Following this 5-point holistic healthcare plan will help your senior dog or cat stay well and live longer.

As a holistic veterinarian, I like to divide my patients into three populations based on age.

The first stage is puppyhood and kittenhood (until animals are 12 months old), then adulthood (five to ten years depending on breed). Finally comes the senior or geriatric stage, which lasts from around eight to ten years until death (usually 15 to 20 years, depending on breed and species).

Dividing the population in this fashion allows me to fine tune general healthcare recommendations based on a dog or cat’s age, as well as address the needs of each specific patient based on examination and laboratory testing.

In this article, I’ll describe my typical holistic healthcare plan for senior dogs and cats, remembering that this is just a guideline that will change based on each animal’s specific and individual needs.

5-POINT HEALTH PLAN FOR AGING ANIMALS

1. DIET

A good, healthy, holistic diet is very important for dogs and cats of all ages. Senior animals can usually continue eating the healthy diets they’ve enjoyed their entire lives, whether it be a high-quality processed food, homemade cooked diet, or raw diet. What’s most important is that the food is natural, the dog or cat enjoys eating it, and it’s affordable for the animal parent.

2. SUPPLEMENTS

It’s good for both people and their animals to take supplements that help them continue with their healthy lifestyles, as well as to help mitigate and treat diseases as they arise. Following are some of my favorite supplements for senior patients. Note that this is a basic list and that other supplements may be prescribed based on lifestyle, presence of disease, and any abnormal laboratory tests.

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  • Basic vitamin/mineral/immune supplement – Every senior animal can benefit from a supplement that supplies a spectrum of vitamins, minerals and immune support.
  • Enzymes and probiotics — Enzymes assist in digesting and absorbing food. An enzyme supplement ensures your dog or cat gets full benefit from his diet, and that little food is wasted when it passes through his GI tract. Probiotics ensure a healthy gut microbiome, which supports a healthy immune system.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – Omega-3s reduce inflammation in the body and actually change the structure of cell membranes to favor a reduced inflammatory state.

Fish oil and krill oil can be used as an Omega-3 supplement. Flax seed and oil have their own health benefits but don’t work as well as fish or krill oil. Flax oil requires conversion into active Omega-3 fatty acids, a process that is not likely to occur in dogs and cats.

HINT: Fish oil is also helpful in the treatment of various inflammatory disorders including allergies, cancer, and arthritis.
  • Choline supplement — There are several excellent choline products for aging animals. Research I did many years ago, plus many years of clinical experience, have shown that supplementing older dogs and cats with choline not only treats aging of the central nervous system (cognitive disorder) but can reduce it before the pet develops the condition. Choline is also great for animals with liver and pancreas issues (diabetes) as well as seizures.
  • CBD – This is a great geriatric supplement and also helpful for cancer and seizures. The main problem is that there are so many which are expensive and inferior in quality. Stick with a product your veterinarian prescribes or recommends.
Supplementing older dogs and cats with choline treats aging of the central nervous system.

3. TESTING

As dogs and cats age, the incidence of certain chronic conditions increases. There are only three ways to diagnose problems: you report the issue to your veterinarian; he/she diagnoses the problem on a physical examination (such as a heart murmur which indicates heart disease); and/or the veterinarian orders laboratory testing.

Various tests are needed to properly diagnose a disease. These tests can include radiographs, ultrasonography, echocardiography, urinalysis, blood testing, and cytology or histopathology of tumors. Additionally, these tests are often prescribed for “normal” animals to determine the presence of asymptomatic problems. In most practices, this testing of “normal” dogs and cats usually finds one or more serious problems that must be addressed before they progress to the point of no return, when treatment is unlikely to result in a cure.

HINT: An older dog or cat needs regular veterinary exams to help maintain his health. Schedule a checkup every six months once he becomes a senior.

4. TREATMENTS

Detected diseases require treatment. In my practice, this rarely involves conventional medications, as I instead rely on more natural therapies. In most patients, conventional medications are used as needed, at low doses and for limited periods, to reduce or eliminate side effects and further injury to the animal, as well as costs to the caregiver. In particular, many older dogs and cats have periodontal disease, and tumors that must be addressed.

If your veterinarian is wary of using anesthesia for your older dog or cat, find another doctor who is comfortable with senior animal anesthesia or high-risk anesthesia for patients with various medical problems.

5. PET INSURANCE

Because older dogs and cats typically have more chronic problems than younger animals, the cost of caring for them, even with screening and prevention, can increase. Consider ways of saving money on veterinary care at all stages of your animal’s life, but especially as he ages. Pet insurance and monthly payment plans can reduce the cost of caring for older dogs or cats. If you’re considering pet insurance, be aware that not all providers cover holistic care, so do your homework before choosing a company.

Following these five steps can help your older dog or cat stay healthy and life a longer life. Be sure to work with your veterinarian to determine the best preventive healthcare program for your companion’s specific needs.

COMMON PROBLEMS IN OLDER ANIMALS

As dogs and cats age, certain problems become more common. Some of these issues include tumors, both cancerous and benign, kidney, heart, and/or dental diseases, hormonal conditions (thyroid and adrenal) and arthritis.

As a side note, these health problems are much less common in a holistic practice than in the typical conventional practice due to a reduction in vaccine, chemical and medication use, along with a focus on proper diet and supplements.

Ideally, the best way to approach medical problems is through prevention when possible, and through early diagnosis and treatment if prevention is not attained.

OLD AGE IS NOT A DISEASE

I want to stress two of my favorite sayings when it comes to our older dog and cat population.

1. Old age is not a disease.

Senior dogs and cats are typically more likely to develop certain problems, but being old per se is not an illness and should not be treated as such.

2. All dogs and cats, regardless of age, deserve the best care I can offer and clients can afford.

There is no excuse for any doctor to refuse treatment, anesthesia or surgery simply due to an animal’s age. As I like to say, no dog or cat is “too old” for proper care. It is true that you may decide, due to your animal’s age, finances, or reduced expectations for outcome, to forgo a certain treatment.

However, that choice is yours alone. While the veterinarian can offer an opinion or share what they would do if the situation involved their own animal, they still have an obligation to prescribe the best testing and treatment. If you choose a different treatment than the “gold standard,” the vet should do everything possible to keep your dog or cat comfortable and free of pain, and give him the best possible chance for recovery and a happy life, regardless of how much time remains in that life.


Veterinarian Dr. Shawn Messonnier wrote The Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog. He’s the pet care expert for Martha Stewart Living’s “Dr. Shawn – The Natural Vet” on Sirius Satellite Radio, and creator of Dr. Shawn’s Pet Organics. His practice, Paws & Claws Animal Hospital (petcarenaturally.com), is in Plano, Texas.