reader information and opinions written by our staff, guest authors, and/or veterinarians concerning animal health issues and animal care products.

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