Seniors are Special
As dogs and cats get older, they face a number of health issues that can be addressed with the judicious use of natural dietary supplements.
By L Phillips Brown, DVM
The adage, “You are as old as you feel,” applies to dogs and cats as well it does to humans. Although every species has its own genetic potential, how well the aging rhythm unfolds in pets is heavily influenced by nutrition, lifestyle, environment and healthcare. Older dogs and cats develop special needs as their bodies begin to slow down, and the wear and tear of life starts to take its toll. Senior pets become slower and less active, and as aging progresses, they may develop deafness, cataracts, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and digestive disorders.
As a general rule, smaller breeds tend to live longer than larger breeds, and mixed breeds tend to live a little longer than purebreds. Tufts University published the following guidelines for defining a senior dog: “The point at which a dog qualifies as ‘aged’ varies. Veterinarians generally consider small dogs to be senior citizens at about 12 years of age, while large dogs reach this stage at six to eight years of age. This roughly corresponds to the 55-plus category in people.” For simplicity, any dog that is seven years of age or older is considered “senior.” Cats, on the other hand, don’t reach this milestone category until 10 to 12 years of age.
Supporting the Aging Process
Aging pets have special nutritional needs and will benefit from special foods and daily function-specific antioxidants and vitamin-mineral combinations. Older animals tend to eat less, absorb fewer vitamins, minerals and electrolytes through their intestinal tract, and lose nutrients through the kidneys. The accumulation of potentially damaging free radicals produced during normal cellular activities weakens immune systems and adds further stress to aging organ systems.
Supplemental vitamins, minerals and antioxidants help maintain immune function and support cardiac, liver and brain function. Numerous animal studies have shown that antioxidants, in particular, help protect body systems with sustained levels of circulating free radical fighters that improve immunological performance and decrease the potential for disease. There is also considerable evidence that a combination of antioxidants at appropriate levels produces greater benefits than would be seen with individual antioxidants.
Key antioxidants include:
- Vitamins A, C and E help neutralize free radicals and maintain a healthy immune system in puppies, dogs and cats.
- Beta-carotene increases white blood cell concentrations and immune function in dogs and cats.
- S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) and lipoic acid improve immune response in dogs.
- Selenium and zinc are trace minerals that have specific and direct antioxidant effects.
The dynamics of joint failure are complex and intensify with age. A large percentage of older dogs suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia or other joint related problems. Owners may first notice that their dog’s gait has changed from a walk to a waddle, or the pet has difficulty going up or down stairs or struggles to sit down or stand up. Breeds such as German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, Rottweilers, and Retrievers are genetically predisposed to canine hip dysplasia, a crippling disease that causes deterioration and weakening of a dog’s hips because of an abnormal development of the hip joint whereby the head of the femur doesn’t fit properly into the hip socket. Cats also suffer from degenerative joint disorders, but not to the extent that dogs do.
Although a plethora of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and over-the-counter remedies are commonly used in the management of joint discomfort, these products are not without negative side effects, complications and expense. Natural chondroprotective supplements have been a boon to pet owners seeking safe, efficacious products that help maintain healthy connective tissue, support joint function, provide pain relief associated with everyday activities and improve the quality of life for senior pets.
Key joint health ingredients are:
- Glucosamine and chondroitin, alone or in combination, effectively improve mobility in aging animals by protecting articular cartilage, thus slowing or even preventing progression of joint changes that cause discomfort.
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a natural anti-inflammatory agent and source of sulfur, which has a major role in cartilage health.
- Green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) contains several compounds useful in maintaining joint health, including glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), trace minerals and essential fatty acids.
- Hyaluronic acid (HA) and collagen type II help stimulate the synthesis of GAGs and lubricate joints.
- White willow bark, boswellia, yucca, ginger, SAMe (S-denosylmethionine) and omega-3 fatty acids help control inflammation and reduce joint stiffness.
- Vitamins A, C and E, zinc, copper and manganese reduce free radical activity to help decrease inflammation in aging joints.
Maintaining Bladder Function
Urinary incontinence, the inability to hold urine in the bladder, is not an uncommon occurrence in older dogs. Although a “leaky bladder” is sometimes observed in puppies, it is most commonly seen in middle-aged to older female dogs. The exact cause is unknown, although because it usually responds to estrogen or testosterone supplementation following spaying or neutering, it appears that hormones are involved in maintaining bladder and urethral tone.
Urinary incontinence can be a sign of underlying conditions like diabetes, bladder infections and kidney disease, and pet owners should have a veterinarian determine the exact cause. Incidentally, urinary incontinence should not be confused with inappropriate urination, which is often caused by behavioral problems. If a veterinarian determines there is no other underlying pathological condition, urinary incontinence can be managed with drugs such as estrogen, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamine or condition-specific supplements that help improve the tone of the bladder muscles that hold urine in.
There are a number of natural supplements that help maintain bladder control and reduce urinary incontinence in spayed and elderly canines.
Some key ingredients are:
- Pumpkin seed helps strengthen bladder muscles while supporting normal emptying of the bladder.
- Rehmannia is an herb used for urinary incontinence.
- Wild yam provides phytoestrogens and helps relax urinary tract muscles.
- Soy protein contains isoflavones that help maintain bladder muscle tone after spaying or associated with low estrogen levels of elderly dogs.
- Saw palmetto helps support bladder control and muscle tone.
- Cranberry extract helps acidify urine.
This is part one of a three-part series on supplementing senior pet health. Part two will discuss how specific products can promote cognition and memory, support eye health and maintain digestive function in the elderly animal. Part three will deal with senior pet foods, vaccinations and behavioral changes of older pets.
L Phillips Brown, DVM, is the senior vice president of research and development for Nutri-Vet
Essential Joint Support Kit for Dogs
Essential Joint Support Kit for Cats
Essential Urinary Tract Kit for Dogs
Essential Urinary Tract Kit for Cats