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Into the Golden Years

by Dr. Annette Richmond, DVM


Keeping our aging pets strong and healthy into their golden years takes a little extra thought and effort as we support their bodies to fight the physical aging process and their susceptibility to certain disorders. This is similar to the extra effort we must make for our own human bodies; taking into consideration nutrition, weight management, exercise, physical therapy, and specific lifestyle changes.  The best perspective is to visualize our pets as youthful and healthy and not make them prematurely old by treating them as such.
The most important category to extend youth is nutrition. Ideally, animals are being fed excellent-quality food throughout their entire lives. Older dogs require a high-protein diet just as they did in their youth. It is a myth that older dogs require less protein, or that it can damage their kidneys. Protein for dogs should come from meat and not vegetables, because high-quality animal proteins provide superior amino acid balances compared to that found in grain proteins. Too many grains can cause an inflammatory process, which aggravates disorders like skin allergies, ear infections, intestinal disorders, and arthritis. Many packaged animal foods found on the shelves of general supermarkets contain unnecessary and sometimes damaging grain proteins. The following grains are common: corn, wheat, barley, and rye. As many households still feed these types of diets, it is fortunate that they also feed their dogs some meat from the table. In many instances these “table scraps” are the more nutritious portion of their diet. The ideal diet contains large amounts of highly digestible protein and no grains; this can come in a bag, be cooked at home, or bought as a raw diet. It is important to consult an expert in nutrition to receive advice about changing diets.

Supplements can be added to the diet to help prevent or combat certain disorders. Milk thistle has been used in human and veterinary medicine to help regenerate liver cells and protect the liver from further toxic events.  There are many supplements to support the heart, including; COQ10, taurine, and carnitine. If an animal has had surgery on a joint or has arthritic changes, then glucosamine and chondroitin can give the body the building blocks to promote healthier joints. Cancer-fighting supplements include certain mushrooms, burdock root, and antioxidants. Anti-inflammatories such as fish oils, bromelain, and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) can reduce pain and allow animals to exercise more. Natural supplements as these can greatly improve the quality of life and comfort of our beloved pets without the risk of adverse reactions.
Maintaining  a healthy weight for our beloved pets is based on two important factors; nutrition and exercise. A diet with grains means more carbohydrates, which leads to more fat storage. A high-protein diets is better because it helps prevent weight gain – as it does in humans. Keeping older dogs at an ideal weight is critical as this decreases the impact on all the joints. This is especially important if there is joint disease like arthritis, elbow or hip dysplasia, or other degenerative processes. It can be more difficult for older pets to lose weight as their metabolism slows down and if they are less active. Keeping our pets active will maintain strong and flexible muscles, strong bones, and supple tendons. The ideal exercise is regular in frequency with low-impact activities, resulting in good range of motion of joints and improving caradiovascular condition. Instead of sprinting through an agility course, an older dog would benefit from a long, slow walk along the soft sand, stretching legs over low obstacles, and swimming in the ocean or a pond. Thinking they need less exercise and turning them into old couch potatoes will only hasten the aging process.

Along with exercise, caretakers can assist their beloved pets by scheduling appointments for physical rehabilitation-type therapies. Water therapy, either swimming or walking in an underwater treadmill, can alleviate pain from sore joints via the buoyancy effect of the water. This allows arthritic animals to exercise comfortably and improve their range of motion and gain muscle mass, as well as keep their heart and lungs strong. Acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments can help decrease inflammation or pain in joints and muscles, and can assist animals suffering from neurologic problems. Massage can release sore and tight muscles, allowing sore and stiff animals to walk more easily. All of these modalities together can greatly improve the strength and mobility of an older animal.

Changes in the home can also help older pets. For example, ramps to assist dogs up stairs and into the car, small steps to help them jump onto furniture, and raised food bowls to help animals with painful backs or necks. Orthopedic beds with a temperature control can alleviate sore joints and muscles, and non-slip floors can greatly assist dogs who are weak or in pain.
The longer we treat our animals as youthful, the longer we will have them healthy, far into their golden years.

Dr. Annette Richmond is a doctor of veterinary medicine, earning her degree from UC Davis in 1997. Dr. Richmond uses many natural remedies on a daily basis in her practice,  including: Chinese and western herbs, acupuncture, laser, dietary changes, nutraceutical supplements, essential oils, and flower essences. Natural Veterinary Therapy is located at 510 Lighthouse Avenue in downtown Pacific Grove and can be reached at 831-655-0501 or www.naturalveterinarytherapy.com.


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