News Item | PAWS Chicago

Getting Wiser about Getting Older Tips for Geriatric Pet Care

by Dr. Barbara Royal, DVM | May 01, 2014

Tips for geriatric pet care

Our pets are living longer and are more like members of the family than just a pet in our lives. And that longer lifespan means the very real possibility of managing geriatric health issues. As they say, it is a good problem to have, considering the alternative. Here are my top health management tips for rejuvenating your older pet: 


Use It Or Lose It 

Becoming sedentary with arthritis is a dangerous downward spiral. Arthritic animals that don’t exercise will deteriorate rapidly. Short, frequent, low impact exercise may be better than trying to do one really long walk a day. But movement is always better than inactivity. Take it slow if you have to, but take it. 

Don’t forget to play with your aging cats. 

People may play fetch with dogs in all life stages, but mature cats are often left to sleep all day. Don’t just put treats under their noses; make them do a little work for them. Place healthy meat treats up a flight of stairs or on top of some climbing toy. Your cat will have to exercise to get to it. Those wire-bouncing fobs and little catnip mouse toys are not just for kittens. They still may like a bit of chasing, jumping, hunting and playing. Even just a moving hand under a blanket can be an exciting rodent on the run. And your cat may shed some unwanted weight as well. 

Alternative supplements for joint health and inflammation, like combinations that include turmeric and boswelia, can improve mobility and decrease pain. Older animals can usually tolerate modalities like acupuncture better than they tolerate medications to soothe their aching joints. Ask your veterinarian about acupuncture and supplements. 

Slip-Sliding Away 

Don’t let slippery surfaces exhaust or injure your pet. Pads of older canine and feline feet can slip more yoga mats, and other non-skid floor coverings can help them get up and move more confidently. 

Rubber toe-grips (like Dr. Buzby’s,, adhesive foot pads, waxes or non-slip booties (like that aren’t too bulky), can also help. Try not to cover their feet all the time. Having direct contact with floors and the earth is important for circulation and nerve conduction to the feet. 

Seeing Is Believing 

Aging pets often have lenticular sclerosis, which is a normal aging change that makes depth perception difficult. It could be another reason for hesitance on stairs or in areas that have poor lighting. Make sure to provide good lighting to help them navigate in twilight or dark conditions. Ask your veterinarian about herbal supplements available that can help with vision. 


Don’t Forget To Stop And Smell The Rose Bushes 

Remember that what’s interesting for pets often involves new smells and a little challenge. Provide interesting smells for your geriatric pet. Dogs and cats devote a large part of their brains to distinguishing and enjoying all kinds of scents. In our air-conditioned, scent-free homes and city lives, the smell-center part of their intellect may be languishing. If your pet is not getting around as much, bring the scents to them – an interesting tree branch or stone, a small bowl of dirt, a feather or even the soles of your muddy boots could give a little detective puzzle for a house-bound pet. Note: Be careful of plants that may be toxic to dogs or cats; check the species and toxicity of all plants before allowing any chewing. 

Take a Walk on the Wild Side 

Go places on your walks where your pet can experience something new. Change the terrain rather than staying on sidewalks in the same neighborhood. Look for areas that have different substrates to walk on – gravel, hills, grass, tree roots, irregular surfaces – whatever they can manage. Don’t try to make things too easy, even careful, but don’t get stuck in a rut. Pets can benefit from challenging terrain, and even unusual patterns – try more figure-8 walking, or weaving in and around poles or trees. If you walk only on flat surfaces, it may soon be the only surface your pet can navigate. 


You are What You Eat 

Protein helps build muscle. Older dogs and cats require excellent quality, highly digestible meat sources in their food. In fact, rather than less protein in their diet, they need an increased amount of protein to maintain proper muscle mass and keep their vigor. This means you should read ingredients and try to provide recognizable, real meat sources in the food. This means foods with at least 30 percent (preferably over 40 percent) meat protein, and no corn, wheat or soy. 

The closer the daily diet resembles what the species would historically encounter in nature (in content, structure and moisture), the more likely the animal will remain healthy. 

While it may seem that changing foods in an older pet could be troublesome, it is often quite the opposite. I have used a 10-day changeover plan to improve the diets of hundreds of geriatric animals without upset. In fact, their owners often only describe vast improvements in their pets’ health with these diet changes. 

Don’t forget that this goes for treats as well. Don’t reward your pet with food that will make them unhealthy. Give them super fun, healthy meat treats, freeze dried meats or great quality meat-based treats with no corn, wheat, sugars, or soy. 


A Good Rub Down is ALWAYS a Good Idea 

Squeeze the feet, massage the rear legs and massage little circles up and down either side of the spine. Keep the body circulating and keep the brain and nerves actively sensing where the feet are. This can rekindles the connection from foot to brain, improve mobility and encourage proper foot placement. It can be therapeutic to give your pet a massage with a pet massage therapist. The massage therapist will not only improve circulation, lymphatic drainage and nerve conduction, but they can also teach you some techniques to help your pet at home. Ask your vet about massage therapy for your pet. 

What Goes In, Must Come out 

Fecal Incontinence is Frustrating 

After giving your dog a walk, he comes in the house and poops on the carpet. Sound familiar? Geriatric pet incontinence is the bane of pet owners’ existence. There are many causes, and fortunately, many solutions. The first action is to rule out some physical/medical problem. If there is no medical solution, there are still other options. 

The Four F’s of Fecal Incontinence 

Here are four “F’s” that can help you recover your pet’s dignity: 


  1. Food - You will see a decrease in the amount of feces if you can decrease the amount of filler (prevalent in kibble) in your dog’s food. This is where canned and raw food shine. 
  2. Frequency - Animals that are fed more than once a day will have more trouble with incontinence. When they digest their food all at once, an animal will more likely know about it in advance. This is because the amount in the colon can send a good signal and they are more likely to know they have to go, and take action outside. 
  3. Focus - There are constant distractions from the outside world when an animal goes on a walk. The signal to defecate may not be strong enough to override all the fun stimuli to the brain during a walk.  “The Double Walk” can get the dog to focus on the job at hand. After the first walk, come in for a few seconds. Then head back out the door. The second walk will be less distracting. The walking will have stimulated the colon, and the dog may now be more aware of what needs to be done and have more success.
  4. Floor - This technique is based on the veterinary principle that you can cause a dog to defecate by taking their temperature rectally. This stimulates the pelvic floor. Just before your last bedtime walk, use a thermometer, or a gloved finger or a Q-tip with some lubrication. Put it in the anal opening and press a few times gently on the pelvic floor. Sometimes it just takes a mild stimulation around the anal opening to make a dog poop. Be ready to go right outside. If you’re not squeamish, this is an effective method to prepare you and your dog for a good night’s sleep, without surprises waiting for you in the morning. 

Urinary Incontinence 

There are many medical reasons for urinary incontinence. Once those are ruled out, feeding a diet with appropriate moisture content (not a dry food) can help avoid overdrinking. There’s a huge advantage to balancing out water intake with moist foods. Unlike dry food, canned, home-cooked or raw foods don’t require a gallon water chaser. Bladders don’t bulge, and urinary accidents decrease. 

We can’t make our pets live forever, or extend their lifespan to match ours. However, there are many simple, common sense actions we can take to mitigate the effects of old age. It is comforting to know that you and your pets can enjoy their golden years. 


Teaching Old Dogs (Or Cats) New Tricks 

Don’t forget mental health days. Work on a new tricks, games and offer new toys. You’d be surprised at how interested they still are. 


Geriatric pets need a carnivore diet with extra protein; at least 40 percent of its diet should be protein in order to maintain and strengthen muscle mass. 

You May Consider Adding: 


  • Coconut oil to the food to moisturize the skin and GI tract. Offer of green tripe several times a week. 
  • Warm water to the food to increase the smell for aging noses. Herbs like turmeric, boswelia, gingko, ginseng, arnica and other supplements can help with inflammation, arthritis, or cognitive function. 
  • Egg shell membrane (the inner lining of an egg shell) contains: 
    • COLLAGEN —Supports cartilage, connective tissue and promotes elasticity. 
    • ELASTIN —helps with tissue elasticity and helps tissue to regain normal shape after stretching. 
    • GLYCOSAMINOGLYCANS (GAGs)— glucosamine, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid which are vital polysaccharides that are components of joints, joint fluid, and connective tissue 
    • TRANSFORMING GROWTH FACTOR- B— a protein that promotes tissue rejuvenation
    • VITAMIN B COMPLEX—helps support healthy GI tract, nervous system, and blood. 
  • EGG TIP 
    • FOR DOGS: Add egg shell/ membrane to dog food. 
    • FOR CATS: scrape the egg out of the shell. They won’t eat egg if it’s still attached to the shell.