The gracefuly aging pet


It’s such a thrill to welcome a new pet into one’s home. I remember Tucker the two year old cocker we adopted. He lived outside in an 8’x 8’ pen behind my mother’s home that had turned to mud. His house was an old air conditioner housing that was not warm or dry. It was heart breaking to hear him cry. After much negotiation with the neighbors we snatched him away from his terrible demise and he lived a long and happy life.

But cockers as a breed do not age well or live long. As he aged I found myself in constant denial (my motives being purely selfish) that I couldn’t find a brew or magical elixir that would keep him from leaving me. The anti-aging craze that is sweeping over our country has come up with a lot of bunk stuff, but herbs actually can help our pets ease into their final years with more comfort and grace.

What happens as a pet ages? There are two basic forms of aging that effect us as well as our pets, programmed aging or our genes and random aging. Although we cannot do much about the genetic aspect we can dramatically effect the random aspects of aging.

As your animal ages the reserve capacity of each organ system progressively diminishes by as much as 30 percent. Herbs are the ideal medicinal system for helping an organ system achieve whatever functional capacity it has left. For example, if liver function appears to be compromised consider using a low-level therapeutic dose of milk thistle or dandelion root. If you’re aging pet becomes easily disoriented or distracted, or they are grumpy and reclusive — signs of nervous system dysfunction, use Ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo helps increase blood flow to the brain and therefore has a calming effect.

Pets suffer the effects of free radical damage just as we do giving rise to diseases like arthritis, diabetes or cancer. Although it is actually hard to pick an herb that does not have some antioxidant properties the simple cooking herbs — basil, rosemary and thyme are excellent for pet use.

Just as in humans obesity is perhaps the most pervasive pet condition. The accumulation of fat adds an additional burden to organ systems already overloaded. Fat animals don’t want to move, and regular exercise is absolutely necessary for maintaining adequate circulation and joint health. Research has shown that moderate dietary restriction during a dog’s lifetime increases life span on the average by two years — quality years. It also delays the onset of diseases common to an aging animal.

Most veterinarians start to think about helping a pet age gracefully around the age of six. That would be about 40 of our years. Staying in tune with the following signs that your pet may need some help can add quality years to their lives.

Weight loss or gain — changing eating habits

• Unusual behaviors — disoriented slow to respond, not themselves

• Bad smelling breath, irritated red gums

• Increased thirst followed by increased urination

• Vomiting, diarrhea

• Seizures, weakness, lethargy, exercise intolerance

• Poor hair coat

• Coughing, difficulty breathing, winded after a walk

• Stiffness or difficulty getting up or down, soreness after exercise.

Till next time— enjoy your pet, Rebecca.