How to Care for Your Aging Pup

Dr. Tammie

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June 29, 2021

Dr. Tammie Pearce, Director of Veterinary Science at AskVet

We cannot help but fall in love with cute romping puppies, but those babies inevitably grow into adults and adults into senior pups!  You are your dog’s best advocate when it comes to care as they age. Caring for your senior pooch is an important responsibility, but can also be confusing, as well as sometimes challenging, and it is hard to know where to start.  Here we are going to discuss some basic information around diet, supplements, exercise and health plans you can discuss with your veterinarian.

Diet for your older dog

Diet is very important for older pets to help keep them healthy and to reduce potential chronic disease problems or food sensitivities. Your veterinarian may recommend a specific food for a chronic disease condition that will help with treating kidney, bladder, heart, liver or even endocrine diseases like diabetes.  If your older pet is on this sort of diet, try not to use too many additions or added treats since that can counteract the benefit of the special diet. Talk to your vet about prescription and homemade treats.

Generally, pets older than 7 years need to be on a lower fat diet and may need added omega three fatty acids or glucosamine/chondroitin to help strengthen joint and kidney function.  Prescription diets your veterinarian may prescribe include diets low in sodium for heart conditions, or lower in protein for kidney problems.  If your pup is in good health but you are want to provide for additional nutrition support look for diets specifically labeled for older pets like “senior formula” or “low fat” to help your pet maintain ideal weight.

Speaking of weight, a senior pet that is overweight is more likely to develop joint problems, diabetes, high blood pressure which can affect the kidneys, cancers, and some types of heart problems.  Keeping your pet at the ideal weight can help prevent these chronic diseases and injuries to your pets’ joints and spine. Being overweight can cause increase stress on knees, elbows and hip joints and may also cause pets like Dachshunds or Corgis to be more prone to back injuries when jumping on or off of furniture.  Keeping your pet at their ideal weight will help prevent many health problems and keep your pet active and alert.        

Your veterinarian may also prescribe specific joint diets that are high in both omega three fatty acids and glucosamine for joint health and maintenance. Your veterinarian may also recommend a supplement for specific diseases like liver problems.   Ask your veterinarian before supplementing any prescriptions diets since too many nutrients can be just as bad as not enough!

Supplements

Supplements can also help your pet age gracefully.  Some supplements should only be prescribed by your veterinarian because they can affect other organ systems or cause interactions with prescription medications.  Veterinarians will often recommend supplements like omega three fatty acids for skin and coat issues.  But too much omega three can also cause problems with the skin and lead to a thyroid-like syndrome.  So, make sure there are not already sufficient amounts of omega three fatty acids in your pup’s food before adding in a supplement.

Another helpful supplement is glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health.  There are many joint supplements on the market and so choosing one can be confusing.  Ask for recommendations from your veterinarian or look for brands like Cosequin which is recommended by veterinarians.  Most contain glucosamine and chondroitin to help keep the cartilage in between bones soft and supple.  Cartilage that is moist and supple will pad your pet’s joints and help keep them non-painful and mobile.  Sometimes this supplement is also prescribed with low impact water treadmill or other balance low impact physical therapy like exercises.  Some veterinarians have a full-time physical therapy department or even alternative medicine offerings that can help you pup with painful joints be more active.  Acupuncture as well as water therapy can help your pet move more without pain. 

Exercise

Just like humans, older pets can become less tolerant of very cold or very hot climates.  If you live in an area that is very hot or humid take extra care to walk your pet in the coolest part of the day. Limit your pet’s exposure to the heat and make sure to take extra water for yourself and your pooch.  Offer small sips of water when outside or anytime you hike or walk with your pet.  There are many portable water bottles/bowls for pets as well that are compact and easy to carry. In the cold of winter also limit your pup’s time outside.  Pets can get frostbite or become very cold or hypothermic when exposed for long periods to extreme cold.  Ice melt can be an additional hazard and cause burns on the feet.  It is a good idea for older pets to provide extra protection like sweaters, jackets, even boots when it is snowing outside or icy outside. 

Cold temperatures can also contribute to joint stiffness.  If your pet is experiencing joint pain or stiffness in cold or icy conditions, they are more likely to become injured from a fall.  Make sure outside stairs have good traction and don’t hesitate to provide your pet with ramps or stairs to help your senior up into the car or onto furniture.  It is important for your pet to remain active, so they don’t gain too much weight, which causes further stress on the joints and other organs.  Sometimes playing games indoors or doing trick training can help your senior pup remain active and alert also.  Your veterinarian may suggest some fun exercises you can do indoors if the weather is too hot or too cold to go out.

Physical therapy or low impact activities like swimming or water tread mills can help your senior citizen maintain weight and joint health. Many doggy activity centers have indoor water therapy or pools so dogs can participate in low impact exercise year around.   In addition, physical therapy may be prescribed by your veterinarian after joint surgery to help build up muscles lost because of non-use from injury. Swimming, water tread mill, physical therapy, stretch/massage and balance classes have become more popular in city areas.  If you live in a more rural setting, you can purchase some inexpensive equipment online and follow instructions from your veterinarian to help your older pup maintain activity. 

Chronic Diseases and Medications

We all want our furry family members to live long happy lives and developing a preventative healthy pet plan with your veterinarian will help achieve that goal.  There are many aspects to creating a lifestyle-based healthy pet plan.  Routine preventative care and healthy habits are a key part of that, but also keeping your pup physically and mentally active will keep you and your dog content and happy.  Plans may include things like daily activities, visits for therapy sessions, home activities, going to events with your dog, products or supplements that help your pet’s health, and diets to keep your pooch in peak condition.

With any senior and older pet is ideal to keep up on preventative care like heart worm, and monthly flea and tick prevention.  More emphasis may be placed on environmental controls, having your home and yard sprayed for flea and ticks, to help keep external parasites away from your senior pup. If your pet has a chronic condition that needs daily medications, you can use an app for reminders and partner with your veterinarian to develop a specific Health Care Plan for your older pet. Talk to your veterinarian about the medications they prescribe, how it will help your pet and what side affects you might expect.  Especially with some chronic medications for heart disease, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, your veterinarian will recommend recheck every three to six months. Depending on disease and medications expect your pet to need blood work, urinalysis, possible repeat ultrasounds or specialized treatments.  There are many advancements in cancer care also with surgery combined with immunotherapy showing good results over chemotherapies.

Getting Started

AskVet can also help you to develop wellness and health care plans for your senior pets, with virtual veterinarians that are available 24/7. We can discuss what to expect once you have a diagnosis and help when your veterinarian is not available to answer questions.  You can even check in with us to help when deciding if something is significant enough to seek immediate attention or can wait for your primary veterinarian in the morning.  We also have product recommendations that we can make to help you deal with everyday challenges.  

Along with your everyday routines and healthy pup plans you will be less stressed and be able to handle any challenges that come your way.  We are in this together to help you and your pet live a long and active life together!

 

That's another pawsitive tip from AskVet's Dr. Tammie! To learn more about pet care, you can chat with an AskVet veterinarian 24x7 on the AskVet app any time, day or night.

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