Going for the Golden Years: Helping Your Pet Age Well
Pets, just like the rest of us, inevitably age. As much as we would like to, even vets can’t fight the aging process. However, we can share a few tips to help you add quantity and — more importantly — quality to your pet’s golden years. Quality nutrition, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and regular checkups with your vet are the basics, but there are a few supplements we can throw in there too.
Tips for Helping Your Pet Age Well
Feed Them Quality Nutrition
When it comes to aging gracefully, one of the best things you can do for your pet is provide them with quality nutrition and not too much of it. A well-balanced quality dog food like Purina Pro Plan, Royal Canin, or Hills Science Diet (which are my top recommendations) is an essential part of a happy, healthy life. This is their only source of nutrition, so it’s important that the quality is reliable. “A little is good, so more must be better,” does not apply here. Limit their intake to maintain a healthy weight.
Keep Them a Healthy Weight
Just like with humans, being overweight is not healthy for your pet and can predispose them to a lot of conditions, not to mention arthritis, early degeneration, and pain. Don’t love your dog to death, if you must give treats and they’re getting a little pudgy try unsalted, unbuttered popcorn, fresh or frozen green beans, carrots, or other low-calorie snacks.
You should not be able to see your dog’s ribs, but with gentle pressure, you should be able to feel them, and they should have a waist both from the side and from above. If this doesn’t describe your dog and they’re starting to look a little more like a sausage, maybe it’s time to cut back on the calories a little bit. If your aim is weight loss, reduce their dietary intake by one quarter or stop free-feeding them and portion their meals. Believe it or not, your vet doesn’t like to tell you that your dog is fat. It’s an awkward conversation, but it’s part of the job, and it’s in the best interest of your pet to keep them lean and fit. If you’re not sure if your pet is overweight, please ask. Veterinarians can give you an ideal weight range for your pet.
Along with nutrition, exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle and longevity for your animal. Keeping your animal well-conditioned can promote good muscle tone and stave off obesity, as well as burn off extra energy that may manifest as anxiety. It’s also wonderful bonding time for you and your animal. Take them for walks, throw the ball, or take them for a swim — Alaska weather permitting, of course.
Enrich Their Diet With Vitamins & Supplements
You may be noticing a correlation between a healthy lifestyle for humans and pets. Vitamins and supplements can also help your pet live a longer healthier life. Fish oil is the supplement I most commonly recommend. If your animal is allergic to fish, flaxseed oil or vitamin E oil are good alternatives. These oils provide essential omega fatty acids that your pet needs as a precursor to the body’s own natural anti-inflammatories. They can also help promote healthy joints, skin, and the list goes on.
Glucosamine chondroitin (Cosequin) can also be a boon to your pet’s health and comfort. Especially for large breed dogs or breeds prone to joint afflictions. Glucosamine chondroitin is a glycosaminoglycan, which is a precursor to your body’s joint fluid. It’s also been shown to decrease inflammation in smooth tissue linings, such as in the wall of the bladder and other internal organs.
Finally, probiotics are usually an easy addition to your pet’s diet that helps maintain healthy flora, and not just in the gut. Your pet is covered with beneficial bacteria that help prevent infection and maintain normal body function, especially when dealing with an infection or being treated with antibiotics. Many other over-the-counter supplements and medications may benefit your dog’s individual needs, such as collagen, prebiotics, or herbal supplements. Just ask your vet for recommendations.
Schedule Regular Vet Checkups
Regular checkups are also essential to the longevity of your pet. I am, of course, a somewhat biased source here, but that’s kind of the point. Check-ups with your vet are not just for vaccines or when your pet is sick. Once a year, you should take your animal to the vet for a physical exam. It may look like a quick 2-minute pet down for your critters, but your vet is checking their lymph nodes, their color, teeth, their skin, listening to their heart and lungs, and checking their belly for masses and normal motility. They may pick up on something that your dog has not yet manifested as an illness. We run our hands over thousands of animals a year so if something is abnormal, it’s apparent to us right away.
Especially as your pet begins to enter their golden years, your vet may also recommend regular screening lab work to ensure that everything is still functioning well and nothing is shaking up under the surface. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Invest in Pet Insurance
My final recommendation for easy things that you can do at home to help your pet with graceful aging is to get pet insurance. It’s an unfortunate fact that the older an animal is when they get sick, the more likely it is to be something significant. Cancer especially crawls up the list with age, organs stop functioning efficiently, joints become arthritic, and the list goes on. If there is something that can be done, pet insurance can help, in some cases covering up to 90% of the bill.
The younger your animal is when you get pet insurance, the less expensive it is. Additionally, you can adjust your deductible and reimbursement percentage to suit your monthly budget. As an emergency vet, I find the single greatest untapped resource in the veterinary industry is pet insurance. As veterinary care capabilities and — unfortunately — prices expand, it can literally mean life or death for your pet.
Listen to Your Gut
Chances are, you’re going to notice something is off with your animal long before anybody else does. You know them; you know what’s normal for them and when they stop acting normally. Has your dog has suddenly started gaining or losing weight even though there’s been no change in their diet? Are they’re asking to go outside more often, or does the water bowl seem to be empty more than usual? Are they more reluctant than usual to play, jump up on the couch, or run up and down the stairs?
All of these signs can indicate that something may be wrong, and it may be something that we can fix. If your gut is telling you something is off, don’t wait. Get it checked out. It may be nothing, but wouldn’t it be a comfort to you to know that? If there is something wrong, chances are the longer you wait, the worse it will get.
Age is not a disease, but just like us, you can do some easy things to make the process a little more graceful and add some pep to your pup.
Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.