How to Keep Him Healthy and Mobile for as Long as Possible

As our dogs age, there are many signs that can alert us to the fact that they are entering their geriatric years. Arthritis and cognitive dysfunction are two of the main issues that affect our older friends.

Symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Slowing down
  • Playing less
  • Difficulty rising
  • Lameness
  • Stiff gait
  • Irritability
  • More time spent in their beds
  • Difficulty with stairs
  • Sleeping more, moving less

Symptoms of cognitive dysfunction include:

  • Restlessness
  • Periods of excessive panting
  • Pacing at night
  • Periods of appearing confused/dazed

Although aging is inevitable, there is much that we can do to extend our dog’s life. Keeping them comfortable and mobile in their golden years is our responsibility as dog guardians. The key is to start doing these things as early on as possible so that we have an opportunity to help our dogs live longer.

Healthy Diet

This is, by far, the best way that you can extend your dog’s life and delay the onset of aging symptoms. It is especially important as your dog reaches his geriatric years to remove processed dry kibble diets and treats. A high quality commercial or homemade raw diet is the best option. I have seen my patients transform more with this step than with any other medications or supplements I prescribe.

Commercial raw diets come in frozen or freeze dried options. Examples of brands that I recommend include Stella and Chewys, Primal and Answers. If raw feeding is not the right choice for you and your lifestyle, then the next best option is a homemade, gently cooked diet. If you choose this option, it is important to be sure that you are feeding a balanced diet. Balanceit.com has complete recipes to help you achieve this. A third option is a human grade dehydrated diet, such as Honest Kitchen. You may also feed a combination of these different diets if that works better for you as well as your budget.

Ideal Weight

Keeping your dog at his ideal weight is monumental in extending his life. Your dog should have a “waist” and you should be able to easily feel his ribs. Check with your veterinarian to see if your dog is at his ideal weight. Overweight and especially obese dogs’ lives are dramatically shorter than lean dogs.

Health Checks

Regular exams and bloodwork ( CBC/chem/4DX) performed every six months will help catch other illnesses that may be cropping up for your aging dog. Radiographs yearly are also a good diagnostics test to have performed every 6-12 months once your dog is in the age group.

Supplements

Omega-3s

Here are some options for providing omega 3s to your dog. Choose the one that best fits your lifestyle and daily routine.

  • Green-lipped mussels are a source of both omega-3 fatty acids and chondroitin sulfate. A study done in 2013 aimed to establish the effect of a diet enriched with green-lipped mussels (GLM) on pain and functional outcomes in osteoarthritic dogs. This study provided strong clinical evidence to support feeding osteoarthritic dogs a GLM-enriched diet. One example of this product is Safe Sea Premium Fatty Acid.
  • Sardines are a wonderful source of Omega-3s and have many other benefits as well. Purchase sardines in water with no salt added. Small dogs can receive 1 sardine per day, and large dogs, 2 sardines per day. Feeding sardines to your dog twice weekly is a good way to provide this supplement. You can store the unused portion in the fridge.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate

Oral glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate has been demonstrated to control inflammation in a small group of dogs with induced synovitis (inflammation of the synovial membrane). Adequan is a concentrated injectable form of glucosamine that can make a significant difference in dogs with arthritis.

Turmeric

This spice, along with its active ingredient, curcumin, has been proven to reduce pain and inflammation.

In one study, curcumin significantly decreased the expression of genes involved in inflammation more effectively than non-steroidal drugs.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories

In later stages of arthritis, this type of medication may become necessary for your dog’s mobility. This medication does have some potential side effects that you should be aware of, such as gastric ulceration, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, liver elevations, and kidney damage. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories should be reserved for more severe symptoms, and your dog will need to be monitored closely to ensure that this remains a safe option for him. Blood work should be performed prior to starting this medication, three months after initiating treatment, and then every 6 months thereafter. If your dog develops any gastrointestinal symptoms while taking this type of medication, you must stop giving it immediately and call your veterinarian. These side effects sound scary, however, if you take these precautions, you can give this medication safely. It may be the only way your old guy can walk when he is in his final stages of osteoarthritis.

Non-Pharmacologic Intervention

Physical Therapy

If this is in your budget, it is a great way to support your dog’s joints and overall well being. Underwater treadmill is a great way to get your old dog moving and strengthen his core.

Acupuncture

This is a safe, non-pharmacologic intervention with minimal adverse effects that most animals tolerate well. It has become more accepted for pain relief in veterinary medicine. In fact, the pain management guidelines published by the American Animal Hospital Association, American Association of Feline Practitioners, and World Small Animal Veterinary Association endorse acupuncture as a safe adjunct treatment for pain management in dogs and cats that should be strongly considered as a part of a multimodal pain management regimen.

Massage and Heat Therapy

This is treatment that you can provide at home. Gently massaging the muscles surrounding your dog’s joints and back can be very therapeutic and enjoyable for your old guy. Provide moist heat following the massage. It is also a great way to connect with your dog.

As our dogs age, keeping their well-being and physical health a priority will make a significant difference in the length and quality of their lives. Do not wait to treat arthritis until the symptoms are severe. Supporting your senior dog through his golden years can be a rewarding time rather than one filled with trepidation and pain for you and your beloved companion.