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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Mohon-Sturch

Our Aging Pets

Recognizing changes and how to help


One of the facts of life is aging, dealing with the changes in our bodies, aches, and pains. Some of us must go see our doctors more often than we used to, and some of us have newly diagnosed diseases that we need special treatment for. The same goes for our pets. As your fur baby gets older, keep an eye out for changes in behavior and for physical changes. You might notice that they sleep more, seem confused or disoriented on occasion, or that their eating habits change. Perhaps they walk more slowly or have a difficult time going up and down stairs. Maybe they potty inside the house instead of outside or in the litter box.


While it’s difficult for loving pet owners to watch their pets grow old, it is also an opportunity to grow closer to them as you provide more attention and care. There are many things you and your veterinarian can do to help your pet through their elder years, and we’ll go through several of the options right here.


Arthritis


A common malady for aging dogs and cats, as in humans, is arthritis. Arthritis is a term used loosely to include over 100 issues of inflammation in the joints. If you notice changes in your pet’s ability to move around, stand, sit, jump, walk, or climb, they may be reacting to symptoms of arthritis.


When you see these changes in your pet, the first thing you need to do is get a veterinarian to assess the animal to make sure they are diagnosed appropriately so that they can get the appropriate treatment.


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative (progressive) disease, or as it’s also called, “wear and tear” arthritis. It’s a common issue for aging pets, but even so, it’s painful and needs attention. What’s happening is that the cartilage in their joints is breaking down causing the bones to rub against each other. Ouch.


Just this year (2023) the FDA approved a new drug to give dogs for osteoarthritis and it’s called Librela. It’s an injectable monoclonal antibody drug administered by your vet once a month. If your veterinarian diagnoses osteoarthritis in your pup, ask them about Librela.


In 2022, the FDA approved a new drug to give cats for osteoarthritis, the first monoclonal antibody drug approved for an animal species. It’s called Solensia. If your cat suffers from osteoarthritis, speak with your veterinarian about Solensia and see if this treatment would be a good fit for your cat. As with the osteoarthritis drug for dogs, this one is also injected once a month by your vet.


Earlier I mentioned there are other forms of arthritis. Your vet will be able to assess what form your pet is suffering from. If Solensia or Librela are not a good fit for your pet, here are some other options you can speak with your doctor about that can go a long way to help ease your pet’s pain:

- Acupuncture

- Glucosamine/Chondroitin supplements

- CBD Oil


Aside from supplements and medication, there are many things you can do at home to help your fur baby get around easier. Here are a few ideas:

- Get raised feeders and water bowls so pets don’t have to bend down very far to eat and drink.

- Get steps or ramps next to the furniture they’re used to getting on.

- Orthopedic bedding is a great way to help your pet relax and get the sleep they need.


Dr. Katie Higgins of Rollin’ Paws Mobile Vet adds, “Annual blood work is also recommended for senior pets- Dogs 8 to 10 years old (depending on breed), and cats 10 to 12 years old.”


Please do not give your pets pain relief that’s specifically made for humans like Tylenol or Advil. Before administering any medication, please speak with a veterinarian professional.



Dementia


This one’s a tough subject. Your pet is yours forever, through good and bad, through thick and thin. As your dog and/or cat gets older you will more than likely be presented with some challenges that aging brings and dementia is one of the tougher ones. But information is one of the most important tools you’ll need in your toolbox to manage through it.


Dementia is a degenerative disease of the brain that causes memory loss and behavioral changes. In dogs, dementia is often referred to as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Dementia in cats is referred to as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. Without getting lost in too much detail, basically what is happening is that the older the animal gets, the less oxygen travels to the brain. Free radicals then travel to the brain causing a buildup of plaques around the nerve cells causing signals to be blocked. Those signals are messages that the nerves are trying to send to the rest of the body, and as you can imagine, can cause a breakdown in normal behaviors.


Dementia starts gradually, not all at once. Pay attention as your pet gets older to new behaviors so that you can intervene earlier in the disease rather than later. Though there is no cure for dementia, there are supplements and dietary options that may help reduce the progress of the disease.


Symptoms of dementia are similar in dogs and cats. Here is a list of what to look out for:

- Appearing confused, getting ‘lost’ in corners

- Potty issues, not using cat box, or soiling inside the home

- Wandering around

- Forgetting previous training

- Not interacting with people as they used to

- Wakeful at night, sleeping during the day

- Barking/meowing at nothing, often occurring at night

- Changes in diet

- Weight loss

- Cats stop grooming, becoming matted


Be aware that any of these symptoms may also point to something else going on with your pet, it doesn’t necessarily mean dementia is setting in. Document all changes you see in your pet so that when you go to your vet, they will have the information they need to help make a diagnosis. There is no test to determine a diagnosis of dementia, this is why it’s so important for you to document everything. What your veterinarian will most likely do will be a process of “diagnosis of exclusion.” For instance, in cats, hyperthyroidism symptoms mirror dementia symptoms. Your vet will likely need to run tests to exclude other issues before settling on a dementia diagnosis.


There is a drug called Selegiline Hydrochloride (brand name Anipryl) that has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. In an off-label capacity, it can also be prescribed for cats. Talk to your veterinarian to see if this would be beneficial for your pet.


While there is no cure for dementia, there are numerous things you can do to help. Discuss supplements and dietary needs with your vet that can help reduce the progress of dementia and give your pet the quality of life they so deserve. Foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and other antioxidants have been shown to help brain health. Ask your vet about CBD oils and other essential oils that might help.


Do interactive things with your pet to try to keep them active and engaged. If your pup likes car rides, take him out more often in the car. Engage your cat with Kitty TV, in other words, put bird or fish videos up on your TV screen. Buy your cat/dog food puzzles that will keep their brains active. These are fun products that ‘hide’ a treat or food that they need to work at to get. These puzzles are a lot of fun for animals and great at keeping them active.


As for your pet’s environment as they progress, keep things as calm and as normal as possible. Put runners on the floor which will help them navigate your home more easily. Keep furniture in the same place. Keep schedules as tight as you can. And, especially for aging felines, keep things as quiet and calm as possible as cats can tend to agitate easily.


Once dementia has progressed to the point where the quality of life seems to have deteriorated (again, document everything), speak with your vet about next steps. I found an article that addresses this better than I could. There is a non-profit home for aging dogs in Washington State called Old Dog Haven and they wrote eloquently about dementia in dogs (this can also pertain to cats). This is worth reading:



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