Thursday, September 27, 2012

Aging Pets and Fall Weather


It’s officially fall. The leaves are changing, the air is getting colder, and the days are getting shorter. This is a great time of year, but it is also when I see a lot of my older patients come in for age related conditions.

One of the most common problems I see older pets for is arthritis. Just like people, pets get arthritis in their joints. Often times people think their animals are just “slowing down” as they get older, but in reality it’s usually arthritis that is slowing them down. I see older pets this time of year because the cooler weather makes arthritic joints hurt more than usual. Fortunately there are many things you can do to help your pets deal with arthritis.

First of all, visit your vet. Your pet needs a physical exam to make sure there isn’t something else causing the pain, like an injury or tumor of some kind. Then they will do blood work to make sure your pet is healthy enough for arthritis medicine. The most common way to treat arthritis is using non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). People NSAIDs include aspirin, Advil, and Aleve. But human NSAIDs cause stomach ulcers and bleeding disorders in dogs and cats. NEVER give your pet medicine without first consulting your vet. Years of research and millions of dollars have provided us with several pet safe NSAIDs that we can use to help our pets without hurting them. Dogs and cats are very still very sensitive to these meds, and they can’t be mixed together. If a pet is on one of these drugs, they can’t be given a second type of NSAID or a steroid, because they will interact and cause GI ulcers and/or bleeding disorders. So, leave the pharmacy decisions to your vet, and don’t change or mix meds on your own.

The second most important thing in treating arthritis is weight control. I see so many overweight pets. Carrying around all that extra weight really takes a toll on those joints. Studies have shown that keeping a dog slightly underweight can delay the need for arthritis meds 1-2 years compared to a dog who is at an normal weight or is overweight for most of its life. So, if your pet is overweight, decrease their food by 20-25% and increase their exercise to help burn those calories. If you’re having trouble getting weight off of a dog, ask your vet if you need to test for hypothyroidism. Most of the time my patients are just fat, but sometimes they have decreased levels of thyroid and need to be on supplementation. Other signs of hypothyroidism are lethargy, skin irritation, and a droopy look to the face.

There are several other supplemental medications that can help with arthritis. Nutritional supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin can help keep joints healthy. Omega 3 fatty acids are also important for healthy joints, and in addition they help with skin, kidney, heart, and brain health. There are also injections called Adequan your vet can give them to help keep the cartilage health.

Another age related change I sometimes see is Canine Cognitive Disorder. Basically this is doggy Alzheimer’s. Signs of CCD include barking at people they usually like, not being able to settle down at night, getting lost in familiar surroundings (like the living room), and forgetting that they’re house trained. CCD is hard to diagnose, because there’s not an actual test for it. First your vet will run blood work to make sure there’s not an underlying medical condition causing these symptoms. Arthritis pain can also cause dogs to be irritable, have trouble getting comfortable to sleep, and have trouble making it outside to use the bathroom. If you’ve ruled out or treated any other conditions and you’re still seeing signs of CCD, the next step is trying treatment to see if they improve. Again, there is no definitive treatment for this disorder, but there are things you can do to improve your pet’s quality of life. Medicine, like a drug called selegiline, can be used to lessen the symptoms. Melatonin supplements may be able to help your dog settle down at night. Proper exercise can also help, as can limiting stressful situations that might trigger confusion.

Other common, though not age related, problems I see when fall weather hits are allergies and bladder infections. The fall pollens can trigger ear infections and foot licking. If you see evidence of increased itchiness in your pet contact your vet to see if you can use over the counter antihistamines or if they recommend an exam to look for signs of infection. Bladder infections are more common this time of year because of the colder, drier air. Pets don’t drink as much water when it’s not so hot, so they don’t empty their bladder as often. The decreased humidity adds to the tendency to become dehydrated, and the two factors can lead to urine that is more concentrated and stagnant. Signs of a bladder infection include urinating in the house (or not in the litter box for cats), pain when urinating, urinating small amounts frequently, and blood in the urine. Not all pets show all these signs, so if you think your pet may have a bladder infection schedule a visit to the vet right away. They will collect a urine sample and see if your pet needs to be on antibiotics.

Fall is beautiful, but it brings its own set of medical problems. Enjoy this wonderful season, but keep your pets safe and healthy!

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