Tag Archives: senior pets

Kingsbrook Animal Hospital Proves You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks!

Many people believe that it’s next to impossible to train an older pet to do…well, pretty much anything. Is there any truth to the old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?”  Positive-reinforcement trainer Laurie Luck, owner of Smart Dog University, took a few moments to share some insights on working with more mature pets.

KAH senior patient Sasha practices her training on a soft, non-slip mat

KAH senior patient Sasha practices her training on a soft, non-slip mat.

“It’s not harder at all to teach an older dog, as long as you’re training a new behavior,” Laurie says.  “If you’re trying to un-train a bad habit and then train a new one, it will definitely take longer. But dogs are capable of learning at any age.”

While working with older dogs, keep in mind they may have some physical limitations (such as hearing or vision loss, or arthritis) that make training more of a challenge. It’s best to train the word along with a hand signal, and to train on a non-slip surface like a mat or carpet.  Shorter sessions are best, because more senior dogs may not have the physical endurance that a young dog does.  If the dog doesn’t have any previous training, he or she needs to “learn how to learn” before training can progress.  The easiest way to do this is to start with a simple command like “focus” or “touch.”  Finally, cut back on Rover’s regular rations if using food to train; less active

KAH senior patient Baker waves to the camera!

KAH senior patient Baker waves to the camera!

pets can pack on the pounds quickly if too many extra calories become part of their diets.

 

On the flip side, there are a lot of great advantages to training an older dog!  Their attention spans are much longer than that of puppies, and they are less distractable.  Going into training with a senior dog also means knowing their likes, dislikes, and triggers.  For example, is this a food-motivated dog? Or does a favorite toy work better as a reward?  The best benefit of all, though, is that “training an older dog is really a kindness,” Laurie shared.  “Physically, maybe they can’t go for walks anymore, but they can definitely use their brains!”

KAH assistant Robin's senior kitty Widget proves that cats are just as smart as dogs!

KAH assistant Robin’s senior kitty Widget proves that cats are just as smart as dogs!

 

Cat lovers, take note—it’s absolutely possible to train cats, too! Cats are just as smart as dogs are, but they tend to not be as motivated to please or to respond to commands as are their canine counterparts. A favorite treat or even catnip can be a reward. For some cats, pieces of dry cat food work well too. Cats can be taught to sit, speak, come when called, and even fetch! The Humane Society of the US has some great beginner’s advice on training cats here.

Healthy, Happy Senior Pets at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital

The staff at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital in Frederick, MD, takes pride in providing excellent life-long care for our patients. As our patients age, our recommendations for their care change, too, because we want to help all animals live the longest, healthiest lives possible! Here, we’ll outline care for our patients who reach “senior” status.

KAH technician Julie's sweet kitty Calvin poses with his dinner--Science Diet Senior canned food. Yummy!

KAH technician Julie’s sweet kitty Calvin poses with his dinner–Science Diet Senior canned food. Yummy!

One commonly asked question is “When is my pet considered a senior?” At Kingsbrook Animal Hospital, all patients over the age of 8 are considered seniors. As a side note, smaller-breed dogs such as Chihuahuas age more slowly than large-breed dogs like Labrador Retrievers. Good preventative health care is equally important for dogs of all sizes, though, so it’s important to be proactive with any patient’s care regardless of size! One easy way to do this is to switch a pet to a senior diet at the appropriate age. Senior diets contain lower levels of calcium, fats, and carbohydrates. This helps prevent less-active furry friends from becoming overweight, and it also puts less stress on their digestive tract and other organ systems. Most brands of pet food offer a senior formula, and KAH’s veterinarians are glad to discuss any nutrition questions during each physical exam.

Dr. Cook performs a physical exam on adorable patient Quinn. Exams provide lots of information about the health of a patient!

Dr. Cook performs a physical exam on adorable patient Quinn. Exams provide lots of information about the health of a patient!

Speaking of exams…Kingsbrook Animal Hospital recommends biannual office visits for all senior patients. This enables the veterinarian to perform a physical exam every 6 months, and catch any changes or issues much sooner. A good physical exam includes obtaining an up-to-date, accurate weight on a pet; listening to heart and lungs with a stethoscope; checking vital signs like body temperature and capillary refill time; feeling the patient for lumps and bumps; and looking inside the mouth at the teeth and gums. The exam is also an excellent time for pet owners to mention any changes noticed at home–for example: slow to get up in the mornings, not eating as well, or trouble seeing. Combining this information with the findings of the patient’s physical exam allows the veterinarian to determine if there are any issues that need to be medically addressed.

KAH assistant Robin and technician Rush draw blood on Maggie. Annual bloodwork for senior patients is one of the most important diagnostics in veterinary medicine.

KAH assistant Robin and technician Rush draw blood on Maggie. Annual bloodwork for senior patients is one of the most important diagnostics in veterinary medicine.

Another important recommendation is senior bloodwork. While many owners cringe a little at the financial implications, Kingsbrook Animal Hospital recommends performing lab work on all “senior” patients at least once a year. The blood work most often requested by the doctor includes a complete blood count (CBC), a serum chemistry panel, and a urinalysis. For cats, it will also screen for thyroid levels. The CBC portion looks at red and white blood cell counts, and differentiates between different types of these cells. Some problems detected by a CBC include anemia, dehydration, infection, and even certain bone marrow disorders. The serum chemistry gives values of over 25 different enzymes and proteins found in the blood. These enzymes help internal organ function.

KAH technician Morgan is reading a urinalysis! All urine samples submitted to KAH are read in-house.

KAH technician Morgan is reading a urinalysis! All urine samples submitted to KAH are read in-house.

Catching any changes to the liver or kidneys early can make an enormous difference in treatment and prognosis for a beloved pet. A urinalysis is an important adjunct to the blood panel, as it gives more information about the kidneys and allows the veterinarian to notice problems earlier than bloodwork alone will indicate them. Thyroid screening in older cats is very important, since hyperthyroidism is very common and can cause many other problems such as kidney failure, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, and digestive issues.

 

The staff at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital may make additional recommendations for senior patients–every pet is an individual!

Assisted Living For Animals: Senior Pet Tips From Kingsbrook Animal Hospital

At Kingsbrook Animal Hospital, we know our furry companions are more than just pets—they’re family members! Our animals live, sleep, eat, and play right alongside us, and they age with us as well. Just as aging can pose obstacles for humans, becoming a “senior” pet comes with some challenges too. Below, we’ll look at some of the common changes we see in our senior patients, and discuss what we can do at home (and at KAH!) to help make them more comfortable.

KAH technician Nora with her dog, Sam.

KAH technician Nora with her dog, Sam. Sam is almost 9 years old, and eats Hill’s j/d to help with her bones and joints!

One of the biggest changes we notice in senior pets is in their skeletal systems. Older bones and joints just don’t move like they used to, and patients may suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia, or even a narrowing of the space between the bones of the spine. This can make getting up or lying down uncomfortable. Dogs may not want to jump up on the bed anymore or may have difficulty getting into the car; cats may spend less time on the top of the couch or in the window sills, preferring to nap in a sunbeam on the floor instead. To help with these problems, a joint supplement like Dasuquin® can help the pet’s body repair cartilage to reduce arthritis pain. Hills Prescription Diets offers j/d, a diet with glucosamine, chondriotin, and omega-3 fatty acids added in to help support aging joints.  Orthopedic foam beds are comfortable and provide good cushioning for achy pets. Stairs and ramps are available to make transitions in height easier on elderly pets. It’s also important to provide regular low-intensity exercise to keep pets mobile and active. Being sedentary increases stiffness in joints, and becoming overweight puts more stress on any patient’s bones.

KAH technician Lainey gently reassures Fuji as he wakes up from anesthesia.

KAH technician Lainey gently reassures Fuji   as he wakes up from anesthesia.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or pain medications can be prescribed by a veterinarian for long-term use in uncomfortable patients.

Another issue is hearing and vision loss. Aging pets often lose some of their hearing–which means it is harder to get their attention, but easier to startle them. Most pets will still respond to loud hand-claps or vibrations in the floor, but it’s best to approach deaf or partially-deaf pets slowly and gently to avoid a fear response. Dogs, especially, seem to lose some low-light vision and some depth perception as they get older. For these pets, steps and stairs become harder to navigate. Leaving lights on at night or teaching an older dog to begin sleeping downstairs can help to minimize falls and anxiety.

Even cats can go for walks! Make sure any pet that goes outdoors is receiving preventative medications for fleas, ticks, and heartworms.

Even cats can go for walks! Make sure any pet that goes outdoors is receiving preventative medications for fleas, ticks, and heartworms.

Some pets will experience cognitive dysfunction or dementia as they age, which can manifest with symptoms much like Alzheimer’s disease in humans. These pets can become anxious, may stare into space or wander in circles, and sometimes will vocalize randomly and repeatedly. Occasionally, there may even be a break in house- or litterbox-training. Purina ProPlan (Bright Minds) and Hills Prescription Diets (B/D) both offer diets that can help with these symptoms, and there are many medications available with a veterinary prescription that will make pets with cognitive dysfunction more comfortable. Keeping pets engaged and stimulated with walks, playtime, and new activities will reduce some stress and anxiety. Providing extra potty breaks for dogs or extra litterboxes for cats can also help to mitigate some of these changes.