Functional Care of the Geriatric Dog

The aging process is essentially a gradual deterioration and loss of function. As our understanding of bodily processes has greatly increased, it has become possible to alter the aging process. The goal of anti-aging medicine is to maintain health and functionality as long as possible. If one lives longer, that is an added bonus.

Many of the adverse effects of aging have been identified and can be ameliorated. It is important to be cognizant of the myriad connections between the body’s organs and systems. A holistic approach such as functional medicine allows one to connect all the dots, which is necessary to maintain or restore health. It is also important to remember each individual ages differently and will show different symptoms. The importance of the following effects of aging will vary from individual to individual depending on genetics and life history.

The most detrimental effect (cause?) of aging is dysfunction of the microbiome.This results in changes of the type and number of microorganisms in the gut. As diversity in the types of microorganisms decreases, the the number of pathogenic organisms increases. This is referred to as dysbiosis. The significance of dysbiosis has been recognized for over 100 years. The Russian physiologist, Gregory Metchnikoff, who won a Nobel prize in 1905, said that death begins in the colon. Our understanding of the microbiome is limited, but some important things are known. Food has a major impact on the microbiome. When we feed our dogs, we are also feeding all the organisms in the dog’s gut. Thus clean, high quality food is of great importance. Some type of whole food diet with appropriate supplementation is critical. It is possible to assess the microbiome with tests such as the GI Map profile. This test will identify the type of dysbiosis, as well as, other dysfunctions, including gluten sensibility, of the GI tract. Pharmaceutical agents such as antibiotics are of little use in restoring the microbiome- in fact, they make it worse. Fortunately, the are herbal anti-microbials which are efficacious in restoring balance in the microbiome.

Inflammation, especially chronic inflammation, is a major cause of dysfunction in every part of the body. There are herbs, such as curcumin and boswellia, which suppress inflammation to some extent. While herbs can be helpful, a more effective approach is to restore balance in the microbiome, which the major source of inflammation. In addition to a balanced microbiome, various nutrients, such as vitamin C, are critical for optimal immune function.

Besides providing a home for trillions of microorganisms, the GI tract performs other vital functions. Digestion of food is of critical importance to the host animal as well as the microbiome. One of the effects of aging is impaired ability to digest food. The stomach no longer produces enough acid, and the pancreas no longer produces enough enzymes and bicarbonate. Supplementation of these will improve nutrition both for the host and the microbiome. The liver is critical for nutrition as well as detoxification of ingested toxins. A multiple vitamin supplement will help ensure that the liver has the necessary vitamins ans minerals to perform its functions. High quality, easily digestible food becomes more important with advancing age. Raw foods are more difficult to digest and may be problematic for older dogs. Inability to synthesize proteins is common with older dogs. This is one of the causes of muscle loss in older dogs.

Along with a decrease in protein production, there is also a decline in hormone production resulting in symptoms related to endocrine glands. The most common is deficiency of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism). The major causes of hypothyroidism are autoimmunity, inflammation, nutrient deficiency, and deficiency of other hormones. It is becoming increasing clear that autoimmunity originates in the gut. All roads, it seems, lead to the gut. Selenium deficiency is a common cause of hypothyroidism. Iodine deficiency, often caused by fluoride toxicity, is common in the Great Lakes area. A good multiple vitamin will ofetn correct these deficiencies. Thyroid hormone cannot enters cells without cortisol. This is why thyroid and adrenal deficiencies are so commonly linked. Thyroid hormone is the thermostat of the body. It determines the metabolic rate of every cells. The body functions the best at a certain temperature. A dog’s normal temperature is between 101 and 102 F. A simple screening test for hypothyroidism is taking the dog’s temperature first thing in the morning. If it is below 101, the dog might be hypothyroid. The lower the temperature, the likely hypothyroidism becomes. Thyroid supplementation is of great benefit for older dogs. The engine works best when it is hitting on all 8 cylinders!

Cellular energy production is essential for life. Decreased energy production by the mitochondria increases all of the dysfunctions associated with aging. Without adequate energy, cells and organs cannot function efficiently. This is of particular important with energy intensive organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver.It is important to remember that mitochondria were once free-living bacteria. Thus, anything which effects the microbiome may also effect mitochondria. This especially true of antibiotics. Almost all supplement companies manufacture a mitochondrial support product, which often help older dogs that lack energy and just sleep most of the day.

In order for the body to function properly, the correct internal environment in terms of acid-base balance must be maintained. Life is possible only when blood pH is properly maintained. Blood pH is usually between 7.3 and 7.4. If blood pH falls below 7.0 or rises above 7.8, death is imminent. The body’s system for maintaining proper pH is complicated. The are 4 types of problem which will impact blood pH. The problem associated with age is metabolic acidosis. Metabolic acidosis is caused by excess acids being produced metabolic processes. One of the ways the body deals with excess acid is the production of bicarbonate by the pancreas. One of the effects of aging is decreased bicarbonate production by the pancreas. Very small changes in blood pH have profound effects on the body. Lethargy and pain are 2 of the more conspicuous. Measuring blood pH is difficult, but an approximation can be made by measuring urine pH. Urine pH will be lowest (most acid) in the morning and highest (most alkaline) in the evening. Urine pH is measured with pH paper , which can be obtained at any pharmacy. In older individuals, morning urine pH should be between 7 and 8. If it is lower than 7, bicarbonate of soda can be added to food. Start with a small amount ( 1/8 tsp) and adjust according to urine pH. This is very important, both for the comfort of the dog and controlling disease processes. Diseases, especially autoimmune diseases, are worse when the blood pH is too acidic.

In summary, support of the microbiome, digestion, hormone status, cellular energy production, and acid-base balance will not only result in a happier, healthier, more active dog, but will also reduce the risk of cancer and autoimmune disease. This can be done by wise choice of food and the addition of a few supplements. Without this support, the odds of a dog getting cancer or an autoimmune disease are about 50%.

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