YND Podcast Episode 18: Caring for Senior Dogs

by Angela Ardolino

The lifestyle and diet that works for a puppy may not continue to work as your dog ages, but often we forget to make changes. In this episode, Dr. Ava Frick discusses the importance of paying attention to your dogs’ digestion, behavior, and mobility as they age. She also shares some common signs of aging and explains how planning and nutrition in the puppy stage can help your dog stay healthier in the future. 

 

 

Episode Recap:

  • We often forget that dogs’ needs change as they age (0:45)
  • When is a dog considered a senior? (2:23) 
  • Digestion changes as dogs age (5:24)
  • Look for behavior changes as your dog ages (9:49)
  • Pay attention to your dog’s mobility, it’s essential to quality of life (12:59) 
  • Conventional pain regulation can make things worse for older dogs (20:20)
  • How to connect with Dr. Frick (22:21)

Find our complete senior dog care package here

Caring for Senior Dogs

Many of the dogs brought to my rescue farm, Fire Flake Farm, are seniors. Pet parents often find themselves overwhelmed and unprepared to care for their pet, as their pet ages and health issues begin to plague their bodies. We do our best to give them the peaceful and pain-free twilight years they deserve, by safely taking them off of their prescription medications (with the guidance of our holistic veterinarians), transitioning them to a raw diet, and adding Full Spectrum Hemp Extract and other senior dog supplements to their daily regimen. They go from barely walking, to running and playing, as their degenerative diseases slow down their progression, and their health drastically improves.

When is a Dog Considered a Senior?

A common question I get from pet parents is “When is a dog considered a senior dog?” However this answer varies, depending on the breed and size of your dog. Small breeds, like the chihuahua can live up to 20 years, and are usually considered senior dogs around 12 or 13 years old. Unfortunately, giant breeds such as Great Danes generally live less than 10 years. This means they can be considered senior dogs by age six. So we have to consider your dog’s breed and life expectancy when determining if they are approaching their senior years.  

Feeding your Senior Dog

Gut health is incredibly important to overall health for dogs, especially as 80% of the immune system resides in the gut. This is particularly important for our senior dogs. As their bodies age, they may not tolerate certain foods as well as they used to, or they may need different nutrients or supplements to support their microbiome. 

Common questions I get from pet parents include “When to switch to senior dog food?” or “What is the best diet for senior dogs?”. There is no one answer to fit all senior dogs. Caring for your senior dog just means caring for your unique dog as they age. Don’t assume your senior dog can eat the same diet they’ve been eating for 9 years without any issue, as dogs age, pet parents should take note of any new reactions or intolerances to diet. 

For senior dogs on a raw diet, pet parents may find that they don’t tolerate some proteins as they age, or may become more sensitive to certain proteins or ingredients. For many senior dogs, a gently cooked or lightly cooked diet might be best, aiding in their digestion. 

Related: Benefits of a Lightly Cooked Diet for Dogs

Senior Dog Behavior Changes

As your pet ages, it is important to pay attention to their habits and routines so that you can know when something is off. Recognizing your senior dog needs more support can be difficult for pet parents, reminding us that our beloved pets are aging. But our senior dogs need our support in their golden years more than ever, and there are a few things to watch out for. 

A decline or loss of mobility, including being slower to stand or lay down, hesitating or refusing to climb stairs, a sudden change in their gait, or a limp can be a sign that something is going on with their joints, such as arthritis in senior dogs. These can also indicate a more serious ailment, such as osteosarcoma, as was the case with my girl Nina. (Nina is still with us and doing well, 21 months post diagnosis!!) Senior dogs may also start having trouble with slick floors, rugs or mats can provide the grip they need to comfortably get around the house again.

Senior dogs might also show signs of hearing loss, or loss of vision. If your dog was always quick to react at any knock or doorbell, but is suddenly sleeping through these or otherwise not reacting like they used to, that’s a sign they might be losing their hearing. Losing these senses can also be confusing for your senior dog, and they’ll need your support as they adjust. It is important to note that changes in hearing or vision can cause some of the same symptoms as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, aka dementia in dogs. For example, a dog who is losing hearing or vision may become disoriented and may have increased anxiety as a result.

Since there is no easy test to diagnose a dog with CCD, it is important that you write down any observations you have made and bring that paper to the vet. One sign of CCD or dementia in dogs is that you may notice your dog pacing behind closed doors, or otherwise seeming lost inside their home. Another sign of CCD or dementia in dogs is a lack of bowel control. You may also notice a decrease or increase in appetite with CCD or dementia in dogs.

Catching these signs early can make all the difference in your senior dog’s quality of life. 

Related: Hemp for Dogs with Dementia or CCD

Senior Dog Supplements

Senior pets are often in need of additional supplementation to address specific degenerative conditions. There are thousands of supplements on the market claiming to help our senior pets, ranging from cognition boosters, to inflammation-based pain relievers, to joint supporters, and many more. So let’s go over the best senior dog supplements for your aging pet.

Hemp for Senior Dogs

There are many ways that our senior pets can benefit from adding a Full Spectrum Hemp Extract to their daily regimen. Full Spectrum Hemp Extract has been shown to increase mobility, while ensuring quality of life and improved general well-being. Another study stated that Full Spectrum Hemp Extract has therapeutic benefits for both people and pets suffering from chronic pain and acute chronic pain episodes.

Full Spectrum Hemp Extract is shown to help dogs have a restful sleep. Cannabinoids interact with ECS receptors that help to eliminate the sense of pain in the body. This increases mood and causes sleep. And, gives our pets’ immune system a good boost, lowers blood pressure, and helps decrease risk of additional conditions.

Not only can hemp potentially help reduce the risk of dementia or CCD in the first place in dogs, it’s a natural care choice if your dog has any sort of cognitive decline. Hemp can help relieve dementia-related anxiety and stress and may help your dog remain relaxed and secure in their senior years.  Full spectrum hemp extract is also rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that contribute to the wellbeing of the brain. 

A study published by Veterinary and Comparative Oncology conducted a study to determine how effective cannabis is in canine cancer cell lines. The study compared cannabidiol alone to a combination of common chemotherapy pharmaceuticals. The study found Full Spectrum Hemp Extract significantly reduced canine cancer cell growth. Ultimately, hemp was found to increase apoptosis (cell death to prevent cancer growth) while restoring balance in the body. 

Full Spectrum Hemp Extract can help reduce stressors on the body and on pet parents allowing them to live the best life possible. Hemp oil can easily be introduced into your pet’s diet as a preventive measure, and it is a more natural way to handle the changes that come with age as time continues to pass by. 

Related: Hemp for Senior Dogs

Boswellia for Senior Dogs

Boswellia is an herbal extract derived from the bark of the boswellia tree. Interestingly, it is the primary source of the well-known essential oil Frankincense. Boswellia has been used for centuries to address numerous inflammatory-based health conditions. The main active compound in Boswellia called boswellic acid, has scientifically-proven anti-inflammatory and joint pain-relief effects.

In addition, research has shown that it has the potential to be a useful remedy for conditions like asthma, colitis, skin damage/disease, and more. What’s more, Boswellia has also been studied and shown to have tumor specific cytotoxic effects (causes tumor cell death), and can promote cancer cell apoptosis (cell death) in other cancer types such as leukemia. 

Boswellia and its derivatives (boswellic acid, frankincense, etc.) are considered to be safe and well tolerated by dogs and cats alike when administered alone. When combined with curcumin (like in Hemp Dog Health’s EASE tincture), Boswellia is even more powerful at combating inflammation and addressing age-related conditions like osteoarthritis. Therefore, Boswellia should be seen as an integral long-term option for our senior pets.

Related: Is Frankincense Oil Safe for Dogs?

Curcumin for Senior Dogs

Curcumin is the main biologically active compound in the turmeric root and is one of the most well-known and most powerful anti-inflammatory herbals on the planet. Additionally, it has been shown to increase antioxidant activity within the body, may help prevent certain types of cancer,and boost the production of a naturally-derived compound called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Decreased levels of BDNF have been linked to many brain disorders like depression and Alzheimer’s disease, so adding curcumin may make a big difference for senior pets dealing with early-onset dementia (aka cognitive dysfunction syndrome or CCD). Lastly, curcumin may help delay aging and fight chronic age-related diseases, making it a vital tool for increasing a senior pet’s longevity and quality of life. 

Although you may get some curcumin by eating turmeric as a diet additive, most times it must be administered in a concentrated supplement form for powerful therapeutic influence. Curcumin is also not well absorbed into the bloodstream when taken on its own, so combining it with a fat source (i.e a fatty meal) or with a very small dash of black pepper will allow for more effective absorption. 

Fun fact: Hemp Dog Health’s EASE tincture contains therapeutically beneficial amounts of curcumin in an oil-based tincture, meaning it has a greater potential to be maximally absorbed. 

Related: The Benefits of Combining Turmeric and Frankincense

Green Lipped Mussels for Senior Dogs

Green Lipped Mussels (GLM), also known as Perna canaliculus, contains high levels of one of the most important raw building blocks of joints called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). GAGs are best known for helping to maintain joint health and even rebuild damaged cartilage. However, they also play a crucial role in a variety of other bodily functions, including proper cell signaling, wound repair, tissue hydration, corneal health, and coagulation. 

For senior pets with more advanced disease, combining it with other supportive and natural supplements will only help to enhance its joint protective effects and slow down progression of degenerative processes like osteoarthritis.

MSM for Senior Dogs

MSM (which stands for Methylsulfonylmethane) is technically a naturally occurring compound found in the bodies of nearly all animals as well as most plants. It is formed by the decomposition of phytoplankton and the release of sulfur-containing compounds into the atmosphere, which are then reabsorbed by creatures living on land versus in the ocean. 

MSM is most notable for its ability to help slow down arthritis, alleviate joint pain, and promote muscle recovery. MSM has potent anti-inflammatory effects, and can even increase glutathione levels, which is critical for the body’s detoxification pathways. Specifically, by reducing inflammation in joints, it helps to protect against cartilage degeneration and maintain synovial fluid production (joint lubricant). Moreover, it has been shown to significantly improve recovery from exercise and muscle damage due to its ability to increase antioxidant activity in the body. 

Lastly, the combination of these positive effects can potentially even help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms! Specifically for our senior pets, MSM can be applied alone or used alongside most other joint supplements. It has been found to be very safe even when administered at levels much higher than the recommended dose.

Final Thoughts on Caring for Senior Dogs

We want to give our aging furry companions the happiest, healthiest life possible. Along with a species appropriate whole food diet and regular exercise, integrating high quality and ethically sourced supplements when and where appropriate, can be quite advantageous for increasing our pets’ overall wellness and maintaining longevity. Not all senior pets will face the same issues, so choosing the right supplement for your specific pet will depend on their individual medical conditions.

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About Angela Ardolino

 

Angela Ardolino Author Photo with Odie the Schnauzer
Angela Ardolino is a holistic pet expert who has been caring for animals for over 20 years. She operates a rescue farm, Fire Flake Farm, in Florida. In addition, she owns Beautify the Beast,  a natural pet salon and shop. Moreover, Angela got her certificate in Medical Cannabis Biology and Therapeutic use from the University of Vermont School of Medicine. Next, she founded Hemp Dog Health to provide high quality, all-natural medical cannabis products designed specifically for pets. 

 

Accordingly, she uses Full Spectrum Hemp Extract on all her pets at her rescue farm every day since 2016. Angela has five dogs. Odie a 12-year-old mini-schnauzer, Nina an 8-year-old Doberman. Jolene a 7-year-old mutt, Maza a 7-year-old mutt, and Rhemi an 8-year-old poodle. In addition, she has 4-10 more any time she is fostering or boarding. She is a member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and the Veterinary Cannabis Association. In fact, Angela has educated hundreds of medical doctors and veterinarians on the therapeutic uses of medical cannabis on animals.

 

About Dr. Ava Frick

 

Dr. Ava Frick Guest on YND Caring for Senior Dogs
Dr. Frick graduated from veterinary college in 1980. Starting out in a traditional-style practice. Then, after her son was born in 1996, she transitioned to a more holistic approach. Chiropractic, rehabilitation, exercise, and nutrition has been her keen focus ever since. Early on, even before laser was popular, Dr. Frick designed the first Laser Spinal Pad® for animals. She is positioned as the world’s leading authority in veterinary microcurrent therapy spending over 20 years of research and publications in this field with Alpha-Stim® technology. Dr. Frick has also consulted for Standard Process® and developed the Clinical Animal Nutrition Survey© to help doctors prioritize organ system function via input by the dog and cat parent. 

 

Educating others and sharing her wealth of knowledge has been the impetus for her books; starting with Fitness in Motion®, How to Interpret Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis, How to Customize Nutrition in Dogs & Cats, Tai Chi-huahua® a low impact exercise video for dogs (and other critters), Dog Stretching Exercises video, contributions to online learning as an instructor at e-trainingfordogs.com, and many journal publications. 

Ava was honored with the Hartz Veterinarian of the Year Runner-up, Franklin County Humane Society Visionary Award, and was one of the first inductees to the Animal Chiropractic Hall of Fame. Her biography, Conversations with Animals – From Farm Girl to Pioneering Veterinarian, was released in 2021.  She now lives in Cave Creek, Arizona continuing her passions. Find out more about how she can help you and your dog at: AvaFrick.com.