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Senior Pet Health

How to Manage Your Senior Pet’s Health

Most pets are considered to be senior when they reach 7 years of age, and can live to be 10-13 years old for dogs, or 13-17 years old for cats. These estimates vary with every pet depending on a variety of factors, including breed. With advancing veterinary care and more advanced research into proper pet care, it is not uncommon for our companion animals to live beyond these estimated time spans. Because of this, it is important that pet parents know the best ways to manage their aging pets. Primary areas of concern for senior pets are health and disease management, nutrition, physical exercise, mental stimulation, and end of life decisions.

Health and Disease Management

The most important way to care for your senior pet is to bring them to the veterinarian regularly. This will ensure you catch any diseases, pains, or other health concerns early enough to treat or prevent suffering. When we live with an animal, we can sometimes oversee little changes that indicate something is wrong, so regular visits to the veterinarian can help you keep on top of these changes. We want our pets to be their best selves all the way until the end, and having a good relationship with your vet with help make that happen.

Nutrition

Senior pets have different nutritional needs than younger pets. Often, they require fewer calories due to a slower metabolism and overall decrease in activity. To prevent weight gain in older pets, it is advised to switch them to a senior diet. Many brands of pet food offer senior varieties that are lower in fat and higher in fiber. Being overweight can cause a number of health problems as they age and affect mobility, so be sure to keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout their whole life. It is much harder to get weight off of a senior pet than a young one with a lot of energy!

On the other end of the spectrum, some older pets lose their appetite and can become too thin. There are a number of ways you can encourage them to eat, such as buying food with smaller kibble so it is easier to chew and swallow, or adding broth, wet food, or other yummy items to their kibble to make it more appealing and softer to eat. You could also talk to your veterinarian about homemade diet recipes that your pet won’t be able to resist. Many veterinarians recommend feeding senior pets 3-4 smaller meals throughout the day, as big meals can be harder on their digestion systems.

Physical Exercise

One factor that can determine the health and longevity of a pet is how much daily exercise they get. Exercise helps keep muscles, joints, and bones active and healthy, but also helps prevent other health issues, such as heart disease, and improves mental health. You should provide daily exercise for your pet at any age, but it is especially important with senior pets to keep them moving. Your senior pet may not be able to exercise the way they used to but it is important to keep them doing the things they love at a pace they can handle. For your daily walks, your dog may not be able to go as far or as fast as they could. They may even be a little reluctant to get up and out, but it is important to take the time and patience needed to get them their daily exercise. Be prepared to let them sniff more or take breaks as needed, and adjust your route as needed. Swimming is a great form of exercise for senior dogs (and maybe some brave cats…).

Senior pets usually are less playful than their younger selves, but they can definitely have their bursts of energy and you should take advantage of that whenever they offer it to you! The play may not be as vigorous as it once was, and that is ok. If you throw a ball with your dog, or play with the laser pointer with your cat, be mindful that they have aches and pains and keep the play milder to prevent injuries. Senior dogs will definitely rest more, especially after a busy day or a particularly fun bought of exercise. Use this time to give them extra snuggles and pets!

To read more information about mental health and end of life decisions for our senior pets, visit our blog articles!

Senior Pet Proof Your House

Tips to Make Getting Around a Little Easier for Your Senior Pet

Senior pets can have a harder time getting around, so here are a few ways you can help make it a little easier.

  • Provide comfortable beds in frequently used locations. Thicker beds or heated beds will feel good on your pet’s aching body.
  • Put throw rugs in areas where they frequently walk or stand, especially if you have hard wood floors or other smooth flooring. Older animals can have a hard time getting around on smooth floors. This might prevent them from being as active or could put them at risk of injury if they are slipping around. Keep in mind places where your pet might be jumping down onto the floor, like jumping off of the couch, bed, or cat tree. Also think about the stairs, and providing them a throw rug at the bottom of the stairs or any landings along the way down.
  • Make sure commonly used paths are free of clutter to prevent tripping and injuries. Try to keeps important items in a consistent location, such as food, water, beds, toys, litter boxes, and even tables and chairs. This will help your pet as their vision gets worse. Also, be aware of sharp edges around the house and add some cushioning to hard objects that your pet might frequently bump into.
  • Remove any cords or strings from pet reach. Aging pets cannot see as well or may be suffering from dementia, so getting caught in dangling strings or cords can put them at risk of strangulation.
  • Provide ramps or stairs up to beds, couches, or cars as needed. Older pets will have a harder time jumping up or off high surfaces, and doing so may increase their risk of injury. Steep stairs might also give your pet a problem as they age, so providing ramps can be a good alternative. Many pet supply stores sell different types of stairs and ramps. Building them could be a fun DIY project, also.
  • If you have an aging cat, provide them a litter box on every level of the house. Moving up and down levels to use the bathroom might become difficult for them. Providing easy accessible litter boxes can help prevent accidents out of the box.

Every pet is different and will have different needs as they age. To find other ways to make your pet more safe and comfortable as they age, monitor them. Watch them move around the house and figure out what areas or activities are giving them the most trouble, and find a way to fix it.

Mental Stimulation for Senior Pets

Mental Health is Just as Important 

 Mental health is just as important as physical health, and is especially important for senior pets. Senior pets often are not able to do all of the activities that they used to be able to do, and as a result can suffer from boredom and depression, but mental stimulation can be just as tiring to an animal as physical exercise. There are plenty of ways to keep your senior dog busy, from training to nose work to problem solving games! Remember that older animals may be a little stubborn at first, so when first introducing a new game or training a new behavior, go slow at first until they understand what you are asking.

Training

You may have heard the old saying “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks” but it is not true! You can absolutely teach old dogs new tricks. The best part about training an older animal is that you can train just for fun. They probably already know all the basic commands, such as sit and stay, so you can focus on more fun behaviors like paw, spin, or bow. There is an endless list of behaviors to train on the Internet, so get out your clicker and some treats and get to work! Combine mental and physical stimulation by using training to create a sequence of behaviors for your dog to do to stretch their body different ways, like doggy yoga! Remember, cats can be trained too!

Nose work

Even while their sight and hearing begin to fade, many pets maintain an excellent sense of smell making nose work an excellent option for mental stimulation. Here are some examples:

  • Throw their kibble on the floor or in the yard to encourage them to use their nose to find all the pieces.
  • Hide yummy treats around the house and let them sniff the treats out.
  • Put a little dab of a scent on a toy and ask them to find it in a hidden location, or just put different scents around the house for them to explore.
  • Allow them to follow scents and to sniff to their heart’s desire on their daily walks.

Problem Solving Games

To help keep your pet’s mind sharp, incorporate some games into their daily lives. The possibilities are endless so here are just a few examples of games to play with your pets, or ways to get them to problem solve:

  • Put some kibble and treats in a puzzle feeder for them to work out. A puzzle feeder can be as simple as putting a few treats in an empty water bottle and having them figure out how to get the kibble out.
  • Put a treat under a cup and scramble it around with other cups so your pet has to guess which cup holds the treat.
  • Assign names to your dog’s toys and ask for them each by name. You could also teach your dog to put the toys away into a bin by name, if you’re really ambitious! (Some cats may be able to do this!)
  • Play hide and go seek with your pet. Ask them to sit and stay, then go hide and call them to you.

Deciding When it’s Time

End of Life Decisions

One of the hardest parts about owning a senior pet is knowing when it is time to let them go. Because we see them everyday, it can be hard for pet parents to recognize when their pet is suffering, and some pet parents may even be in denial. When our pets are younger we may set certain guidelines of when we will euthanize, such as when they start going to the bathroom in the house, or when they can’t walk as well, but then when we get to that stage we may want to hold on a little longer. This is one of the many reasons it is important to have a close relationship with your veterinarian so that you can work together to decide when it is best to consider euthanasia. Veterinarians will be able to give you a more objective opinion about your pet’s quality of life, and help you see if your pet is suffering. You could also have a close friend or family member agree to tell you when they think it is time.

The following quality of life scale is used by many veterinarians to help pet owners monitor their pets as they age. Your veterinarian might even have his or her own scale or may be able to recommend a local hospice veterinarian to help you make the decision. We all struggle with this decision with our own pets and it is a hard decision to make, so do not be afraid to ask for help from others.

 

 

Sunburn Relief for You and Your Pooch

good dog spotIf you enjoy fun in the sun, you probably know the pain of a sunburn. Here are some natural products that can offer relief from the pain. Don’t forget the canines, either! If you have a short-haired dog, they can get sunburned too. 

(* means canine-friendly).

  1. Aloe vera*: All sun-worshippers should know this one. If you are prone to sunburns (or fire), your home should have an aloe plant. Pluck a leaf and peel it open. Some people will refrigerate the leaves before application for added relief. You can also mix it with vitamin E.
  2. Milk or Yogurt: This one may surprise you but many swear by it. Applying milk or yogurt to your skin will help instantly cool it. No need to worry about calories here, so go for regular rather than low-or-fat-free. (Bonus: 4oz plain yogurt, 1oz of aloe vera gel and 15 drops of lavender oil is even more effective). Topically, you can try these remedies on your dog, but dogs can have sensitivities to dairy products (and let’s face it: they WILL try to eat it). Some non-sweetened yogurt is OK for dogs so if you are going to try this remedy on Fido, go with the yogurt. 
  3. Coconut Oil is successful at soothing the burn and the associated itch, while also moisturizing the area. This will help reduce peeling and scarring.
  4. Lavender*: Adding lavender essential oil to cool water, and then spraying it over your burn will provide immediate relief. Like coconut oil, it will help reduce scarring. For extra relief, add aloe vera into this mixture. (Bonus: lavender essential oil used on dogs can help reduce anxiety. The quality of the essential oil is important though, so get natural, therapeutic-grade oils, especially if you have cats in the house).
  5. Rose Water*: Misting yourself with chilled rose water will provide great relief, make you feel royal and make you smell wonderful. Win, win, win. Be sure to get authentic rose water, rather than synthetic.
  6. Cucumber*: Cucumber is the vegetable of the summer. It is refreshing to eat, to add to water (with lemon), and also helps sooth sunburns. The best way to do this is to first blend the cucumber, then apply it directly to your skin. Some people will shred it instead. This is also great for burned eyelids.
  7. Chamomile Tea: Applying cooled tea or tea bags (after steeping) to the skin can help with inflammation and sting from sunburns. Using the tea bags can be especially useful if you burned your eyelids. For easy application, dip a sponge in the tea, then use the sponge to spread over the burn.
  8. White Vinegar: Chill and spray, voilà! White vinegar contains similar healing properties to aspirin, making it effective at relieving sunburn symptoms. It’s also a great household cleaner! Diluted white vinegar might be OK to apply to your dog’s skin, but they shouldn’t ingest too much of it. They also might be really offended by the smell. 

 

Dog Friendships

good dog spotDo dogs form friendships with other dogs? If you live or work with dogs you are going to answer, “Yes, of course they do!” It’s surprising then that there is very little scientific research confirming that dogs do in fact form friendships. In scientific terms, a friendship would be called a “preferential bond,” which can be difficult to study in animals, especially ones living in loving homes. Some animal behaviorists believe they have witnessed friendships in other species, such as wild chimpanzees and baboons, and of course, there are thousands of videos online showing same species and cross-species bonds.

At TGDS, we definitely think we see friendships form between our daycare dogs. Many dogs come on certain days of the week and regularly see the same dogs every time they come. We notice that dogs will be excited to see certain other dogs, and play together every time they come. The dogs here will even form cliques with each other, with a whole group of dogs playing together and becoming friends. Just like people, dogs have certain personalities and prefer the company of other dogs with certain personalities. You may have noticed this in your own dog. A lot of the friendships formed at TGDS are between dogs of similar breeds. For example, Labrador and Golden Retrievers often become friends with each other because they have very similar personalities and play styles. Many of the herding breed dogs play together as well. Then, of course, there are plenty of friendships formed between dogs of different breeds! It truly is fascinating watching the dogs here form friendships with each other that last years. Hopefully some day there will be more scientific information about how dogs form friendships with other dogs and how they develop these preferences for some dogs over others.

To read more about dog friendships, check out these interesting articles:

Can Dogs Form True Friendships with Other Dogs from Psychology Today

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201302/can-dogs-form-true-friendships-other-dogs

Do Dogs Form “Real” Friendships? From Patricia McConnell

Do Dogs Form “Real” Friendships?

 

Summer Hydration

Summer is (finally) here! One of the most important things you can do for your health is proper hydration. Water plays an important role in overall body function because when your body is good dog spotdehydrated it does not run as effectively. Water intake can affect many body processes, such as thermoregulation, blood circulation, nutrient and waste transportation, joint health, and brain cognition.

Every person and situation is different when it comes to how much water you need to consume on a daily basis. The typical recommendation is eight glasses of water a day, which is a good baseline amount to shoot for, but some sources suggest that men should consume about thirteen cups a day and women should consume nine. You should adjust the amount of water you drink based on your exercise regime and the weather. It is best to spread your water intake out throughout the day. Drinking too much water at once can push nutrients out of your body and be potentially dangerous

Water isn’t the only way to maintain hydration throughout the day. Juices and fresh fruits and vegetables are also great options. If you are doing strenuous exercise for more than an hour a day, sports drinks are a good option for replenishing sodium and other vital nutrients. Contrary to popular belief, small amounts of caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and sodas can also aid in hydration.

Symptoms of dehydration in humans include dry mouth, feeling tired, dizziness, headache, and dark urine or infrequent urination. If you start experiencing any of these symptoms on a hot day, it’s a good idea to take a break from the heat and replenish liquids in your body.

Pet Hydration

Just like humans, pets can get dehydrated as well.

Dogs have a strong thirst drive, and therefore are pretty good about consuming enough water as long as it is available to them. You can also be sure your pet is consuming enough water by feeding wet food or adding water into their dry food. Providing vet-approved fresh fruits, veggies, and meat can also be a delicious way to increase their water intake.

Cats do not have a strong thirst drive. Wild or feral cats obtain most of their water from the foods they eat. Providing your cat wet food regularly is a great way to ensure they are consuming enough water (recommended to provide wet food at least once a day or every other day). Domestic cats are often at risk of kidney issues because they do not consume enough water.

Symptoms of pet dehydration include lethargy, panting, dry nose and mouth, sticky saliva, loss of elasticity to the skin (the skin should snap back into place when lightly pulled between the shoulder blades), sunken eyes, and difficulty walking (a sign of severe dehydration). If you think your pet is dehydrated, get them into a cool spot and try to get them to drink water. If your pet won’t drink water, you could give them wet food or vet-approved fresh fruits and veggies that will get them to intake water. If you suspect your pet is severely dehydrated, you should get them to the veterinarian immediately.

Canine Flu Facts

Possible Prevention
If your pet has a weakened immune system, is a young puppy, or is a senior dog, refrain from bringing him/her to social settings where they will come into contact with large amounts of dogs. Boost your pet’s immune system at home by supplementing plain full-fat yogurt, a probiotic, Colloidal Silver, or Colostrum to their diet. Lastly, speak with your vet about a vaccination plan that is best for your dog’s individual needs

H3N2 Symptoms & Facts

  • Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, fever, lethargy, eye discharge and reduced appetite
  • 12 case have been confirmed in FL
  • It cannot spread to humans
  • H3N2 is very contagious, and can spread from dogs to cats
  • Puppies, elderly, pregnant, and dogs that travel or socialize with other dogs are at the highest risk for H3N2

If your Dog shows Flu Symptoms

  • Keep your dog separate from healthy animals.
  • Call your vet to alert them, and use a side entrance (not the waiting room) when visiting the vet.
  • Tell your vet if your dog has been to kennels, dog shows, daycare, dog parks, or other events with many animals present.
  • Change clothes after interacting with your sick animal.
  • If your dog is diagnosed with H3N2, tell the owners of any other pets your dog has potentially exposed to the virus.
  • Also, if your dog has been diagnosed with the H3N2 virus, notify any pet care/ training facilities your dog has attended in the last two weeks.

Dog Swimming Safety

dog swimmingSwimming can be an exciting and enjoyable way to stay cool during the summer, for you and your dog.  Many dogs love the water and learn to swim quickly, but swimming can be dangerous for dogs, just like for humans, so it is important to take safety precautions to keep everyone safe this summer.

  • If you do a lot of swimming or water activities with your dog, consider buying them a life jacket. Dogs can quickly become cramped or tired while swimming, putting them at risk of drowning. Becoming certified in dog first aid, including CPR, could also be an excellent way to ensure your dog’s safety.
  • Never leave dogs unattended while swimming. If you have a pool in your yard, fence it off or always monitor your dog while they are outside.
  • If you are unsure of your dog’s swimming ability, spend some time practicing swimming in a shallow area, just like you would when teaching a human to swim. You can support them at their torso if they seem to be struggling. Some dogs start by only using their front legs to paddle. Supporting them up can help teach them how to stay afloat and encourage them to use all of their legs.
  • Work on training a recall while in the water so that you can prevent your dog from swimming too far away from you. This can help keep them from getting caught in a current, or help in directing them to the shallow end of a pool. Use the recall to show them where stairs or ramps are so they know how to get out of the water.
  • Certain breeds enjoy swimming more than others. Brachycephalic dogs or dogs with short legs can have an especially hard time swimming. Never force a dog to swim or throw them into a pool. If you have a dog who is not good at swimming, providing them a kiddy pool can be a great way to keep them cool without putting them at risk of drowning.

Frozen Treats for Dogs

frozen treats for dogs

Here are some fun ideas for providing your dog a cool, refreshing treat on those hot summer days. With all these recipes, be sure you are using dog-friendly ingredients and do not feed in excess!

  • Frozen fruit and veggie pops: Puree your dog’s favorite fruits and/or veggies with some peanut butter and yogurt. Pour the puree in ice cube trays and stick in the freezer for a fun, easy treat (that you could enjoy yourself!).
  • Stuff a Kong with their food, some treats, and peanut butter. Stick in the freezer. The next day, give it to your dog to chew on to keep cool.
  • Meat pops: freeze meat broth in an ice cube tray with a few chunks of meat for a delicious, refreshing addition to daily meals. For an extra special treat, take leftover hot dogs and cheeseburgers from cookouts, put them in ice cube trays with some water and freeze!
  • If you want to be really creative, you could freeze your dog’s favorite treats and toys in an ice block made with water and chicken stock to keep them busy for hours.
  • More fun summer treat ideas can be found on Pinterest!