Vet Corner: Caring for Aging Dogs
by Sandra Black, DVM
As dogs age, they begin to wear out (they are no different from people). Since they cannot verbally express how they feel, it is up to us, their caretakers and friends, to try to identify their ailments and help them maintain a comfortable and happy life.
Signs of arthritis often appear gradually. It starts with a subtle slowing down on walks, less enthusiasm for going outside or the slightest reluctance to lie down or get up. More often than not, it progresses to an overt limp, a decreased ability to navigate stairs or jump up on (or down from) the couch, frequent pacing, panting or even grumpiness or overt aggression.
A decline in cognitive function will manifest in accidents in the house, pacing, standing/ staring, getting stuck in odd spots, and even aggressive behaviors. Whether or not a dog has cognitive decline, it may experience declining senses (vision and/or hearing). These contribute to its disengagement from activities, often resulting in accidents in the house, running into things and less interest in daily activities.
Metabolic issues will cause a variety of signs depending on the organ(s) affected: declining appetite, a change in thirst, acting hungry but not eating, excessively urinating, having accidents in the house, becoming grumpy or even aggressive, coughing, decreasing exercise tolerance – just to name a few.
So now we know what we need to watch for. But once we have identified an issue, what then?
Start with a veterinary exam. A thorough exam, fasting blood work, urinalysis and x-rays will often identify the reason behind the change in behavior. When we know the cause, we can offer relief.
For arthritis, many modalities can help reduce our pets’ pains:
- Standard pain medications (carprofen, gabapentin, tramadol) are generally safe and effective.
- Neutraceuticals such as glucosamine and polyaminoglycans can relieve those achy joints.
- We can supplement pain management with integrative Care. Integrative care methods can provide profound pain relief through massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, laser therapy, transcutaneous electrostimulation, regenerative stem cell and platelet rich plasma therapy, and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM).
I know very little of the science behind these modalities, but I have seen them work wonders. Dr. Tami Shearer at Smoky Mountain Integrative Veterinary Clinic is well versed in ALL of these and can work with you, your dog, and your vet to provide a comprehensive pain management plan. It is our responsibility as pet owners to help our friends be as comfortable and happy as possible.
For cognitive decline, some foods and some neutraceuticals help support the brain. But you can also contribute to your pet’s care. Engage your dog. Take them outside to feel the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze, maybe even hear a bird or see a squirrel. Take them on a car ride (assuming they don’t hate riding). Brush them frequently and make sure they get their nails trimmed. Bathe them (again, only if it is not a war to do so!) which also serves as a mini-massage and helps you identify trouble spots. Even something as simple as petting them more frequently keeps them engaged.
The point of this article is not to go into the details of how to treat every malady, but know that for many physical ailments that come with age, we can offer veterinary help:
- For diabetes, we have insulin
- For heart issues, medications
- For kidney issues, special foods
- For incontinence, diapers
And there are integrative tools to help with these as well—again, beyond my base, but thousands-of-years-in-use herbals and acupuncture can offer support to the failing organ.
Finally, think about your pet’s surroundings. Look at your house from your dog’s perspective.
- Slick floors? Get rubber backed runners for their paths and a firm supportive bed for them.
- Steps and stairs? Ensure they are well lit and the treads have traction, or carry them (small dogs only!) or consider having a ramp built.
- Food and water on the other end of the house from where they normally stay? Move the bowls closer, and make sure they know where they are.
- Is it markedly cooler/draftier where their bed is? Consider redirecting the vent or getting a warming pet bed.
We have so many tools available now to help our furry friends as they get older. Age is not a disease, but it does bring with it a host of potential problems. Be aware, be proactive, and be kind,