Senior Health Care: Working Together With Your Family Vet
Your veterinarian will ask you a series of questions regarding any changes in your PON's activity and behavior during an annual senior health exam. Your veterinarian will also conduct a complete examination of all of your PON's body systems. Laboratory testing is also an essential component of the senior exam. If you notice changes in vision, hearing and general energy levels, this is the time to report these changes.

Veterinarians depend on laboratory results to help determine your PON's health. When your PON is healthy, laboratory tests provide a means to determine baseline” values. When your PON is ill, your vet is able to compare the “baseline” values and the current values. Subtle changes in these laboratory test results, even in the outwardly healthy dog, may signal the presence of an underlying disease. Lab tests usually include: blood count, urinalysis, blood chemistry and parasite evaluation.

What are common senior PON health issues ?

Diabetes can be triggered from a wide range of causes including viruses, chronic pancreatitis, chronic small bowel inflammation, obesity, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushings) and long-term use of progesterone or steroids and of course, diet. An overload of carbohydrates, especially poor quality, which is no longer thought to be biologically appropriate, may contribute to many diseases including pancreatitis and diabetes. A minimal or moderate grain content is recommended for senior PONS. Grains should be whole and unprocessed.

Diet concerns
For many years, a very restricted-protein diet was recommended for senior dogs as a preventive or management measure for kidney problems. More current research has determined that it is the quality rather than the quantity of protein that is most important. It is best to avoid low-quality dog foods which are composed primarily of meat by-products including hide, hair, feathers and other unwholesome components that are difficult for the kidneys to process. Furthermore, low-end kibbles contain large amounts of chemical preservatives that load a senior dog’s system with toxins and place an additional burden on an aging liver and excretory system. High quality raw food, grain-free kibble and home cooked diets will extend the life of senior PONS.

Arthritis and joint problems may be managed with an appropriate exercise regime including gentle walking and swimming, to help maintain mobility. High quality dog supplements (fish oil, flax seed oil) can also provide relief without the toxicity and side effects of prescription medication. Always research adverse effects of pharmaceutical medications.

Weight Management
Obesity in dogs can be prevented or treated with diet and exercise. Sudden unexpected weight gain or loss should always be investigated by your vet to rule out an underlying health problem, involving thyroid complications and other serious diseases. Conditions stemming from obesity are rapidly becoming the number one health problem for senior dogs.

 Dental Issues
Dental problems can generally be prevented by regular cleaning. Recreational raw beef marrow bones are an essential way to keep the teeth clean, providing your veterinarian considers these appropriate for your senior (sometimes vets prefer to stay away from raw, for the very young and old or immune compromised pets). Always consult your vet. Providing dog dental care at home may improve a senior dog’s over all health if there is tartar build-up. Home care may include dental wipes, durable chew toys or even a simple baking soda & water paste applied to the teeth can all form part of your senior’s dental care management.

Preventive Measures Nutrition
Many older PONS benefit from a high fiber, reduced calorie diet. As mentioned above, obesity is often the result of reduced exercise and overfeeding; and is a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. Older PONS often have different nutritional requirements, and it’s a good idea to check with your vet about switching to a high quality, age appropriate diet. Many senior PONS benefit from  a small amount of plain yogurt added to their diet to help keep the healthy flora in the intestinal tract in balance. A high quality fish oil is also a great addition to the diet and helps to keep your senior PON's skin and coat healthy.

Exercise for Senior PONS
Exercise is another aspect of preventive geriatric care for your PON. You should definitely keep your PON active as he grows older. If  he is cooped up and inactive for most of the day,  his body will deteriorate much more quickly. Jogging with your arthritic PON may not be appropriate, but swimming and other low-impact activities are vital  for PONS with joint pain and arthritis. Keeping your PON active both mentally and physically helps your PON stay in top condition.

As a general guide for senior healthcare and also for younger PONS, remember to work with your vet on routine blood-work and urinalysis to create a useful vision of your PON's over all health and to uncover hidden problems before symptoms become noticed. Vaccinations should be minimal (titer tests are useful in determining if most of them are even necessary). Flea and tick preventives should be used only when needed. Heartworm prevention is always necessary.

Consult your vet immediately if you notice any unusual behavior such as excess drinking, more frequent elimination, weight change, lameness, lethargy or anything else that doesn’t seem normal. Take charge of your senior PON's nutritional needs by feeding a high quality diet and maintaining your PON's appropriate weight. Remember exercise and most of all, offer lots of love to make sure your senior still feels like a vital member of your family.