Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Troubles with Growing Old, Taking Care of Your Geriatric Dog

A big favorite, lasagna.

For many of my clients there is a time when their pet gets either too old or too sick to be coerced to stay on their 'regular' food any longer. 

The discussion of diet and disease state is an important part of every complete treatment plan, but at some place in time that prescribed, or regular diet is not palatable, or interesting enough to keep their pet on it  routinely.

For almost every disease there is a specially formulated highly studied, evolved and exemplary diet. From the most common to the most complicated, or even combinations of diseases, there are dietary options that will lessen the severity, progression, or clinical signs all thanks to your pet being on an appropriate formulated prescription diet. 

Savannah is always fed on a big soft bed.
It is the easiest way for her to keep her feet underneath her and the food in front of her.
Finding ways to assist your pet in eating is key to their ability to
maintain adequate calorie intake and muscle mass.

Over the last few years there has been an explosion of dietary options made available for pets. It is remarkable that so many people are so interested in their pets care that the thought of a $40 small bag of food is deemed to be worthy of their hard earned  dollars. It is easy to understand that pet parents care so much about their family members to want to prove what they believe the best for them. But what is harder for me to imagine is that people are making decisions based on infomercials, store sales clerks, or lay people. Your pet and  their care, I hope, should be based on the recommendations of those who have been trained, educated, and remain unbiased in their quest to provide your pet the best care possible. 

When it comes to diagnosing your pet and assisting them in overcoming their disease or ailment there is no greater authority than your veterinarian. But to prescribe a dietary treatment plan there needs to be some groundwork done, (a physical examination and diagnostics that may include blood work, radiographs, ultrasound, etc.),  and a short  term and long term treatment plan discussed.

When your pet is diagnosed their diet should be an integral part of the treatment plan. You should understand what ingredients are detrimental to your pets condition, which should be avoided, and a few helpful hints to safely and effectively switch your pets over to their ideal food.

When it comes to switching diets I usually suggest a 'slow and sneaky approach'. Ideally we want to switch your pet over to the new food gradually. This will accomplish two things. First, the new diet will not upset the gastrointestinal system, and second, your pet is more likely to transition to a new food if it is done slowly and gradually. Your veterinarian should explain in detail with a time frame as to how this is best accomplished.

In general, I recommend transitioning to a new food over weeks. For dogs with a sensitive stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, or allergies I usually recommend a transition period of a week with the following; 1/4 of the new food with 3/4 of the old food for two days, then 1/2 of the new with 1/2 of the old for two days, then 1/4 old with 3/4 new for another 2 days. For pets transitioning to a kidney friendly diet, especially felines, I recommend a much longer more gradual approach. Kidney friendly diets are pretty boring. They are effective and very beneficial but most cats are hard to convince that they are a delicacy. For this reason I advise switching over weeks. Adding tiny increments over months so that the transition is so gradual your cat doesn't even notice. Should your cat decide that they are not willing to eat a prescribed diet call your vet and inquire about other options. There are multiple prescription diet manufacturers and your cat might prefer one over the other. After all, variety is the spice of life. If your pet still refuses to accept the new food then remember that a little bit, (or as much as possible) of the right food, is better than none.

Yep, asleep with her head in the water bowl.
If I see a pet doing this I am concerned that their thirst is dictating their lifestyle
and I look very closely at reasons that a pet might have an increased thirst.
Regardless of the reason, and regardless of how much urinating is occurring with the increased thirst, PLEASE! Never, ever restrict water. 

At some point along the road of disease, life and age we lose the ability to mandate optimal choice. At some point your pet will tell you that they refuse to submit to your 'ideal diet'.  When this point arrives my advice about what is best turns into advise about how to preserve life. 

When your pet refuses to eat those packaged labeled prescription diets you should know what you can offer with their disease state and dietary consequences in mind. When even those options are being refused the food restrictions are lifted and free choice is prescribed.

Adequate food intake is a careful combination of many factors for the elderly geriatric patient. The food must be highly palatable, smell enticing, and be easy for them to prehend, chew, and swallow. For many clients I advise warming food, mixing in wet food, trying other foods like baby food, cat food, or human food.

For Savannah I usually offer at least three options. If these fail to intice her to partake in them I cook something. This morning's breakfast was shells, tuna, and cheese. All warm and all fresh. It was a hit!

As Savannah ages and loses her peripheral muscle mass (her rear legs are progressively weakening) I have her eat propped up on a bed or even propped up on the bottom step of our stairs. This way she can't slip backwards and away from her meal.

Caring for your older pet requires constant supervision, dedication, and persistence. For every obstacle there is in almost all cases an option to assist them. 

With her front legs planted in her bed, and her back end supported she is able to eat on her own.
Savannah's meal times are always supervised.
Geriatric medicine is very similar to pediatric medicine. Monitoring daily food intake, feeding twice (or more) a day, and also monitoring bathroom behavior is vital to their immune systems and ability to maintain adequate body condition.

Savannah's bedroom area.
Lined with absorbent non-slip blankets and rugs, it has become the cats favorite rumble arena.

Oriole body slams Wren.

Savannah's bed is adjacent to the cats room (the warmest spot and the brightest spot in the house).

At the end of the day there is sleep.
As your pet ages their ability to climb over, or into, things becomes more difficult to impossible.
To address this Savannah's beds have gotten progressively lower to the ground. 

And sometimes we just close enough to think we are in the bed.

It has been a long road of twists, turns, dark days, and long brutal nights. I have tried many treatment options, medical therapies, and been determined to not let a decision be made to let her go without feeling as if I have exhausted all of the options available.

Savannah sleeps through the night, is calm and relaxed, eating well, and happy. I really can't ask for more than that. I am beginning to think that my hope for her will come true. 

That maybe she will get the gift all of us ask for,,, to die of just plain old age.

If you have any pet questions you can find me at the clinic Jarrettsville Vet, or on Pawbly where we help pets with any problem at anytime and always free, or on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

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  1. Such a sweet story. Having lost three seniors in the last few years, I feel your struggle. You will know. Good luck.

    1. Thanks for reading. I am a big fan of your site and all of the work that you do! It helps save and improve both their humans and dogs lives!

      Please keep in touch and please visit me @pawbly, and, we too are dedicated to helping pets live better, longer, happier, and healthier lives by educating and assisting each other.

  2. Krista, You're the best Mom Savannah could ever dream of having in her life. Your story of her care is heart warming and I love to read about how you handle her geriatric care because it's not easy and I know there are a lot of people that will benefit from your experience and wisdom. Keep writing and loving her just as you do best.

    1. Hello,

      Thanks so much for reading and for the very kind words.

      I am so grateful to have gotten so many GOOD days with Savannah. She is a true labor of love, but she is happy and I am glad for whatever time we have left together..a long full life with no regrets, we should all be so lucky!


  3. It seems that balanceIT now has supplement even for diets such that consist of meat only. Just heard about it in a podcast recently, they seem pretty proud of it.

    1. Hello,

      I know that with Savannah I am waaay beyond the point where I have much influence on her dietary choices.. she gets homemade varied meals of little geriatric value based on her kidney compromise and cognitive dysfunction, not to mention the diarrhea and excessive polyuria/ is a day by day challenge to keep her eating enough calories to maintain strength and muscle mass.

      I do, however, love the BalanceIt for all of the safe, appropriate dietary options they provide.

      XOXO to the pups!

  4. Dogs, just like humans, are susceptible to weakening physically because of old age. A good diet will undoubtedly do wonders for a senior canine's health and a regular visit to the dentist will ensure a better and healthier dog.

    Stacy Zimmerman

  5. I have an elder Aussie I hope to nurse through to die of old age as you say. She has a terrible rear end and is in constant pain. We found a nation of drugs that made a huge difference. We plan on doing all we can to keep her pain free and happy.I love this site and pawbly. Thank you!