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There's Life in the Old Dog Yet

Many dogs now live to a greater age than ever before, due to modern advances in nutrition and medical care. However age does bring some changes in our dog's mental and physical abilities. With a little care and attention we can ease the effects of old age, and make sure our dogs enjoy their natural life expectancy to the full.

Mental Changes

Now here comes the science part: The changes an elderly dog goes through are very similar to that of a human. Nerve cells in the brain diminish with age and lose their contact with connecting cells. Therefore the brain cannot function as efficiently. It takes much longer for messages to pass across the brain. This is why an older dog takes longer to respond and to learn new tricks.

The blood vessels in the brain degenerate causing less blood and oxygen to be carried to this organ. This has an effect on the dog's long-term memory and learning. Tiny haemorrhages sometimes occur in brain tissue causing the dog to become irritable when disturbed

Other mental signs may be the dog becoming disorientated, and sleep patterns changing. Older dogs often withdraw more into themselves, not wanting so much contact with the family. They can also experience the same type of symptoms as humans who have senile dementia.

We can help by making sure our pets are mentally stimulated. Research has shown that mental stimulation builds neural connections, in the brain, which help slow down memory loss.
* It is important to still play games with your dog to keep the brain cells active. Interactive games like seeking or sniffing out a toy or treat will provide mental and gentle physical stimulation.

* Stuff a Kong toy with different types of food treats, so that your dog has to spend some time working out how to get the food out.

* You can teach your older dog some new tricks to keep his brain exercised. It will take him a little longer to learn, so a lot of patience will be needed. He will probably lack concentration, so don't expect too much.

* The older dog must be allowed uninterrupted sleep. He will need around twelve hours of sleep a day for the body to regenerate and revitalise. Without this the dog will become confused and forgetful.

Physical Changes

As the dog grows older the physical changes become obvious. He will begin to look a bit grey around the muzzle. The eyes take on a cloudy look and his near vision may become impaired and hazy. His movements become slower, and some dogs may have stiff joints and develop arthritis, or rheumatism. Your dog may be less inclined to play or exercise.

Given the opportunity, dogs will naturally seek out wild herbs and plants to heal themselves. The use of herbal remedies can produce real benefits in the health and well being of your pet.

* Greenleaf, or Mixed Vegetable tablets can be used to reduce toxins and relieve pain. Green Lipped Mussel with Glucosamine is a wonderful recent addition to the remedies used for arthritis. Many owners are now using this regularly because of the dramatic effects it has had on their dogs. The Green Lipped Mussel helps to build cartilage, and the Glucosamine helps to maintain mobile and pain free joints.

* Another Herbal remedy used to reduce inflammation, and maintain healthy joints, is Devil's Claw. It is wonderful for older dogs, and can give them a new lease of life. This is a valuable remedy for treating rheumatism, having a revitalising effect on the muscles.

* Dairy products, and red meat should be omitted from the diet of dogs with arthritis, as these can tend to aggravate the condition. Make sure your dog is not overweight as this puts extra stress on the joints.

* Major organs like the liver and kidneys may start to work less efficiently. Liver and kidney conditions should always be investigated by your vet. However Kidney tablets along with Greenleaf tablets can help with kidney problems. Denex tablets are excellent for liver problems. Along with a healthy diet these remedies can be of great nergy, as he is not as active, so he will need a food with a carefully balanced amount of fat and calories so that he does not put on weight. The dog's diet will also need to contain additional vitamins and minerals that act as antioxidants. Any change in diet should be introduced gradually to avoid diarrhoea. The dog may find it easier to eat several small meals over the course of the day.

It is important to make sure the older dog has a soft, comfortable, cosy bed away from drafts and at a height that he can easily get in and out of.

Walks should be kept short and frequent. It is important to exercise the dog, but he may not be able to manage the long walks he used to enjoy. Short walks will increase his circulation, improving heart and lung function. It will also keep his muscles toned and joints mobile. It will also add interest to his day. If he gets wet when out on his walk he should be thoroughly dried off on return.

Gentle grooming will help improve the circulation and can be relaxing for many dogs. Massage can also help your dog to relax, ease stiff muscles and joints, and lower blood pressure.

If the older dog is to be kennelled when the owner is away on holiday, the kennels should be checked to ensure they are heated and well ventilated. The kennel staff should be made aware of any health problems and dietary requirements. Make sure the kennels have a vaccination policy as the older dog's immune system will be weaker and he may be more susceptible to catching diseases. It might be useful to boost your dog's immune system with Garlic and Fenugreek tablets for around four weeks before going to the kennels.

If you are lucky enough to have a hydrotherapy pool near you, supervised swimming is excellent exercise for the older dog as the water supports the body weight and avoids strain on the joints.

It is important to let your dog set his own pace, as too much exercise could do harm. Older dogs are more susceptible to torn ligaments. It is a good idea to have the older dog examined twice a year by your vet.

Dogs tend to age slowly over a period of time. It is inevitable that natural mental and physical changes will take place. However by providing an enriched and stimulating environment for your dog you can make sure he enjoys his natural life expectancy to the full.

For further advice on remedies, or living with an older dog, contact:

Carol Martin (AACC)
Canine Therapy Centre.
Tel: 01875 813213.
E-mail carol@caninetherapycentre.co.uk