Monday, September 10, 2012

Seven, Save Your Pet From an Early Retirement, Guidelines
 (Plus one bonus guideline to save your pet at any age!)

The Important Areas of Pet
Health to Watch as They Age

1. Immune Support

The immune system protects the body from invading organisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. It also distinguishes between the bad organisms and good organisms as well as its own healthy cells and tissues, so the body knows which organisms to fight off and which unhealthy cells should be discarded. As pets age, their immune systems naturally weaken, and they become more susceptible to age-related conditions.
Proper nutrition is one way to help support the immune support. Starting at around age 5 to 7 years, begin feeding a senior specific food that's rich in antioxidants or you can add a supplement with antioxidants, such as beta carotene and vitamins C and E, to help keep your pet’s immune system strong and help prevent oxidative damage to cells. In fact, supplementation with beta carotene and vitamin E have been shown to maintain or boost immune function back to that of healthy adult pet levels..

The signs of a compromised immune system vary widely but might include a minor health issue that occurs over and over and does not respond to a traditional treatment.  All health issues should be treated on a case by case basis. See your veterinarian regularly for preventative health checkups and whenever your pet shows any sign of health problems.

2. Joint Health
Many older pets suffer from some of the same debilitating ailments as humans. Dogs especially start feeling their age in their joints. Weight gain, activity and age can all place stress on joints and compromise surrounding cartilage, the connective tissue that cushions and protects every joint in the body.
Keeping your pet lean is important to overall health and can help reduce the stress on her joints. Give your pet plenty of exercise, and feed her portion controlled meals with appropriate levels of nutrients
A senior pet food might also benefit your pet.  This food should have fewer calories than regular food and might include supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, the building blocks for cartilage - the “cushion” in joints. This “cushion” is made from proteoglycans, and glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are components of these proteoglycans. Also, look for senior food with added long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
If you are noticing a sudden decrease in your pet's mobility, first consult your veterinarian. There could be an underlying problem and/or additional treatments that could be beneficial.
If your pet shows signs of pain and restlessness, see your veterinarian about anti-inflammatory medication. Do not give your pet human anti-inflammatory medication, as they may not be tolerated or the right dose.
If your pet has osteoarthritis, she will appreciate ramps and extra blankets in your home. You may also want to place a comfortable, orthopedic bed on each level of your home with a nice blanket.  Warmth helps to sooth aching joints. If you have slick hardwood floors, consider adding rugs to give your pet more stable footing and make sure that your pet’s nails are kept trimmed.
Your pets weight really is the most important factor to maintaining joint health so exercise should ideally be a part of her routine as long as it can be done without causing discomfort. Walking is usually the best for dogs but be sure to do it consistently as sudden long walks can cause soreness.  Swimming is also a great physical activity for arthritic dogs. It gives them the exercise they need to keep their weight down while minimizing pressure on joints.

3. Vitality and Energy
Although not always visible, your pet’s metabolism changes over time, which can lead to reduced activity and weight gain.
Most senior pets experience a slight to moderate reduction in daily energy needs.  But senior pets may need the same levels of certain nutrients like protein and fat as younger pets (while watching calories). It’s important to monitor your pet’s nutritional intake and weight to make sure her intake matches her declining energy needs. Higher protein options can also include L-carnitine, a vitamin-like substance that helps the body burn fat.
It is important to note that a protein-rich diet may not be beneficial for older dogs with some medical conditions, especially those in early or end stage kidney failure. If your dog has a kidney disease or another medical condition, discuss the best dietary management with your veterinarian. 
Another way to keep up your pets energy is to offer a new physical challenge or stimulation. It doesn’t have to require much physical strength. Try a new walking route for your dog.  Take her to a park she’s never been before and let her explore the new smells.  For your cat, introduce a new scratching post or motorized toy.

4. Weight Management
Just like humans, pet metabolisms slow down as they age, which can lead to weight gain. Gaining extra body weight over the years can cause a multitude of health problems and even a shorter lifespan for some pets. For example, studies have shown that excessive weight and obesity can put undue stress on weight-bearing joints and is strongly linked with osteoarthritis.
You can help prevent weight gain, and potentially some of the health problems that often accompany it, by controlling her caloric intake and making sure she gets plenty of exercise. At All Creatures Veterinary Center, we always stress that the amount of food you feed your pet is the most important part of maintaining a healthy weight.  If you are unsure about how much food you pet needs, ask your veterinarian for specific recommendation.  At All Creatures we will provide a nutrional consutlant for your pet as part of any wellness visit..
Another way to know if your pet is maintaining a healthy weight is to monitor its “body score.”  You can score your pet by evaluating its profile from the side and from above.  We have a chart that shows you how to check your pet’s body score and we will give it to you for FREE.  Just send an email request to . Enter “body score chart” in the subject line.

5. Cognitive Function
As pets’ nervous systems age, their brain function can slow down. They may start to show less interest in playing and interacting with you and your family or experience changes in their sleeping cycles.
An antioxidant-rich diet can help maintain healthy brain function. Antioxidants like vitamins E and C have been proven to help prevent oxidative damage to cells and help maintain normal brain function.  In addition, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, may work to help support normal function and help keep pets active. There two ways get these nutrients into your pets diet – find a food with the additional nutrients or add a supplement to your pets diet.  If you supplement, it is important to make sure your pets get the supplement.  Many dogs are notorious for avoinding pills hidden in their food.  Cats can be hard to “pill” as well.  Mixing the supplement into the food can work, but many pets will not like this change either.  With the many choices of pet foods today, it may be easier to find a food that includes the supplements you need. 
The other factor in cognitive function is mental stimuluous.  An older dog might benefit from a obedience training refresher course.  Think about ways to provide mental and physical enrichment for your pet.  Switch out toys every so often or add an interactive toy.  Exercise is important also as mentioned earlier.

6. Sensory Reduction
Like humans, pets senses can lose some function with age.  A gradual reduction in hearing, vision and/or sense of smell is fairly common for older pets. Sometimes reduced sense of smell can lead to reduced appetite. Fortunately, there are ways to improve a picky eater’s appetite such as feeding more palatable foods. Unfortunately, there are no proven ways to improve hearing or vision, but you can monitor these areas with a minimum yearly check-up for your pet.  Ideally, once your pet reaches 5 to 7 years of age she should have twice yearly check-ups.  Your veterinarian is often able to catch sensory changes because they monitor these areas as part of the physical exam of your pet.
What to look for
A older pet that is not eating might be loosing its sense of smell or she may be experiencing dental pain or it may be another issue.  If it is a smelling issue, a different more odiferous food might help or warming the food to enhance the smell.  If you suspect dental pain or other issues, consult your veterinarian.
If you suspect your pet is experiencing hearing and/or vision loss, you really should schedule a visit to your veterinarian to make sure there is no underlying medical issue. After seeing your veterinarian, conduct a safety inspection of your home, and remove any dangerous obstacles. Add gates around stairs and de-clutter floors. Be careful not to create any sudden loud noises or quickly approach your pet from behind, which may startle and distress your pet. 
This part of aging is often not as traumatic as it seems. In fact, sometimes we pet parents don’t notice the change for a while; because the pet’s other senses help her adjust.  Don’t let these changes stop you from giving your pet exercise. If she’s hard of hearing, teach her hand signals. When you walk your dog, keep her on a short leash and stay vigilant of your surroundings. When you’re playing, teach her to respond to vibrations such as clapping or taps on the floor.

7. Dental Health
Dental disease is common in older pets and can cause pain and discomfort, and lead to decreased food intake and other serious health problems.  Bad breath can be a sign of tartar buildup or other serious gum and tooth diseases.
The best way to help prevent dental problems is to brush your pet’s teeth daily using toothpaste formulated for pets. Check your pet’s mouth regularly for any signs of dental problems, such as bleeding gums and lost teeth. Many senior pets require professional cleanings under general anesthesia. Talk to your vet to determine if and how often this may be necessary.
If your pet is experiencing dental problems, schedule an appointment with your vet to determine the best course of action. If you don’t already brush your dog’s teeth daily, begin doing so. If there is just no way brushing is going to happen, we can recommend other products to help maintain your pet’s teeth.  There are dental chews, special food and even additives for your pet’s water that will help maintain dental health.  Not maintaining your pet’s teeth will usually lead to dental disease which is estimated to go untreated in over 30% of pets.  The worse news is that the bacteria from dental disease can harm vital internal organs like the heart and kidneys.
Bonus Guideline – Insure Your Pet
It may seem counter intuitive, but in the current economy, pet insurance is an excellent value.  With many households experiencing tight budgets and less disposable income,  treating a major pet health issue can be a signigicant expense.  But what if you were to spread that one major expense over the entire life of your pet?
That is what pet insurance does.  For about $30 to $40 a month, you can be financially ready to take care of your pet when a major health issue comes up.
The two key factors in pet health insurance are the age of your pet and the insurance company.  The earlier you insure your pet, the less it will cost you per month.  So insure your pet as early as possible, when she is young if you can.
Finally, buy your insurance from a solid company.  At All Creatures Veterinary Center, we only recommend three. VPI (Veterinary Pet Insurance), Pets Best Insurance and Pet Plan.  Each of these companies has a significant business history and has multiple layers of financial safeguards to make sure that claims get paid.
The only difference between the companies is the plans they offer and how they pay pet health claims.  Once you look at all three companies and the plans they offer, one company will stand out as making the most sense to you and having the best plan for your pet.
Visit the web sites of each company and then give them a call.  Tell them about your pet and let them recommend a plan.  Then ask them how they would pay a claim.  Is there a deductible?  Is there a yearly or lifetime limit on claims?  If you can not understand how their plans work, then call the next company.  It might take you an hour to visit all their web sites and another hour to call all three companies.  For this small time investment, you will be better prepared to say yes to treating your pet when it has a serious issue.  Plus, you will feel so proud of yourself for being a caring and a financially smart pet parent.