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Secrets to longevity

Nurturing

Ask the vet
Esther van Luipen

How long can a dog or cat live? Longer than you think … with proper care. Ageing is not a disease and with modern veterinary care a lot of problems that might crop up when your pet gets older can be dealt with. Nowadays, with regular veterinary examinations and careful observations, your pet can glide comfortably through their golden years.
Let’s begin at the basics. They say that you are what you eat, and this is absolutely true. A healthy diet means a pet can stay healthy for longer. Just like puppies should be fed puppy food, senior dogs and cats should be fed a diet that is specifically made for mature animals. Good super premium diets have been formulated for this purpose after lots of scientific research designed to keep the weight down and support the vital organs, such as the heart and kidneys.
Keeping your pets’ weight down is absolutely vital. Just like in humans our pets’ metabolisms slow down as they get older, and they can get problems associated with ‘middle age spread’—heart disease, joint disease and diabetes.
For dogs, when you look at them from above, they should have an hourglass shape. Also it should be easy to feel the ribs without having to prod the dog too much. The last three ribs should be visible in shorthaired dogs.
Exercise is also vitally important for keeping fit and keeping the weight down. Little and often is better than going for one very long walk a day—or even better, bring the dog for regular swims, but make sure your pet is always safe.
Don’t forget the teeth. Dental care is just as important to your pet as it is to yourself, and should be part of their yearly check-up with the vet.
There are a few other things to watch out for. Contact your vet if you notice bad breath or find any lumps or bumps (especially if they change rapidly) or if your pet is drinking more than normal; eating less; losing weight even though it is eating the same amount; getting tired when being walked or if your pet is coughing; having trouble passing stool or urine; starting to get dull, disorientated, stare into space or starts having personality changes; or has a discharge from its penis or vulva. You should also watch out for limping, stiffness or difficulty jumping up, as well as a lot of licking of the joints (often visible when the saliva starts to stain the hair).
The veterinary profession can work miracles these days – and I’m not even talking about difficult life-saving surgeries or chemotherapy. Yearly blood screenings can detect diseases earlier and stop them progressing. There are such fantastic drugs available to make your pet comfortable, as well as nutraceuticals like glucosamine, chondrotoin sulphate and fish oils that can really bring back the pep in your old pet’s step and let you grow old gracefully together.

Esther van Luipen is a veterinary surgeon in Claremorris Small Animal Practice. She can be contacted at 094 9373955 or at living@mayonews.ie

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