A Holistic approach to the senior pet.
For most of us animal lovers our pets become so much a part of our lives that by the time they are getting old we are often unable to imagine life without them. It is very sad that it is just at this time that their lifespan is coming towards a close and the very life force seems to be ebbing. This is the time that they become slower, and frailer; becoming more and more susceptible to the ravages of daily life.
We want to be able to strengthen them and buoy them back up again to being the old faithful friend that never failed to amaze us and certainly never missed a cuddle or a walk. The spark in our doggies’ eyes that we always noticed before, and the spring in their step at the very mention of the word W-A-L-K which many of us have to spell for fear of getting them over-excited, just seems to be missing lately. Our darling pussy is no longer able to jump up onto our laps for a cuddle, or no longer spends hours out hunting, rather staying curled up in a ball, sleeping…sleeping.
This is the time that we can make a difference and improve their general well being, before things progress too far and chronic irreversible organ disease sets in. Sometimes we fear that by going to the Veterinarian nothing concrete can be done until more obvious symptoms of organ failure or degenerative disease is noticed. This is no longer the case for your faithful canine and feline friends.
Here is my approach to our senior canine and feline citizens.
Nutrition – must correct all imbalances and supplement weak points.
Environment – what are the main stress factors, what can be done about it?
Trends – family history (genetics), as well as domestic tendencies within the household.
Specific health issues – already occurring disease; what stage, what can be done?
Getting older has many disadvantages. The main one being that our bodies are in a constant state of degeneration or breaking down once we get to middle age. This process accelerates compared with the regenerative or building up phase the older we get till the building up phase is hardly noticeable compared with the breaking down phase by the time we become senior citizens. For our dogs this is on average from 8 years of age, and for the very large breed dogs this stage can set in from 6 years old. In cats this stage is mainly noticed around 10 years of age. Each part of the body is breaking down faster than the body is able to build it up and re-create itself. In each individual the focus on which part breaks down faster is dependent on the individual susceptibility of the animal. This is often genetically pre-programmed, or may be due to the lack of specific nutrients or building blocks in the animal’s diet or environment. It may also be affected directly by stresses in the environment which may weaken certain parts of the body more than others.
There is usually very little one can do about genetic susceptibility, other than support the body as best possible to avoid the worst situations from arising. Genetic predisposition will be massively aggravated by certain nutritional and environmental conditions, so we need to keep these 2 situations at an optimum where intervention is possible.
In General older animals will be more susceptible to oxidative stress (rusting) from the normal oxidative processes in the body as well as the environmental pollutants than younger ones where regeneration processes are more prolific. This means that in general all older animals will benefit greatly from a MIXED anti-oxidant formula. Various anti-oxidants target various organs specifically, so in specific health conditions certain anti-oxidants would be more appropriate than others. For example, with cataracts (very common in old age, especially in diabetic animals) Bilberry extract is specific for concentrating in the eye, and can help to decrease the damage done. For brain conditions including mild senility, Citrus extracts can be very useful as they concentrate in the brain tissue. For arthritis and rheumatism, Ginger, Devil’s claw and Turmeric extracts are the best. Many of the herbs that are known to have a beneficial action on certain parts of the body, do this mainly (not exclusively) owing to their anti-oxidative functions in that part of the body. Many of these substances also have anti-inflammatory actions where they collect in the body, thus further aiding the relief of painful symptoms, swelling and slowing down the degenerative process.
Often older animals have inflammatory conditions which aggravate and accelerate the breaking down process of the body. Omega 3 essential fatty acid is known to have a marked anti-inflammatory effect, especially in the skin, joints and muscle (including the heart muscle). It is very important to get the right balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids for their anti-inflammatory and anti-neoplastic (cancer fighting) effects. I advise high lignan flax oil, which has the most beneficial ratio of omega 3 to 6. It is important to have an adequate intake of anti-oxidants when supplementing with essential fatty acids.
The nutritional intake of older animals is often much less than it was when they were much younger. They become picky and like only certain things, missing out on a more healthy variety that nature can provide. For this reason not only are they breaking down faster, but they are often missing the essential nutrients that drive what relatively little regenerative process there may be present. For this reason it is essential that a good quality, bio-available (well absorbed and well utilised) source of multivitamin and trace element mineral supplement is added to the diet. Many of the trace elements are essential cofactors in the chemical reactions that drive the regeneration processes. If these are missing, it doesn’t matter how much of the building blocks you supply, the reaction cannot take place without the cofactors and enzymes driving the reaction. Your veterinarian should be able to advise you on the best quality nutritional supplements.
I routinely recommend a healthy natural diet of raw meat and mixed vegetables for all my patients. Cats tend to eat fewer vegetables than dogs as this is how their digestive system is designed and their metabolic needs are geared more towards meat and oils and less towards the carbohydrates found in the vegetables. They too however need the added vitamins, minerals and especially anti-oxidants which their diet may lack as they get older. Raw Meat and Vegetables contain natural enzymes which are essential for maintaining a healthy alimentary canal in your pet. If they are started on this “alive” diet, you will find that in general they have a much healthier and more robust immune system, less gut problems, less anal gland problems, less gingivitis and smelly breath, and less metabolic and hormone imbalances than pets fed on commercial processed “dead” diets; even those that are impeccably formulated for their nutritional value.
It is true however that some older animals that have already developed weaknesses due to improper diet and environmental stresses are unable to tolerate a change to the more healthy “alive” raw diet. It is too hard for them to digest as they have weak digestive energetic ability. These dogs and cats often develop vomiting and diarrhoea on the healthier raw diet. In these cases one has to address the energetic imbalance before they can tolerate a healthier option, and this can take time. The methods of choice that I employ to strengthen these cases are Homeopathy and or Acupuncture.
Environmentally there are many factors that will affect the well being of our pets and us. Pollution is the main concern I have for the older generation. This may consist of air pollution such as a smoky environment or living close to a main road where chemical fumes are continuously pumped into the immediate airspace. If you are a smoker and your pet breathes this in, it is the same as exposing a small child to your fumes. This can cause cancer, or lung pathology in susceptible animals or simply just add extra strain on the already overloaded oxidation stress. Chemical pollution in water and food is another worry. Many water purification plants use chemicals which over time accumulate in our systems and create damage and degeneration. Have you not noticed how your pet often prefers to drink from a dirty puddle outside or from the fishpond than the nasty “fresh” water from the tap? Most processed pet foods contain chemical anti-oxidants (not of natural origin such as the food supplement ones), chemical colorants and chemical preservatives which also interfere with the bodies natural function and often strain an already weakening liver trying to continuously detoxify the system of these chemicals every day. At worst some pet foods contain many impurities that are unfit for human consumption but too “low grade” for the authorities to worry about. These substances accumulate and cause damage over time. Note the massive increase in incidence of cancers and degenerative diseases in younger and younger animal patients over the last 50 years. These weaknesses carry over from generation to generation and we are now sitting with a much “weaker” puppy and kitten population than ever before. The main ingredient of many pet foods, especially the earlier pet foods and cheaper variety of pet foods are grains and complex sugars. Grains and sugars are not a natural main ingredient for animals to eat. This has led to a massive imbalance of metabolism and hormone function in many pets and in my opinion is responsible for the obese animal syndrome we see only too often as well as the massive increase in Diabetes in animals, especially in cats, which are obligate carnivores (not grain consumers). If your animal suffers from any of these conditions, my advice is change the diet! The other main chemical pollution source is of course drugs. Some drugs may be absolutely necessary for your pet’s wellbeing, but be sure. Sometimes we are so concerned to do the right thing that we treat every single symptom that arises in our animals with yet another drug; one drug often treating the complications or side effects of another drug. Be aware of the trend and find simpler or more natural ways to combat the symptoms you may be seeing. The body and especially liver and kidneys have a job trying to detoxify and eliminate drugs from the system.
Although I have only touched on specific health conditions and what you can do for them, this is not in the scope of this article. You can rest assured however that by simply adding the 3 main supplements to your older pets diet you can go a long way to help prevent and to help fight conditions of old age. These in a nutshell are:
Mixed Anti-oxidants especially lycopene, carotenoids and flavanoids as well as Vitamin C, Selenium and Vitamin E.
High lignan flax oil – best Omega 3-6 ratio.
Good quality bio-available multivitamin and mineral supplement.
For those of you up to the challenge, do a search on the World Wide Web for information on a more natural diet for your pets. This is often under the heading of BARF (an acronym for Bones and Raw Food). Or simply contact you closest holistic veterinarian in South Africa. We can be found by contacting the Complimentary Veterinary Medicines Group (CVMG) which is part of the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA).
Wishing you and your pets a long, fun-filled, pain-free and disease free future. Go out there and make a difference.