A lot has changed since you brought that fluffy puppy home years ago, and you must change the way you care for your pet as they age. Senior diets, dietary supplements, pain assessment, acupuncture and laser therapy, and environmental changes are a few essential components of good senior pet care. All Pets Medical Center wants to help you navigate your beloved pet’s senior years, so we present the important changes in care they need.
Diets for senior pets
Senior diets are designed to provide the necessary nutrition for your older pet. Senior pets are usually less active, with lower muscle mass and energy requirements, and should be maintained at their ideal body weight to decrease stress on joints and to avoid weight gain. Also, many senior pets have dental issues and require softened or canned food with extra water, which also helps them stay hydrated. We can recommend a senior diet specially formulated for your pet’s individual requirements.
Dietary supplements for senior pets
Pet supplements, or nutraceuticals, may be considered a natural remedy or food-based support for senior pets. Unlike pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals often do not undergo FDA testing, but many veterinarians believe these supplements can improve your senior pet’s joint function, cognitive function, and hair coat, with fewer side effects than traditional drug therapies.
- Joint function — As pets age, wear and tear on their joints can lead to degenerative joint disease (DJD), or osteoarthritis. Pet joint supplements can improve joint function and slow DJD progression. We recommend the best glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, or other joint supplement, in an easy-to-administer form. Some pet foods now include joint supplements. Before giving your pet supplements, check with our All Pets Medical Center team for the correct dose, and advice on the best method to administer supplements to your pet.
- Cognitive decline — Some dogs exhibit confusion, memory loss, or personality changes as they age. If we diagnose the pet version of Alzheimer’s, once we have ruled out other possible medical and behavior diagnoses, we may recommend supplements such as SAMe, fatty acids, or antioxidants to help slow cognitive dysfunction.
- Hair coat — Fish oil, a supplement high in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, can help senior pets maintain a healthy hair coat, and more. Again, check with our veterinarian to ensure you give your pet the correct amount for the maximum benefit. Some pet foods contain fish oil.
Assessing pain in older pets
Determining whether your senior pet is painful is not simple. Cats, in particular, often exhibit few overt behaviors when in pain, so a “grimace scale” was developed to assess a cat’s pain level from their facial expression. Pets in pain are often depressed, inactive, and quiet, have a decreased appetite, groom or lick a particular location, and avoid stairs or jumping. Schedule an appointment at our clinic if you suspect that your pet’s actions and expressions are signaling they are in pain.
Acupuncture and laser therapy for senior pets
Alternative therapy can help senior pets and complement their traditional care, often decreasing the need for prescription medications and other treatments. All Pets Medical Center is pleased to offer acupuncture and laser therapy to all our patients.
- Acupuncture therapy — Acupuncture is a treatment where fine needles are inserted through the pet’s skin at specific body locations to stimulate specific actions. Acupuncture can be used in senior pets to alleviate pain, stimulate nerves, relieve muscle spasms, improve blood circulation, increase endorphin levels, and improve organ system function. Most pets do not object to the needles, and often become relaxed, and may fall asleep.
- Laser therapy — Sometimes used in conjunction with acupuncture, laser therapy is a minimally invasive process that stimulates or inhibits cell function. Laser therapy is used to reduce the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis, and to accelerate wound and post-surgical healing.
Providing comfort to senior pets
Older pets need more help in non-medical ways to ensure their comfort.
- Orthopedic beds — Remember when your pet was younger, and they simply flopped down on the hard tile or wood floor to take a nap? Senior pets have decreased muscle mass, are less active, and tend to feel cold more easily. Orthopedic beds, made with heavy-duty cushioning, help older pets stay warm and support bony pressure points such as the hock and elbow. If possible, have two fully washable beds, especially if your pet is incontinent, so they can be swapped out.
- Accessible food and water — Senior pets often have trouble going up or down stairs, so put water and food bowls on each floor. Elevated bowls make it easier for medium and large dogs to eat and drink without straining their neck and back.
- Ramps and rugs — Place ramps for your pet in places they have trouble reaching, like your bed or getting into the car. Also, older pets have trouble getting traction on tiled or wood floors, so make a pathway of rugs where they frequently walk.
The caring team at All Pets Medical Center wants to help your senior pets age well and happily. Call us if you have any questions about the special care, diet, or treatments your senior pet needs to be healthy, safe, and comfortable.