Helping Pets Age Gracefully

Dr. Laura Hady

Just as assisted living centers help support aging humans, pets may have special home needs as they enter retirement years.

Among common conditions in senior pets are arthritis and cognitive disorder, which has similarities with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in people. Age-related decline in cognitive abilities affect 28 percent of dogs ages 11-12 and increases to 68 percent of dogs by ages 15-16.  In cats 15-16 years old, more than 50 percent experience a cognitive decline. Symptoms of cognitive disorder include excessive barking, whining and meowing, disruption of sleep/wake cycles, house soiling, pointless pursuits such as standing in corners, and alterations in social activities.

If your pet shows any of these symptoms, you may find online surveys help you and your veterinarian ascertain whether this is the issue with your pet. I always recommend senior blood work to see if there could be an alternative health issue causing this problem. If your pet does have cognitive disorder, joint pain and swelling, or other health abnormalities that tend to creep up on our furry friends in their sunset years, consider these tips:

  • To combat the “sun down” syndrome of sleeping all day and staying awake all night, I usually recommend over-the-counter melatonin, beginning with 2 mg two hours before the animal’s bedtime. While this is a relatively safe drug, some animals become too sleepy with this supplement. If it does not work, ask your veterinarian about Trazadone, which is an anti-anxiety drug/anti-depressant used for humans. Another prescription medication is Anipryl (selegeline). Anipryl helps maintain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, resulting in improved nerve transmission.
  • For my geriatric patients, I recommend a product called Seni-life which contains resveratrol, an anti-oxidant. Resveratrol helps prevent the formation of plaques in the brain. There are other cognitive supplements now on the market, but be sure to consult your veterinarian before administering, as certain combinations of prescriptions and supplements can make your pet hyperactive or overly sedated.
  • Just as people get macular degeneration as we age, dogs get lenticular sclerosis, which can affect vision, especially in dim light. Dogs and cats may also develop cataracts and retinal degeneration, which may make them seem unaware of their environment or anxious. Your veterinarian can examine your pet’s eyes, make recommendations, and even refer your pet to a veterinary ophthalmologist. Throughout my home, we have added several night lights and strings of LED lights to aid our animal’s path at night.
  • Maintain your pet’s daily exercise, such as short walks for a dog or laser pointer chasing for a cat, unless this is not advised by your family veterinarian. Even taking your dog out in a wagon or stroller gives them a sense of freedom and of being “normal.” It also keeps them safe in case they tire easily. Some cats enjoy this, too!
  • You can create games to stimulate your pet’s brain function and movement. I create a daily scavenger hunt for my dog, using dry food kibble, meatballs formed from canned food, or low-calorie treats, placing them at varying levels and amounts in the house about 30 minutes before I leave for work.
  • The pain and behavioral changes related to arthritis of the joints and inflammation in your pet’s brain can be decreased with a safe pet-specific NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Ask your veterinarian which one is right for your pet. A blood test may need to be done first or after 30 days of treatment to check kidney and liver functions.
  • I also recommend putting your pet on an overall nutritional supplement. Drs. Foster and Smith Joint Care premium plus has several compounds, such as glucosamine/chondroitin, which help provide lubrication for joints as well as natural anti-inflammatory substances, such as quercetin (found in apples). Boswellia, yucca, and bromelain can help maintain your pet’s immune function.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids may help your animal’s coat, brain health, and joint health. The quality and absorption of these products vary and is not determined by the price of the supplement. I recommend veterinary-tested formulas and to purchase a low dose at first as some dogs and cats develop diarrhea from these supplements.

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