Last month we began a conversation about aging in our dogs and cats with a discussion about the aches and pains of aging, arthritis. Another great concern in our senior pets is dental disease. Unfortunately, our pets do not routinely brush their teeth, and over the course of their all-too-short lives, they will experience significant tooth and gum disease. The resulting intolerable halitosis not only makes snuggling under a warm blanket with your faithful friend difficult, but can indicate infection may be spreading through the entire body.
Dogs and cats have similar teeth to humans, though their “fangs” (canine teeth) are longer and much, much sharper. (Ouch!) Like us, they also have incisors, premolars, and molars. Plaque can form on their teeth and they can get severe, painful root decay. Once this occurs, the pet will be reluctant to eat, greatly diminishing the quality of life. Mouth infections can then seed bacteria into the system and lead to damage any where those traveling bacteria choose to park their primitive microbial backsides. If they just happen to get off in the heart (usually on a valve), the damage they cause can lead to congestive heart failure.
For all these reasons, as well as to try to prevent the unpleasant bouquet the dental disease will bring to your pet’s mouth, your vet will check your pet’s dental condition during the recommended annual exam. Doc might also recommend different products and procedures to help improve your pet’s dental status, or may schedule your pet for a full dental cleaning. This procedure must be done under a general anesthetic. (Ever try to get an 80 pound Rottweiler or 12 pound tom cat to hold still while you clean and possibly extract diseased teeth? Not even the adrenaline junkies on the X Games would give that harrowing task a try.)
Your vet can also talk to you from your pet’s very first visit about preventing tooth and gum disease. Just as our grandmothers always told us, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Since our pets cannot do this without our help, it is essential that pet parents begin a dental hygiene regimen as early as possible in the pet’s life, and proper brushing is a big part of that. A pet-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste are helpful, but a child’s soft brush and baking soda can work, too. Also, ask your vet about other dental aids: enzymes added to the drinking water that help break down plaque; treats and foods that “brush” the teeth as the pet eats them; silicone sealants that prevent plaque from forming on the teeth.
We want our pets to live as long and happily as they possibly can, so keep your pet’s pearly whites pearly, white, and disease-free from early life to the golden years.
Sadly, our beloved pets age more quickly than we do. In what seems like a single tick of the clock, our pets go from young babies full of life to seniors battling ailments and chronic pain. Dogs and cats both are geriatrics by the time they are in their teens. Common problems associated with this rapid aging process are much the same as in geriatric people: arthritis, dental disease, organ dysfunction, heart disease, and cancer. Each of these areas is a textbook by itself, so we cannot completely cover them all in a single discussion. Let’s take each topic separately and cover the entire series over the next few months.
Over time, joints lose their flexibility. Sometimes, cartilage is replaced with bone, creating painful spurs and immobility. Though most pets do not show us they are painful, they might not be as playful or a mobile. They may have trouble jumping up on furniture or in the car, or may no longer want to do things they enjoy, like catching a toy or going for a ride. Arthritic pets should be treated medically and physically to enhance their comfort and quality of life.
Medically, these aging pets should have pain relief as needed, but also should begin a program that will help reduce the pain and need for medications. These old-timers might benefit from injections of Adequan® which enhances joint fluid production, rebuilds cartilage, and helps loosen up those stiff, geriatric joints. Nutraceuticals like glucosamine, chondroitin, and fatty acids will also improve joint mobility and should be started long before the signs of arthritis begin. Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (N-said’s) can help control the pain of “bad days,” but remember aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen are all toxic to dogs and even more so to cats. Only use the n-said’s that have been prescribed by your veterinarian for your pet.
Gentler anti-inflammatories like MSM or Duralactin® (made from milk protein) may be given daily and may help lessen the need for the harsher n-said’s. Also consider alternative therapy like cold laser. Cold laser can dramatically help painful joints, is inexpensive, and causes virtually no side effects. Several clinics in our area have this available. Other treatment options might include acupuncture by a certified veterinary acupuncturist, and physical therapy / massage.At home, start a weight loss program for your pet if indicated. Just shedding a little excess weight will dramatically help those old bones and joints. Low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming also helps. Cold aggravates arthritis pain, so, if possible, outdoor animals should make the move indoors. Finally, giving your aging pal a nice comfy bed to snooze in instead of on a cold, hard floor will greatly enhance your pet’s quality of life.
Unfortunately, we cannot stop the ticking of the clock for our aging, beloved pets. However, we can learn how to make their lives more comfortable and give them back the joy they have given us. We will continue this conversation next month.