When is Your Pet "Old"?
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.
Physical Health & Ailments
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, 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 & Gum Disease
Tooth Decay and Gum Disease are more common as pets age. Proper dental care is a top priority in keeping your companion healthy into old age. Brushing, certain supplements, like CoQ10, and natural chews and raw bones can be a great help.
Joint Stiffness & Discomfort
Joint stiffness and discomfort are almost inevitable for our aging companions. You can assist in a variety of ways, such as elevating water and food bowls and providing a comfortable and well-padded bed, but choose one that's 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. Following a holistic or natural food and supplement routine, including compounds like glucosamine and herbs like turmeric, can be a big help for your pet's discomfort.
The incidence of thyroid disorders increases as animals age. Cats are prone to hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), and dogs are more prone to hypothyroid (under-active 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 holistic veterinarian, as the treatment is very specific to each individual case.
Diabetes is more common in older animals. Changes in diet and nutrition are often helpful, along with blood sugar support by working with a holistic veterinarian. The key to preventing diabetes is proper nutrition and weight control.
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 cats and dogs, and as hormone imbalance affects the function of the kidneys and bladder, your companion may have difficulty with urinary incontinence. They may simply not be able to hold it as long as when they were younger, or urine may leak a bit while they sleep. 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 is present.
For incontinence caused by weakened bladder muscles (especially prevalent in spayed dogs), supplements can be helpful. Traditional Chinese Medicine and homeopathy can also be helpful alternatives.
As our companions age, some form of cognitive decline is almost inevitable. A cat may roam the house at night yowling and disrupting the household. Dogs often pace and pant heavily, usually more frequently at night, and appear frightened by some unseen threat. Many geriatric pet parents go to their veterinarian 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, including valerian root, colostrum, and CBD.
All pets are different and it's hard 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).
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.