I am lucky to own a beautiful 15-year-old collie-cross. She is one of my best friends and a much loved family member, and I am very careful to keep her as happy and healthy as possible, but what are the best ways to achieve this?
Happily, we are seeing more geriatric dogs and cats. This is probably because of better quality diets and access to more veterinary medications, in particular heart medications, than in the past. We can help them live even longer by doing certain things.
Keeping older pets a healthy weight and active is important. Although, they may not be as lively as when they were younger, it is vital to encourage daily exercise and change their diet if they start to gain weight. If pets are affected by arthritis, exercise helps to maintain the muscle mass and reduces stiffness. Short walks are best so they don’t get over-tired.
Hydrotherapy is useful. Dogs, and cats, can exercise in warm water, supported by a harness. My dog gets hydrotherapy a couple of times a month and it has really helped to build up the muscles in her back legs. It is also a great, surprisingly inexpensive, way to help with weight loss. Lean dogs live, on average, about two years longer than those overweight.
Supplements can be helpful, too. Extract of green-lipped mussel is proven in dogs to reduce the symptoms of joint pain. There are vet preparations available and the majority of my clients who try them with their pets report a real improvement.
Supplements can also be useful in Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), which has similarities to Alzheimer’s. It is important to start use early in the condition so if you notice that your old pet behaves differently, for example not seeming to know which way to go on a regular walk or seeming a bit confused, ask your vet to check them over.
It is a good idea to have geriatric pets (those over nine years old) examined by a vet twice a year. It is also helpful if you can take a urine sample with you to screen for abnormalities.
If you notice anything else unusual, for example lumps or bumps, or if you feel your pet is losing weight, drinking more or being sick, take them in for a check.
Although many problems of old age are unavoidable, such as deafness, with a few changes we can help our pets live longer, healthier and happier lives.
By Catriona Gibson, Vet.