As with people, when pets age, there are several biochemical and physical changes that occur, which animal guardians should be aware of in order to help pets age gracefully into their golden years. Certainly many organ functions will start to slow down in middle and older years.
Starting at the head, a significant percentage of pets will develop some degree of dental and/or periodontal disease. This may manifest simply as changes in eating habits, and increased odor and/or drooling noted by the animal guardian, as well as difficulty in eating. On careful evaluation, many pets will have red gums and/or bacterial plaque buildup on their teeth. It is important for animal guardians to be aware of these potential changes, as they can certainly be more proactive in their pets’ dental health, including increased vigilance with scheduling ultrasonic scaling of teeth, as well as improved pet dental hygiene at home by implementing regular tooth brushing and/or rinsing of the oral cavity.
Many aging pets will also develop some sort of degenerative spinal and/or joint disease, which may cause animals to have increasingly impaired ability to move around and/or climb steps, etc. I would recommend that all middle-aged and senior pets with this issue receive a full medical evaluation, as well as possible blood work to assess organ function and/or blood counts. Depending on the findings of these exams and lab work, many aging arthritic pets can be started on prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Rimadyl, Previcox, or Metacam, as well as other novel pain medications such as Tramadol, or other mild opiod type medications.
It is also helpful for pet guardians to start their animal companions on a good quality joint supplement, such as Glycoflex III, as well as fish oil, and antioxidants such as Yucca Intensive or Proanthozone. Additional steps to keeping aging pets healthy includes having once to twice yearly periodic blood work to make sure there are no early kidney, liver and/or pancreatic issues that could affect patient outcome in these pets.
Good quality joint supplements such as Nordic Naturals Pet Omega 3, glucosamine/MSM products such as Glycoflex, as well as Yucca Intensive and/or Proanthozone are readily available online. When using these supplements, I often find that most pets need much less conventional drugs and can sometimes be weaned on to the supplements over a period of time. Probably the most critical component to keeping geriatric pets healthy is to feed a species-appropriate diet, which may or may not include raw. If not possible, the foods PetGuard and Wysong are two of my commercial favorites.
Guardians of aging pets should be on the lookout for increased thirst/urination, as well as changes in appetite and/or weight, in addition to any digestive symptoms such as vomiting and/or diarrhea. I always recommend good quality probiotics and enzymes, as this is so critical to maintaining a healthy immune system inside most any newborn puppies, kittens and/or infants.