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Published February 03 2012

Pet Care: Canine needs geriatric care

Dear Dr. Fox: Our 17-year-old Maltese is failing. He has limited vision and hearing, and his hind legs and hips are weak.

We feed him your home recipe, but lately he can’t seem to keep it down. We find bits of brown rice in his vomit, and his stools are loose. We took him to the vet, and he suggested a bitter-tasting medicine to stop the nausea. We’re hesitant to give him any more drugs. The last drug for incontinence made him very sick.

We know he is probably in or near his last days. We want him to be comfortable. He has very few teeth left, so food choices are limited. – J.P., Alexandria, Va.

Dear J.P.: Phenylpropanolamine, the commonly prescribed medicine for incontinence, can make some dogs restless and cause palpitations and panting. If your dog is on this, I would stop the medication and get him used to wearing a disposable baby diaper or doggy pad and put down a larger one where he lies down.

My 17-year-old dog has had episodes of gastric upset and nausea. She responds well to a day of boiled white rice water (essentially “mini-fasting”), then two to three days of boiled white rice with a bit of cottage cheese or scrambled egg and Gerber baby food (turkey, chicken or beef). She is then given her regular food and regains her normal appetite and vitality.

Digestive enzymes and probiotics may be beneficial for older dogs who periodically go off their food. The number one reason for this is kidney failure, for which there are beneficial medications and supplements your veterinarian can prescribe. Visit my website archives for more details. I always advise a veterinary checkup at such times in an animal’s life. A routine veterinary examination every six months is an integral part of geriatric care. This includes fine-tuning your pet’s diet; evaluating fluid intake and hydration; and checking urea, phosphate and potassium levels, as well as levels of cardinal indices of metabolism. This helps in maximizing comfort and deciding when it is time to let the animal go and administer euthanasia. Many older animals, like humans, show muscle wasting that is not entirely due to reduced activity, but to protein loss with impaired kidney function. This calls for the inclusion of high-quality protein in the diet rather than following the old protocol of providing less protein when there is poor kidney function.

Dear Dr. Fox: My cat has been licking her fur for quite some time. She has removed the fur from her hind legs and half of her body on both sides. She is now working on her front paws and tail. It is more than just grooming; it’s constant, obsessive licking. She does not throw up any hairballs – she’s a shorthair cat.

I have taken her to the vet several times, but nothing has helped. The vet suggested fish oil; when that didn’t work, he prescribed 10 mg of amitriptyline. – Y.D., Chesapeake, Va.

Dear Y.D.: I frequently receive letters from people whose cats are suffering like yours. If the veterinarian did not take a blood sample and check your cat for hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland – you did not mention this in your letter), you should seek a second opinion.

Hyperthyroidism is often diagnosed in middle-aged and older cats in part because many cats’ home environments and food ingredients are contaminated with flame-retardant chemicals and other hormone system disrupting compounds. These chemicals have been found at high levels in the blood of cats suffering from this disease. For more documentation, visit my website, www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.

Some cats may have an emotional reason for excessive grooming – it is a way to alleviate stress or anxiety, which you should also consider. In that case, a short course of psychotropic drug therapy with a medication like amitriptyline can prove beneficial. Other cats make a quick recovery when scented cat litter is switched to non- scented, natural material like corn-based World’s Best Cat Litter, or wheat-based Swheat Scoop Natural Wheat Litter.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.