Cat and DogOur pet’s lifespan is way too short don’t you think? Large breed dogs age fastest but even small breeds at age eighteen are the equivalent of a ninety-year-old human. As committed owners we want to keep our pets with us as long as possible - and with great health - well into old age. This means helping our pets maintain a strong and healthy immune system. Having a happy, healthy pet means providing:

  • Physical and emotional comfort
  • Balanced, species-appropriate nutrition, especially high-quality protein
  • Ongoing, regular exercise, socialization and mental stimulation

Physical and Emotional Comfort

Once a pet turns five years old it is time to start watching for signs of aging. This is not to say that prior to age five your pet will not experience health problems such as allergies, inflammation, skin conditions and auto-immune disorders. These can happen at any age. So if your dog seems physically uncomfortable it's important not to assume it's normal for him or just a natural part of aging. A visit to the vet will ensure your pet is not in pain and allow you to begin investigating any problems. The sooner a health problem is diagnosed and treated, in most cases, the better the outcome.

Keeping your pets at a healthy weight and physically active will help control arthritis and degenerative joint disease as they age. Chiropractic adjustments, stretching, water exercises, and acupuncture can also provide enormous benefits in keeping dogs mobile in their later years. There are also supplements that can be added to your dog's diet to help maintain healthy tendons, ligaments, joints and cartilage. These include glucosamine sulfate with MSM and eggshell membrane, omega-3 fats (krill oil), ubiquinol, super green foods like spirulina and astaxanthin, natural anti-inflammatory formulas (herbs, proteolytic enzymes and nutraceuticals), and Adequan injections, which can stimulate joint fluid very rapidly in pets with arthritis. Finding a holistic vet is a great start to good health care for your pet.

Regular massage can help keep your senior pet's muscles toned and reduce the slackening that comes with aging. Massaged muscles are looser, which makes it easier for your pet to move around comfortably. Massage also improves circulation and encourages lymphatic drainage. It can ease the stiffness of arthritis, which helps your pet maintain his normal gait and active lifestyle. Massage also loosens the muscles around joints, which helps promote ease of movement. For sleep problems in older pets, try increasing their daytime activity level. Let your pet sleep in your bedroom. Sleeping near you should help ease any anxiety that is contributing to nighttime restlessness. And when you talk to your pet keep your voice quiet, calm and kind.

The Importance of High-Quality Protein for Pets

Contrary to what many pet owners and even some veterinarians believe, studies indicate dogs (and cats) need more protein as they age not less. The reason senior dog food formulas boast reduced protein content is because the poor-quality protein they use is difficult to digest, especially for older pets. The rendered protein used by most major pet food manufacturers puts chronic strain on the kidneys and liver, so by the time a pet is into its senior years, the organs can no longer do their job efficiently. Your dog and cat actually need more protein as they age – not less – in order to maintain healthy lean muscle mass and good organ and immune function. But the type of protein most pets thrive on is whole, unprocessed, and preferably raw.

Pets Still Need Exercise, Socialization and Mental Stimulation

Dogs still need daily exercise to maintain good health and a resilient frame. Certainly older dogs can't exercise or compete with the same intensity as the younger ones, but they still need regular walks and other age-appropriate physical activity. There are three types of strengthening exercises that can also be of tremendous help to aging canine bodies:

  • Passive range-of-motion (PROM) exercises can benefit both incapacitated and physically healthy pets
  • Balance and movement exercises help all pets remain flexible while also encouraging improved balance and physical stability
  • Targeted strengthening exercises are designed to work the big muscle groups that help with standing, walking and running

Dog puzzle toysNo matter how old your pets are they still need regular social interaction. As is the case with humans as we age, your pet should stay active and involved in life. They need regular exposure to other pets and people in short periods of socialization and playtime in controlled situations. Enriching your pet's environment can help to stimulate cognitive function. Sticking to a predictable daily routine can help reduce a pet's anxiety and mental uncertainty. Puzzle toys like the Clever K9 provide fun and mental stimulation.

Supplements that can help improve mental decline in older dogs include SAMe, vitamin B6, vitamin E, resveratrol and ginkgo biloba – be sure to check with your vet.