-- 13 Lifelong Tips
A Rodale Press contribution
It seems like only yesterday
your dog was a little bundle of fur chasing his tail and your cat a playful
kitten bouncing after sunbeams.
In fact, relatively
speaking, it was only a short time ago. Most dogs live no more than 15 or 16
years, and for some larger breeds, 10 years is the usual life span. And although
there are plenty of 20-year-old cats basking in their senior years, their two
decades of life still put them in the "ancient" category.
Like their owners, many pets
live to a healthy old age, while others may experience increasing problems --
from mild aches and pains to more serious conditions such as cancer -- as the
years go by.
While you can't reverse the
hands of time, there's a lot you can do to keep an old friend comfortable and by
your side for a long time to come.
For Dogs and Cats
Begin with regular
checkups. Once your
pet enters her middle years, it's a good idea to let your vet have a look at her
at least once a year, says Meryl Littman, V.M.D., chief of medicine at the
University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia.
For dogs, "middle
age" is usually around seven years old -- earlier for the largest breeds
like Irish wolfhounds or Great Danes. Cats can wait a little longer, usually
until they're between eight and ten, says Dr. Littman.
When you take your pet in
for her first routine checkup, your vet may recommend that she have a
comprehensive examination that tells how she should feel when she's healthy.
This will provide a baseline to compare her to as she gets older, Dr. Littman
In addition, ask the vet to
check your pet's blood pressure, Dr. Littman adds. High blood pressure can lead
to blindness in dogs and is a symptom of high thyroid levels in cats. Untreated,
it can also lead to strokes, so it's worth catching early.
Keep those paws moving.
Daily exercise will help keep your pet slim and flexible, helping stave off
age-related disorders like or digestive problems, says James B. Dalley, D.V.M.,
associate professor of small animal clinical sciences at the Michigan State
University College of Veterinary Medicine in East Lansing. He recommends walking
your pet for at least 20 minutes twice a day. But any amount of exercise is
good, he adds.
Watch her weight.
"The number one problem in the pet population is obesity," says Guy L.
Pidgeon, D.V.M., a specialist in veterinary internal medicine and director of
the Department of Veterinary Affairs for Hill's Pet Nutrition in Topeka, Kansas.
In dogs, obesity is a big
contributor to age-related problems like arthritis and heart disease. In cats,
it can lead to diabetes. In fact, cats that already have diabetes may be able to
get it under control just by trimming surplus pounds.
How can you tell what kind
of shape your pet is in? Dogs should maintain an "hourglass figure,"
says Dr. Pidgeon. "As you look down on your dog from above, there should be
a decided waist right in front of the rear legs. As you run your hands up and
down their chest wall, you should be able to feel their ribs."
The same goes for cats: They
should stay fairly sleek throughout their lives. If you can't feel her ribs or
see her waist, she's probably overweight.
Give extra fiber.
Adding more dietary fiber to your pet's diet is a great way to help her lose
weight, says Dr. Dalley. Fiber can also help prevent constipation and improve
digestion, making an older pet better able to absorb needed nutrients.
To increase your pet's fiber
intake, vets recommend buying foods specially designed for overweight or senior
pets. Ask your vet for recommendations.
Don't get carried away.
While a good diet is important for all pets, don't rush to make changes if your
pet is already slim and healthy. "Not all older dogs and cats are
fat," says Kathryn Michel, D.V.M., a researcher and nutrition expert in the
Department of Clinical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of
Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia. "A healthy older animal can eat
Add fresh food to the
Holistic veterinarians often recommend that people feed their pets vegetables,
fruits and grains instead of commercially prepared pet foods. "If you give
animals fresh and healthy foods, it keeps their immune systems up and cuts down
on the diseases we see with aging," says Deva Khalsa, V.M.D., a
veterinarian in private practice in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and a certified
Cats are finicky, so they
won't always appreciate having fruits or vegetables added to their meals.
However, they may eat sprouts. Just mix them well into the regular food, Dr.
Switch to healthy treats.
Giving your pets little snacks "seems to be part of the human/animal
bond," says Dr. Michel. But if your pet is elderly or overweight, you could
be killing her with kindness.
Dr. Michel recommends
substituting healthy snacks -- like carrot sticks and fruit -- for her regular
treats. Of course, you may have a tough time convincing your cat that asparagus
is just as tasty as a liver treat!
Slip her a supplement.
In lieu of snacks, many vets "reward" their patients with a pet
vitamin. "They aren't high in calories, and they have flavoring ingredients
pets like," says Dr. Dalley. Ask your vet which chewable pet vitamins are
best for your pet.
Slip them some
humans, studies have shown that daily doses of the antioxidant vitamins C and E
can help protect against heart disease. Dr. Khalsa recommends giving older dogs
at least 400 milligrams a day of vitamin C (larger dogs can take more) and 100
to 400 international units of vitamin E. Cats can take 500 milligrams a day of
vitamin C and 50 international units of vitamin E. Check with your vet for
precise dosing instructions.
To make things easier, you
might want to get a liquid or powdered form of the vitamins and mix them in your
pet's food. For cats, try mixing the vitamins with a little canola or olive oil
and smearing the mixture on her paw. "She'll just lick it off," Dr.
Keep the water bowl full.
Many pets naturally drink less as they get older, which can cause dehydration.
Dr. Pidgeon recommends keeping water bowls in different parts of the house. This
is particularly important if your pet doesn't get around as well as she used to.
"Measure the water in
the morning and again at night to make sure your pet is drinking," he adds.
Keep her close.
As they age, many dogs and cats begin to lose some of their hearing, making them
much more vulnerable to accidents. "Keep an old animal confined or on a
leash outside," advises Dr. Dalley. "You need to become their ears and
take more precautions on their behalf."
Help the kids understand.
Like people, many elderly pets get a bit cranky and intolerant of interruption.
While your senior cat will probably slink away from any hubbub in the house, you
may need to ask the kids to be considerate of an elderly dog. "A lot of
times children don't recognize the early signs of grumpiness, and they get
bitten," Dr. Dalley warns.
For Cats Only
Change diets carefully.
Cats don't like changes in their routine, and changing to a new food can cause
them to sulk and leave the table for a few days. More is at stake than just a
little hunger, since cats that don't eat can develop a serious, possibly fatal
condition called hepatic lipidosis. "You need to change cats' diets very
slowly," says Dr. Pidgeon.
If you are changing your
cat's diet to help her lose weight, he recommends mixing the new food with the
old a little at a time. At first, give her no more than one-quarter of the new
food and three-quarters of the old. Every day, add just a little more of the
new. "Slowly make the change over a two-week period of time, if not
longer," he advises.
See the Vet
Older pets are prone to a
host of minor ailments, as well as a few that aren't so minor. To catch problems
early, call your vet if:
Source: PetSmart.com ]
Source: PetSmart.com ]