While pet aging is inevitable, understanding how we can help our dogs age gracefully can give a whole new meaning to teaching old dogs new tricks.
Healthy aging for your dog’s quality of life
With the right care, including proper nutrition and exercise, in addition to alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic and massage, it’s not uncommon for dogs to live to 14 or 15 years of age, and with a good quality of life. Great advances in treatments for illnesses such as cancer and kidney disease, along with treatments for genetic diseases such as hip dysplasia, also mean pets are living longer.
Seeing the pets I care for over the years in my practice remain vital and healthy late into their older years (I have treated pets as old as 18!) is part of why I am such a strong advocate for starting a healthy aging process with your pets before they become injured or ill.
Arriving to Middle Age
Turning seven is sort of like accepting “middle age” for your pet. No two dogs are alike. Therefore, a small dog weighing less than 20 pounds might not seem to show any signs of age until she is 12 or so. A 50-pound dog won’t seem old until about age 10. Larger dogs begin to show their age at eight or nine.
All are transitioning to a slower phase of life. You may wake up one morning to ﬁnd your dog is moving more slowly, playing less, has a harder time waking up from a nap, or even had a housetraining accident. Other telltale signs of aging are vision and hearing loss, frequent thirst, excessive urination, breathing diﬃculties, bumps and growths, irritability, change in sleep patterns and teeth and gum problems, among others.
These are telltale signs that it’s time for a check-up. Older pets need more frequent routine visits to detect potential health problems. While many conditions of aging are inevitable, if caught early they can often be slowed down or managed so that the dog can continue to have a high quality of life. Health problems such as hypothyroidism and or back pain are certainly treatable.
Improve your pets’ wellbeing
I think the “middle-age” checkup is one of the more important visits I make. We have a long list of things to observe. If we get a plan for any of these things below early on, we can significantly improve your pets overall wellbeing as he or she ages.
What we look for:
- Visual exploration: coat quality, scent, nutrition and allergies
- Dental health and hygiene — bad breath can signal organ problems like kidneys and liver
- Weight management, which can significant impact pain in the joints
- Posture, which can suggest swelling and spinal issues
- Energy level and habits, looking for subtle changes that could point to problem areas
Preventative holistic treatments can help
Older dogs with arthritis and degenerative joint problems can greatly beneﬁt from holistic medicine. Veterinarians who practice holistic medicine are also trained in traditional practices, and use all appropriate treatment modalities to keep a dog healthy. Just as human healthcare has shifted to a mix of holistic and traditional practices, we can offer our best the same wellness-centered approach.
Alternative therapies that may especially beneﬁt older pets include acupuncture, chiropractic, ultrasound, massage therapy and laser therapy.
- Ultrasound uses high-energy sound waves to treat tendon and ligament injuries. As the tissues absorb the waves, they are converted to heat. This promotes collagen ﬁber formation to maximize the long-term strength of the tendon, and helps con-trol the pain associated with arthritis.
- Laser therapy treatment delivers high-spectrum light waves into the body, relieving discomfort and reducing stiﬀness. The safe, pain-free treat-ment can be used to treat a variety of injuries, pain, wounds, fractures, neurological conditions and dermatological problems.
- Prolotherapy is a lesser-known treatment for weak and torn tendons and ligaments. The treat-ment involves injecting a solution into the aﬀected ligaments and bony junctures, which causes the growth of new connective tissue. Pain is alleviated as the tendons and ligaments tighten and grow stronger. The therapy, which has been used in humans since the 1950s, can also be used to treat arthritis, hip dysplasia, knee problems, back pain, neck pain and other musculoskeletal ail-ments commonly found in dogs.
While some pets may need surgery, it’s best to ﬁrst evaluate alternative options. Surgery and the risk of anesthesia may be great at any time in a pet’s life, but are particularly problematic with an older animal. Surgeries such as hip replacements and ACL surgery may be avoided with the application of prolotherapy. Back surgery may be avoided 50 percent of the time by acupuncture, electric stimulation, and ultrasound treatments.
When considering surgery, you should consult a good holistic veterinarian to learn about the new medical protocols available to you.
Also, unlike many prescriptions drugs, these holistic therapies have few side eﬀects, promote overall natural healing, and can help keep your older pet pain-free.