Aging Pets Deserve Special Consideration

FOCUS ON PETS

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Old age for a dog or cat depends on the breed. The bigger the dog, generally, the shorter the lifespan. A Great Dane or St. Bernard is considered to have reached old age almost twice as early as a miniature poodle or chihuahua.

Naturally, the aging process also depends on heredity and the pet's overall health and condition. Pets age similarly to people and like people, a healthy diet and exercise program makes a big difference in the quality of aging. A pet shows many of the same signs of aging as a person, such as cloudy eyes and cataracts, yellowed teeth and stiff joints. The quality of life for these pets can be good with a few special considerations from us, the caregivers.

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Diet and exercise are the best ways to keep your aging dog or cat happy and healthy.

As the pet ages, it is important to keep ahead of any medical problems. Twice a year checkups are recommended after the age of eight to increase the chances of catching curable problems before they become incurable. Many veterinarians like to do a complete blood work-up, which will alert them of many potential problems.

As our pet ages, the metabolism slows and he may start putting on weight. Daily exercise is important. A 15-minute walk will help keep the older dog fit --nd it won't hurt the owner any, either.

Older dogs and cats should be kept slim, as carrying around extra weight puts excess strain on the heart and leg and hip joints. We see these older dogs struggling to stand up. A slim dog has fewer problems. There are new senior diets on the market today which are lower in fat and protein. Because the older pet tends to eat less, it is important to feed a high-quality food that is highly digestible. Chicken is an excellent protein source that is easy to digest and is a good first ingredient. Rice is easier to digest than corn. Many high-quality senior diets also contain glucosamine and chondroitin which promote healthier joints.

Arthritis is probably the most common ailment seen in the aging pet, particularly during cold weather. If your pet is slow to stand and shows signs of stiffness, your vet can prescribe some very effective treatments. Provide a comfortable bed for these aging pets both inside and outside. They need to be able to rest up off the cold, damp ground. Besides, it is just plain more comfortable for aching joints to rest on a nice soft bed. Pet supply catalogs have very fancy beds designed to relieve pressure for old bones and joints.

With aging cats, it is important to notice if they are drinking and urinating more than usual. Kidney disease or diabetes can be the cause. It is important to get the cat to the vet at the first sign of excess water intake or urination. If caught at the early stages, special diet and medication can relieve the problem.

The advanced stages of FUS (Feline Urinary Disorder) are extremely painful and lead to total urinary track blockage and death.

A geriatric disease that afflicts only dogs is cognitive dysfunction syndrome. This is the equivalent of Alzheimer's disease. Noticeable changes in behavior might be an indication of this disorder including disorientation, sleep changes, asking to go out in the middle of the night and accidents in the house. New drugs on the market have proved to be quite helpful, but the sooner these changes are noticed and treated, the better the results.

Older dogs should be bathed regularly and groomed to keep their coats in good condition and keep them feeling comfortable. A nice gentle massage is wonderful to relieve stiffening joints. Some extra care will keep our aging pets living longer and more comfortable lives.

Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail cpwrather@earthlink.net,or by snail-mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.

Curb your dog!

I have been asked to pass along this message to dog owners who walk in Green Valley Park. Many dog owners do not pick up after their pets, which causes a great deal of annoyance to conscientious dog owners and non-dog owners alike. It is the responsibility of all dog owners to pick up after their dog. If you carry a few sandwich bags in your pocket, you will always be prepared. (If you feed a highly digestible, quality food, this bag will be large enough) There are trash cans around for the disposal of the bag. Once you have done it a few times, you will realize it is not so bad.

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