Caring for Your Senior Pet ~ Dr. Dana Hogg

My first dog as an adult just turned 11 years old this past December. Murphy is a beagle/basset mix, and I absolutely adore my little old man. Within the last year, he seems to be developing gray hairs at a much quicker rate. He also appears to be slowing down more. Of course, he still plays fetch when we pick up his favorite toys and definitely wants to go on walks. Sometimes, he doesn’t play as long, though, or maybe his recovery post-walk is a little slower. This past year, I have incorporated many different integrative

options to find the best-individualized approach to keep him comfortable and happy.

In addition to trying to keep him comfortable, I also work with my two middle-aged Amazon parrots to improve their mobility and comfort as they have both unexpectedly at different points in their life required a toe amputation. This resulted in them compensating with other parts of their body and adapting to maintain balance. While I have always strived to keep my patients comfortable, seeing my own kiddos slow down has really been eye-opening.


Arthritis is very common in our pets. Dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and many other species are often affected. In fact, unlike humans, arthritis tends to start at a much younger age in our pets. Animals tend to adapt their posture and mobility much more frequently than we do to go about their normal routine. Detection of arthritis can be somewhat challenging under certain circumstances, but the following are signs that an animal could be suffering from arthritis: decreased mobility, lameness, change in general attitude, change in urination or defecation, poor grooming habits, and not enjoying normal activities that they used to enjoy. The earlier we can detect arthritis, the better.

So what can we do to help our family members with underlying arthritis? What can we do to help slow the progression? There are a variety of options in our toolbox, and each animal requires an individual approach. Please contact us if you would like to discuss some of the treatments that we perform here at Shiloh.

Weight Management

Keeping our pets at a healthy weight is so incredibly important. Did you know it is estimated that 40-50% of dogs and cats with arthritis are considered overweight? Any additional weight on already affected joints causes increased pain and can increase the progression of arthritis. Maintaining a healthy weight helps promote a healthy cardiovascular system and prevent orthopedic injuries, such as cranial cruciate ligament tears (similar to an ACL tear). As my dog, Murphy, has aged, we have had fluctuations in his weight. I found that switching him to a diet targeted for seniors and reducing the total amount fed (as hard as that is when he looks at me with his beagle eyes) has really helped. If you have any questions on ways to help maintain a healthy weight for your pet, or if you are unsure if your pet is overweight, we are always happy to help out.


Exercise is so important in daily life. It may seem counterintuitive to promote exercise in an animal with arthritis. I am absolutely not saying to go out and run 3 miles a day, but routine exercise helps our pets maintain their muscle mass and strength. Little and often is better than one big exercise session. You may notice your pet is not able to go on the 30 minute walk they used to, but breaking that into 3 – 10 minute sessions spread throughout the day or days can really help.

It is also important to consider the terrain you are walking your pet on. You may want to stick to smooth pavement areas for better traction and avoid steep hills, both up and down. As animals slow down and become less active, it is very beneficial to ensure the nails are an appropriate length as well. This greatly helps with overall traction.


For patients experiencing pain, we have a few different types of medications we can add to their daily routine to keep our pets comfortable. Oftentimes, we will reach for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications. This is similar to ibuprofen for humans, however, it is of the utmost importance to never administer human pain medications to our pets. Pet pain medications are often targeted to treat the pain associated with arthritis. They do not actually treat the condition itself. The other product often recommended is called Adequan, which is used in both dogs and cats with arthritis. This pharmaceutical is aimed at treating the arthritis itself by slowing down joint degeneration. It helps slow down cartilage breakdown and lubricates the joints. This, in turn, helps reduce pain and inflammation.

Integrative Therapies


Acupuncture is a great tool for the integrative treatment of multiple ailments. For some patients, it is very helpful in reducing pain and discomfort. Acupuncture works by stimulating nerves in the central nervous system. This stimulation helps improve circulation and releases endorphins which help alleviate pain. Believe it or not, acupuncture is not just limited to dogs and cats. This is a therapy we can offer to exotic animals such as birds and rabbits as well. The success of treatment really depends on the individual’s response and their tolerance to this therapy.

Cold Light Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is another great tool that stimulates cell repair and reduces both inflammation and pain. The treatment protocol for each patient varies as it is based on their disease and level of discomfort. For instance, wound healing may require a more frequent visit than managing a chronic disease such as arthritis. Oftentimes, when starting arthritic patients on treatment, it is best to begin with laser sessions 2-3 times weekly with the ultimate goal being less frequent visits.

Assisi Loop Therapy

The Assisi Loop uses pulse electromagnetic field therapy to reduce inflammation and discomfort. This is a great tool that owners can use at home on their pets with chronic discomfort. You simply place the loop over the affected area for each session. Generally when starting, each session is twice a day for the first week with plans to taper down.


Supplements are a great way to support the joints. Once an animal clinically shows signs of discomfort, I find that it is important to keep these as part of the therapy; however, I often find animals may need a little more therapy than just supplements alone. Omega Fatty Acid supplements have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, they are great for heart, brain, and skin health as well. Nordic Naturals is a great product formulated for dogs and cats with a good balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Glucosamine supplements help to not only support joint cartilage but also slow its breakdown.


If you have ever had a massage, you may be able to relate to how relaxed you feel afterward. Massage therapy helps improve circulation to muscles, increase muscle strength, and reduce strain and tension. It may also aid in improving flexibility. Again, depending on how an animal responds to this therapy, it may or may not be beneficial. In general, I think canines tend to tolerate massage therapy a little better than felines.

As you can see, we have so many tools in our toolbox to help keep our furry, feathered, or scaled friends comfortable. What works for one patient may not work for another, and that is ok. Working together, we can help find the right approach for your pet to keep them both happy and healthy.