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Don't Take Slowing Down Lying Down

It's so common for a vet to hear owners of older pets say: "he's just slowing down but I guess it's just because he's getting older"...."she just sleeps a lot but she is [insert age]" they say with a shrug.

However I'd like you to question that view. Because vets also see lots of pets in their teens still active and playful.

As any human in their senior years will tell you, with advancing age comes aches and pains from normal daily activities. Those people who avoid pain will gradually become less and less active, their muscle strength and bone density will reduce and they will lose their motor skills, meaning they are more prone to trips, falls and when they do fall injuries are likely to be more severe.

However those people who actively fight against this deterioration by pursuing physical activities will feel younger than their years - and usually have a brighter outlook on life too. Don't take my word for it; a review from 2020 found that "Physically active older adults (≥60 years) are at a reduced risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, breast and prostate cancer, fractures, recurrent falls, ADL disability and functional limitation and cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and depression. They also experience healthier ageing trajectories, better quality of life and improved cognitive functioning." * Now if that is not motivation to keep active in older age I don't know what is!!

So what about our pets? Well given that surveys have found that 80% of older dogs have arthritis ** and up to 90% of cats over 12 years have signs of arthritis on xrays*** it is a safe bet that once they hit middle age a large proportion of them will be feeling some pain. Moreover we know that animals in chronic pain often don't show this in ways that we might recognise - for example limping or crying out. They are much more likely to reduce their activity levels or adapt their behaviour.

So here's some things to think about:

  • Old age does not inevitably mean slowing down

  • Slowing down could be due to lack of energy (lethargy), poor fitness, musculoskeletal pain, cardiovascular or breathing problems.

  • Slowing down is a downward cycle - if the above are not managed then a lack of activity will lead to muscle weakness, stiff joints and muscles and if an animal associates moving with pain or increased effort then just like us, they will think it's easier not to bother. And just like us if we sit in a chair all day our mental and physical health will deteriorate more rapidly.

So this January I'd urge you to take your senior pet for a health check with the vet if you've noticed them 'slowing down'.

If you know they have arthritis or a chronic pain condition which is limiting their mobility then seek out physio, acupuncture or medications which can help.

And don't let your older pet slob it out all day - encourage gentle frequent movement (short frequent walks, just getting them out of their basket and moving them to another room, hiding treats for them to find around the house, using activity feeders to keep them engaged and active for a bit longer during mealtimes). All this will keep your pet mobile and pain-free for longer in their senior years.

You can read more here:

For more info on how acupuncture might help your pet, get in touch.

*Scand J Med Sci Sports 2020 May;30(5):816-827. doi: 10.1111/sms.13616. Epub 2020 Feb 4.


*** Vet Rec 2005 Dec 17;157(25):793-9. doi: 10.1136/vr.157.25.793.

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