Make healthy aging a reality for your furry friends
Daniela Ginta, MSc
Casey is an off-white Wheaten terrier about to turn 16. His hearing is diminished, but he loves daily walks, and old-age grumpiness has nothing on him. He takes a daily multivitamin supplement with probiotics and enjoys long naps.
The 7-for-1 age ratio for dogs may cause concern about our friends’ rapid aging, but here’s the better news: there are many things we can do to prevent our pets from aging prematurely.
Some of the more common afflictions that plague our beloved pets as they age include
Nowadays, we know how to support our pets’ digestive and joint health and to reduce chronic inflammation levels, which may all be factors in premature aging as well as risk factors for chronic disease.
Much like us, our pets have likes and dislikes, so choosing the best and most nutritious food for them may be a challenge. To ensure nutritional needs are met, talk to your vet about an appropriate senior diet, but avoid extra treats, as they can increase the risk of weight gain.
Obesity comes with a higher risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in both dogs and cats, and it shortens their lifespan. Also, as they age, pets become less physically active, which makes it harder yet to manage the extra weight.
As pets age, they lose muscle mass and become frail due to decreased nutrient absorption and slower digestion. Their microbiomes, like ours, also become less robust and diverse, so careful supplementation of probiotics and prebiotics may help boost good bacteria, while crowding out bad ones.
Add some greens to your pets’ food, such as finely chopped kale, broccoli, or dandelion greens. For a powerful anti-inflammatory and anticancer boost, try broccoli sprouts. Berries supply fibre and anti-inflammatory polyphenols.
Even from the early years, you can start introducing helpful additions, such as essential fatty acid supplements, to your pet’s daily regimen. Omega-3 supplements can reduce risk of chronic inflammation and degenerative diseases, including arthritis, and support the immune system.
Choose a sustainable source of fish oil or try green-lipped mussel oil. You can also try hempseeds, which have a balanced mix of essential fatty acids.
Help reduce your pet’s inflammation by using some hacks from your own preventive health care repertoire: add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the water bowl or a turmeric supplement to food, both of which may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
Our senior pets need to have their teeth checked at least once a year to catch any signs of periodontal disease, cancer, or other chronic diseases early on.
And, aside from being off-putting, bad breath may be an indicator of health issues. It can signal bacterial growth, which can spread to affect the kidney, heart, and liver. Quality of life can also be affected, leading to malnutrition at a time when proper nutrition is essential.
Just as stress can accelerate the aging process in humans, it can do the same for our pets. Stress increases cortisol and, thus, the risk of inflammation and chronic disease. Understanding what causes your pet’s stress is the first step in helping them to keep it to a minimum.
Pets may become more irritable as they get older, and they can display signs of cognitive decline, which makes them slower, more confused, and often more prone to potty mishaps. Aging can also accentuate behavioural issues, such as separation anxiety and restlessness, which can also affect their sleep.
Much like us, our beloved pets may acquire some joint stiffness and pain as they age, more so after strenuous activities.
Osteoarthritis is common in dogs over eight years old, and some of the larger breeds may have a higher risk. However, one of the biggest risk factors is being overweight, which increases the stress on their joints.
Most cats 10 and older suffer from arthritis, which can manifest through their inability to get in and out of their litter box or in an altered gait. Shoulders and elbows are most affected, but so, too, are feline knees, wrists, and hips. Provide them with easier ways to access their favourite lounging spots and keep an eye on their grooming abilities, which may suffer a decline due to reduced mobility.
For your canine buddy, choose lower-impact activities such as walking, non-strenuous hiking, or swimming, and ask your vet about glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. While generally safe, it’s important to match the amount to their body weight.
No, it won’t keep the vet away. In fact, it’s recommended that you have your pet seen regularly to detect signs of aging and possible chronic illness from creeping in.
One thing our pets, aging or not, love without end is just being with us. But above that, there is a magic thing that makes their hearts dance: hearing, again and again, how good they are. Don’t praise only when they do something you like. Do it just because they are. At the end of the day, that’s the one thing we all want most of all: their presence, and the uplifting reminder of unconditional love.
While more research is needed to fully validate cannabidiol (CBD) oil as an efficient anxiolytic for stressed pets, the remedy is increasingly being used for disorders related to anxiety, seizures, and pain in canines.
CBD oil was also shown to help reduce osteoarthritis pain and improve activity levels in dogs. Researchers feel more research is needed to understand the beneficial effects and safety of CBD use in felines.