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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Soft Beds, Ramps, and Gentle Exercise will keep Old Dogs more Comfortable

Regular, gentle exercise is key to health and happiness for senior dogs.
Don't let your older dog sit around: As your dog ages, build him up to regular, moderate exertion and wean him off the intense, leaping games of fetch or the pavement-pounding miles of running you may have enjoyed together in his younger days. Break it up: Instead of taking one long walk a day, take two shorter ones. And look for the opportunity to add low-key "brain games" using food puzzles or nose-work that functions as hide-and-seek for your pet.
Be sure the lowered intensity and duration of activity doesn't turn into weight gain. Extra weight puts more pressure on your dog's joints, and clogs up the efficient engine of his internal systems. If anything, keep your dog on the lean side of normal.
More tips for senior dogs include: 

  • Stop slipping and sliding: A common problem among senior dogs is increasing unsteadiness on their feet. There are lots of possible contributing factors, including arthritis, hip dysplasia, nonspecific aches and pains, and the association of one unfortunate slip with more to come. If the problem is one small slippery area, such as a tiled entryway, firmly attach a throw rug with double-sided tape. If a whole room or a hallway is an issue, head to the toy store for interlocking foam play mats. These mats, designed for toddlers, can be configured in any shape or direction you need, and they'll provide a soft, non-slippery surface for your elderly dog's paws. You can rearrange them or take them up at any time. 

  • It's all about the bed: Many senior dogs sleep 16 hours a day or more. With all that time spent snoozing, it's not surprising that the most important place to many dogs is the bed. Choose beds that are well-padded and warm. If your dog has arthritis, double up the beds or add egg crate or memory foam padding for extra cushioning. And add more beds: Offering a variety of beds throughout your home will give your dog ways to catch his naps while staying close to you. Finally, mix up the fabrics: You may find your dog's favorite kind of bed covering changes depending on the weather and his mood. 

  • Flavorful food: If your senior dog is healthy and trim but seems to be losing his appetite, try a little extra flavoring for his food. A few little jars of strained-meat baby food (look for no- or low-salt varieties, and skip labels with onion and garlic) in the pantry will give you lots of healthy options to "kick it up" for your pup. A small spoonful of baby food will add new flavor and texture to your dog's old food. To really amp it up, try putting the dog food in the microwave for a few seconds. Warming dog food releases its aromas and makes it more pungent. For a dog with sensory loss, the smell of his food warming in the microwave can be just the ticket to increase his appetite and his enjoyment of the meal. You can also make chicken or beef broth without salt, garlic or onions, and add warm to meals. 

  • Ramp it up or give him a lift: Many companies make stairs and ramps to help dogs get to their usual, favorite places, including in the car or on the couch. These are often lightweight, well-designed and collapsible, or attractive enough (in the case of stair steps) to leave as a permanent part of the decor. And while it's certainly possible to use old towels as slings to help old dogs up and down stairs, you'll find a wide variety of slings with easy-grip handles that make the lifting easier for you -- since after a dog's lifetime, you may be no spring chicken, either.

It doesn't take much to make your older dog's life more comfortable, and knowing that you have will make you happier as well. - By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Good reasons for giving cats baths
Q: Is there really any need ever to bathe a cat? Seems they take care of themselves pretty well. -- via Facebook
A: Actually, there are some good reasons to bathe cats, and they're arguably strong enough to make it worth the effort to teach cats to tolerate baths while they're still easier-to-handle kittens.
Among the reasons why it's worth it: You may sometimes need to wash off something your cat got into, which you don't want him to ingest when he licks his coat. If this happens and your cat absolutely will not handle being bathed, talk to your veterinary hospital about having them handle it. Many groomers will also handle cats, and that's certainly an option for the routine grooming of long-haired cats (who may need to be shaved clear of mats), as well as for those cats who need to have sticky or dangerous material removed from their coats.
There's also a benefit to you in bathing your cat: It reduces shedding and allergies. Studies have shown that getting cats wet can reduce the sneezing, wheezing and itchy eyes associated with allergies to cats. It may even make life with a cat possible for people who are mildly or even moderately allergic to them. You don't have to bother with soap for allergies, though: Just rinsing a cat weekly reduces the dander that triggers allergy attacks.
While it's decidedly more difficult to teach an adult cat to tolerate bathing than to start a kitten with baths from the start, it can be done with most of them if you introduce the concept a little bit at a time, with lots of treats and praise. One note of caution: Use a shampoo that's labeled for cats, not dogs. If you use a dog shampoo that contains ingredients for combating fleas, you may put your cat's health at risk. This is true even of natural ingredients meant to repel fleas. In general, you should consult your vet before using any dog product on your cat. -- Dr. Marty Becker
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Pet jerky treats pulled from market

  • Pet jerky treats from Nestle Purina and the Del Monte Corp. have been recalled. The move follows months of intense scrutiny by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which last September put out a blunt warning to avoid buying chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats made in China or sourced from Chinese ingredients. The companies say the Milo's Kitchen, Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch treats are safe, but were pulled as a precaution after testing by government agencies revealed residual amounts of antibiotics in the products. The mystery remains why jerky treats are thought to have sickened or killed more than 2,000 pets, according to the FDA. 

  • A cancer drug that proved a disappointment in human medicine but promising in fighting lymphoma in dogs may be heading to veterinary offices within the next couple of years. Veterinary Emerging Technologies Development Corp., or VetDC, says it has raised enough capital to market the drug, currently known as VDC-1101. 

  • Under pressure from animal activists, the American Veterinary Medical Association is considering a policy that would discourage the practice of "debarking" in all cases except those where it's considered the only chance an animal has of staying in the home. The controversial practice, in which tissue is surgically removed from a dog's vocal cords, is one of a handful of elective procedures that have declined in favor in recent years, including ear cropping in dogs and declawing in cats. Many younger veterinarians refuse to do any of these formerly commonplace procedures. AVMA policy is considered a bellwether for change in the veterinary community, but the move would have no real teeth, since member veterinarians can perform the procedure anywhere they are legal if they so choose. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 1/21/2013 10:01:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 01/21/2013


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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