As our beloved pets age, it's up to us to provide the best possible care. That means making changes to their care to accommodate their age and new habits. Last month we looked at identifying changes and what to expect during a Geriatric Exam. In this article, we will explore treatments that can help keep your pet feeling good even in old age.
FOCUS ON WELLNESS
Wellness is of the utmost importance to health and a major factor in your dog's happiness. An aging, enervated dog often feels gloomy, while an invigorated dog greets life daily with a wagging tail. Senior dogs can benefit greatly from a unique wellness program designed especially for them. Simple lifestyle changes, such as a proper diet, exercise and physical therapy can help older dogs feel and perform better in their daily lives.
Purchasing products for your home, such as orthopedic bedding, a raised bowl, steps or ramps leading to your dog's favorite spot, and "slipper" socks that have non-skid material on the bottom, can help ease the transition to old age for your pet. All of these products are easy to find online.
As pets become older, it becomes harder to digest their food. Eating smaller, more frequent meals, and adding a supplement with enzymes and probiotics, plus omega-3 fatty acids and a multivitamin, can be a good idea.
Older dogs with arthritis and degenerative joint problems can greatly benefit from holistic medicine. Veterinarians who practice holistic medicine are also trained in traditional practices, and use all appropriate treatment modalities to keep a dog healthy. Alternative therapies that may especially benefit older pets include including acupuncture, chiropractic, ultrasound, massage therapy and laser therapy. Ultrasound uses high-energy sound waves to treat tendon and ligament injuries. As the tissues absorb the waves, they are converted to heat. This promotes collagen fiber formation to maximize the long-term strength of the tendon, and helps control the pain associated with arthritis.
Laser therapy treatment delivers high-spectrum light waves into the body, relieving discomfort and reducing stiffness. The safe, pain-free treatment can be used to treat a variety of injuries, pain, wounds, fractures, neurological conditions and dermatological problems.
Prolotherapy is a lesser-known treatment for weak and torn tendons and ligaments. The treatment involves injecting a solution into the affected ligaments and bony junctures, which causes the growth of new connective tissue. Pain is alleviated as the tendons and ligaments tighten and grow stronger. The therapy, which has been used in humans since the 1950s, can also be used to treat arthritis, hip dysplasia, knee problems, back pain, neck pain and other musculoskeletal ailments commonly found in dogs.
Surgery can be a treatment option for some orthopedic diseases that grow worse as animal ages. When considering surgery for an older dog, it's best to first evaluate alternative options. Surgery and the risk of anesthesia may be great at any time in a pet's life, but are particularly problematic with an older animal.
Surgeries such as hip replacements and ACL surgery may be avoided with the application of prolotherapy. Back surgery may be avoided 50 percent of the time by acupuncture, electric stimulation and ultrasound treatments. When considering surgery, you should consult a good holistic veterinarian and at least get a consult on the new medical protocols available to you.
Unlike many prescriptions drugs, these holistic therapies have few side effects, promote overall natural healing and can help keep your older pet pain-free. Keep in mind, however, that pain is nature's way of curtailing an animal's activity. We need to remember that a dog or cat may need time to heal. Eliminating the pain does not mean the animal is healed and is ready to play.
WHEN TO LET GO
Of course, when it comes to senior dogs the most agonizing decision is when to let go. If your animal is no longer able to be active and enjoy their life and it is not possible for the condition to improve, it may be time. If your animal is in pain, and/or has stopped eating for a week, this may also be an indication that they have had enough. In nature, an animal would just curl up and die; in many cases, they can even will themselves to die.
Making the decision to euthanize our pets and dealing with our grief can cause great emotional stress. Still, choosing to euthanize your animal at the right time is a loving, compassionate choice. The animal just goes to sleep. This is a great blessing, and we are lucky to have this choice with our animals. Ultimately, they will look into your eyes and tell you when it's time to go.
Dr. Babette Gladstein