Monday, April 5, 2010 7:00 AM

Stress and the Older Pet

Stress is detrimental to the health and well-being of both people and animals. Studies continually show that high cortisol levels, representing increased output of the adrenal glands due to sustained stress, is a prime suspect in both the generation and worsening of disease. As animals age, stress can pose a more serious problem due to the presence of chronic health issues as well as an immune system that has diminished in efficiency. How do we go about reducing the stress levels in our pets' lives?

If you have cats that have not been kept indoors their whole lives, start doing so by at least nine years of age. Older cats who get into fights do not heal as quickly as youngsters, and are more prone to infection. They are also slower-moving, making them prime targets for dogs and other predators. Their slower immune response will be less stressed if it does not need to constantly combat pathogens encountered in the outside world.

Dogs who reach the same age cannot be kept indoors, obviously, but should no longer be allowed to roam free (if they ever did). Exercise is just as important for older dogs as younger ones, but it must be lower-intensity, with you as a direct participant. Take walks, play fetch, etc. but make sure Fido doesn't run off and get into trouble by eating something his system now cannot tolerate or by being unable to avoid the hazards of road traffic anymore.

Change the diet to a premium one that delivers more nutrition and fewer empty calories and low-quality fillers. Give a quality vitamin-mineral supplement, or make your own. Take your pet to the vet whenever the need arises, but resist if talk of continuing on with vaccinations comes up. If you need to follow state and local laws and get a rabies shot for your dog or cat, then so be it; all other inoculations are no longer needed, and will only unduly stress your animal's system.

Animals, just like people, like their routines and become stressed when things change. People can understand why change must sometimes occur, but animals cannot. Therefore, it is probably better to pay someone to take care of your pets in your own home than to board them. They will be exposed to fewer disease-causing germs that way, too.

Keeping your pet's life as stress-free as possible will not only make him or her happier, it may very well extend their lifespan, too!
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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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