Modifying diet and exercise improves aging dogs' quality of life
Waldo, my 12 year old dog, is slowing down with age. What specifically should I be aware of or do differently to maintain his comfort?
Answer: The outward signs of Waldo's aging might include white around his muzzle, less energy, hesitation to stand up after a nap or difficulty climbing into the car. Internal signs that you can't see include a slowing metabolism and changing nutritional requirements. Like puppies that have special needs, senior pets also have unique requirements to help maintain their quality of life.
Waldo still needs exercise, but the frequency and intensity should be adjusted. If he doesn't use his muscles, he'll lose mass and tone and it will be harder for him to move about. Keep him in shape and control his weight with shorter, more frequent walks or swims. Or, play by rolling a ball so there is no need for him to leap.
If he's stiff and sore or has arthritis, giving him access to a ramp to get up and down from higher areas, such as your car or furniture, will make it easier on his joints. Elevating his food and water bowls also helps make eating and drinking more comfortable for arthritic pets, especially those with stiffness in the neck or back.
Q: Should I change his diet?
A: Like people, a pet can age more gracefully if given a healthful diet. Your veterinarian might recommend switching Waldo to senior diet food, which generally contains fewer calories than regular adult food, as well as lower protein levels to reduce wear and tear on the kidneys. Other specialty diets include high-energy rations for very active dogs, low-cal formulas for pets that are inactive or overweight and a large selection of therapeutic diets for various medical conditions. Therapeutic diets are available only by prescription from a veterinarian.
Q: At what age is a pet considered a "senior"?
A: Pets older than 7 years of age or in the last third of their expected lifetimes are typically considered senior. But pets are living longer than ever before, and life expectancy varies. Quality of life is so important for aging pets. You play the most important role in how your pet ages through managing its diet, nutrition, exercise and health care.
The Hawaiian Humane Society welcomes questions by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. Indicate "Pet Ohana" in the subject line. Or, write "Pet Ohana," Hawaiian Humane Society, 2700 Waialae Ave., Honolulu 96826.