Aging Gracefully

By Margaret Meier Jones

Have you begun to notice that your pet is starting to slow down, play less, move cautiously, or be easily irritated? Does it hesitate before jumping onto the bed, couch, or into the car? Have you observed that its legs seem to shake when trying to lie down or after daily walks? Has it become part of your pet’s routine to circle for quite some time before lying down on their bed or having their bowel movements while walking, rather than easily arching their back and squatting? Is your aging cat having difficulty always using their litter box? If you answered yes to ANY of these questions, your pet may be suffering from osteoarthritis (OA) and not just “old age.” Together, with just a few easy changes to our daily routine, we truly can help manage the chronic pain of OA and assist them to age with grace and dignity.

The first, and easiest, thing to do is increase the amount of essential fatty acids in the diet. The most important fatty acid to supplement is Omega 3, which helps the brain, the skin, the heart, and the joints. It is important to realize that the trend of adding coconut oil to the diet does NOT provide our pets with any Omega 3, but rather mid-chain fatty acids. The best source of Omega 3 for our cats and dogs is fish oil. Cats, as carnivores, cannot convert the oils in plants, such as flax or chia seeds into Omega 3; and dogs can only convert a very small portion. As a result, if we use anything but fish oil, we unwittingly increase the inflammatory Omega 6. When comparing fish oil, it is important to look for “nordic,” or cold, processing. This ensures that your pet will not be exposed to the harsh chemicals (i.e., acetone) that are used conventionally. Give us a call if you’re not certain of the fish oil you have, or the amount to administer to your pet, and we can help!

Exercise and weight control are also a key element that can easily be incorporated to help our pets age with grace. “Move it or lose it” applies to all of us but becomes even more important with age. Having three short 10-minute walks can be much easier, and even more effective, than one 30-minute walk. As the pet gets out and moves, endorphins are produced that help eliminate pain; and shorter walks put less strain on muscles and joints. Watching portion sizes of a good quality senior diet and overall caloric intake (including treats) helps to maintain a healthy weight thereby preventing increased stress on joints. Having your pet sit and then stand, for three repetitions, before giving them their meals provides a mini yoga session that helps strengthen their core muscle groups.

Finally, taking a fresh look at your home from the eyes of our aging pet and making a few small changes can make a world of difference to them. Can we eliminate the stairs up and down on the way outside by going out a different door? If not, can we construct a ramp that is wide and has a nonslip surface to eliminate the steps? Is there an “under the bed” storage container with lower sides that we could use as a litter box? Can we help provide all of our pet’s needs on one level of our home? Asking these simple questions, and taking action on their answers, can provide the perspective our aging pets need us to consider for their comfort.