This article originally appeared in the June 2019 Pets in the City Magazine.
Your fur baby will forever be a puppy in your eyes, but you are starting to notice your dog is slowing down, less energetic, maybe she has gained a few extra pounds (haven’t we all?), and instead of leaping to her feet when you say walk, she ponderously stretches and slowly walks towards the door, though still with an incorrigible smile. As your fur baby gets older, what can you do to ensure the best quality of life possible? How are her nutritional needs changing? What can you do to keep her joints and her mind active?
The first thing to know is that if your dog is starting to slow down, it may not be old age at all - it may be their food. That reality is actually part of my store’s origin story. I wanted a job where I could take my senior dog to work with me, because I felt guilty leaving him alone all day in his old age. So I got a job at a raw pet food company and when I switched my dog to their healthy food, it turned out I had been completely wrong - he hadn’t been old at all. He just was struggling with inflammation and digestive issues. He was six when I considered him a senior dog, and he is 12 now and acts nowhere near as old as he did back then. This truth was why I ended up opening my store - I saw the difference diet had made for my dog and genuinely believe it doubled his life expectancy, and I wanted to share that with others. So my first piece of advice for my customers is to make nutritional changes and feed your dog as healthy a diet as possible to delay old age and stay as spry as RBG. Add in raw - even a little bit every meal - to help improve digestion and give essential digestive enzymes.
My next piece of advice is going to go in all caps, so be prepared: YOU DO NOT NEED TO LOWER PROTEIN INTAKE IN YOUR SENIOR PET!!!! This is a myth, unless you have a specific health diagnosis that indicates doing so. The logic behind this myth is that protein is difficult on the kidneys, but in reality, the quality of the protein is much more important for kidney health than the quantity, along with the amount of moisture and digestive enzymes in the food to help the kidneys function properly. In fact, evidence suggests that reducing protein for your senior dog can lead to a host of health issues because they will begin pulling protein from their own muscles to function. If you would like more information and my sourcing for this (lower protein for seniors is such an entrenched belief I don’t blame you for needing more information) you can email me at email@example.com and I would be happy to send you some links.
However, It does make sense to lower the fat content of your dog’s food, because they aren’t burning as much energy and their metabolism is slowing down, so it is a healthy way to reduce calories. If your senior dog is starting to gain weight, a higher protein, lower carb diet is the place to start healthy weight management. In fact, if you cut carbs and slightly cut fat, you may be able to regulate your dog’s weight without cutting the amount you feed them. Only after you have moved to a healthy, high protein diet for a few months and you are still not seeing the weight loss they need for healthy joints would I be ready to advise feeding smaller portions.
Step three is too look at your supplements. Arthritis is, of course, is not something you are ever going to be able to completely avoid, but there is a lot you can do to support the joints and delay discomfort. Again with my Baxter, he started complaining about going up the stairs and showed other signs of pain at about 9 years old. I began supplementing his food with green lipped mussels - one of the most bioavailable sources of glucosamine in the world - and after I went through one bottle, he was back to racing up the stairs with his puppy sister - and those signs of pain did not come back for over a year! This is why I recommend supplementing with green lipped mussels or a good mushroom supplement for joints long before the signs begin. It is important to note that most dry dog foods that tout glucosamine for senior dogs do not include enough to make any sort of difference - it is a marketing strategy. And while there are tons of supplements out there, synthetic glucosamine is not going to be nearly as effective as the natural stuff found in green lipped mussel, because it is getting to your dog in a way that is harder for your dog’s body to synthesize.
As your dog gets along and that isn’t enough alone anymore, locally made Healthy Hemp Pet PCR-Hemp oil will continue to help your dog stay comfortable, as it acts both as pain management and an anti-inflammatory. In addition, a good turmeric supplement, digestive enzymes and a probiotic, especially if you are feeding dry food, an MCT oil, bone broth, and DHA for brain health are all wonderful ways to support your senior dog’s health.
It is sad to watch the aging process happen in seemingly the blink of an eye for our pets. But with the right tools in your toolbox, you can help extend your senior dog’s quality of life for literally years, giving you both more time together.
In Utah, we have a strong community of animal advocates who are daily striving to serve the needs of the animals of our state, but despite our best efforts, we are still not to where we can “Save Them All.” When it isn’t possible to do so, it is important for our own mental health to know that in the end, the animal suffered as little as possible.
Especially when it comes to minimizing suffering, it is crucial for society to move forward with the times and employ the best techniques available to us. For many years, the most common way to euthanize an animal was the gas chamber. When you think of an animal being put in a gas chamber, the concept is that they will slowly go to sleep and just never wake up. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. A scared animal is put into a small, dark box, filled with strange smells (potentially including previous animals’ defecations). They cry out in fear for the several minutes it can take for them to fall asleep - but sleep may not come. If multiple animals are placed in at the same time they can fight. They may struggle for air. Their organs can start shutting down before they lose consciousness. They may even survive the process. Shelters that use gas chambers have much higher rates of compassion fatigue and no wonder. I tear up just thinking of their piteous cries.
So WHY is Utah one of only four states who has not fully moved to lethal injection, where animals lose consciousness in 3-5 seconds while being kindly handled by a shelter worker? At least 27 states have passed laws banning the use of gas chambers, and the rest have almost all voluntarily moved away from them. In Utah, there are about seven shelters that still use them, but until we have made the shift entirely, it just isn’t good enough.
For the past four years, the Utah Legislature has voted down legislation that would ban the use of gas chambers in our beloved state. Some of our representatives claim that there is no need for a law in place because the movement towards legal injection is already well underway. But if you are an animal lover, “underway” is not good enough. How can we move the process forward to end the suffering of animals and help support our shelter volunteers and workers who are still weighted down with the burden of compassion fatigue?
I spoke with District 17 Representative Peter C. Knudson, who has put forward the bill (SB50 in 2017) to ban gas chambers for the last two years, to see if he had any intention of bringing the bill forward again. Unfortunately, he explained that he was retiring before the next session of our legislature in January. Someone else is going to have to pick up the torch and carry on, and we need to be the squeaky wheel that ensures this happens. Animal Lovers Unite!
These are the legislators who voted YES to pass SB50 last year. If you are in their districts, CALL THEM and encourage them to put forward another bill for the 2019 session:
Sen. J. Iwamoto
Sen. B. Zehnder
These are the legislators who voted NO to pass SB50 last year. If you are in their districts, CALL THEM and let them know you are not happy with their vote and explain to them why a law banning the use of gas chambers is what their constituents want:
Sen. A. Christensen
Sen. M. Dayton
Sen. D. Hinkins
Sen. E. Vickers
You can find your districting information on Senate.utah.gov.
If you don’t live in these districts, call whoever does represent you and let them know animals are still suffering, and we won’t rest until they can have a truly peaceful walk over the rainbow bridge.
After you have called your Senators, take to social media! Let your friends and families know that you called and advocated for the end of gas chambers, and encourage them to do the same. It is likely a lot of them live in the same districts.
Then take to the streets! If you are volunteering at a local shelter, share information with other animal lovers. If you are at the dog park, tell your local fur-parents to call as well. Raise awareness any way you can, from a table outside your local shelter or grocery store to hiring a skywriter!
Our legislators want to hear from us. They listen to us. It is when we advocate loudly for change that they know our votes are at stake and they need to make us happy or we will find leaders who will!
I may sell pet food, but I also have a Master's Degree in History. Anyone want to talk British Navy stuff? No? You just want the pet food stuff? Ok...