The Importance of Maintaining Muscle Mass as Pets Age
As our pets age, they go through a variety of changes, including changes to their muscles. Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, is a common issue that affects many aging pets. While some muscle loss is a natural part of the aging process, maintaining muscle mass in pets is crucial for their overall health and wellbeing. In this article, we will explore the importance of maintaining muscle mass in pets as they age.
What is sarcopenia in pets?
Sarcopenia is the age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass, strength, and function. Just like humans, pets can experience a gradual decline in muscle mass as they age, which can lead to decreased mobility, weakness, and a lower quality of life.
In general, research suggests that dogs may experience a gradual loss of muscle mass and strength starting around middle age (around 6-7 years old), with more significant muscle loss occurring in older age. Some studies have estimated that dogs may lose 15-20% of their muscle mass between the ages of 7 and 12 years old.
However, it is important to note that the rate of sarcopenia in dogs can be influenced by many factors, including genetics, activity level, nutrition, and underlying medical conditions. Certain breeds of dogs, such as Greyhounds and Great Danes, may be more prone to muscle loss and have a higher risk of developing sarcopenia
Some common signs of sarcopenia in pets include difficulty getting up from lying down, stiffness when rising, difficulty climbing stairs, reduced activity levels, loss of muscle tone and mass, and decreased endurance. While sarcopenia cannot be fully prevented, there are ways to slow down the rate of muscle loss and maintain muscle mass as pets age.
Why is maintaining muscle mass important for pets?
Maintaining muscle mass in pets is essential for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, muscles are responsible for movement and mobility. Strong muscles allow pets to run, jump, and play, which is crucial for their physical and mental health.
Additionally, muscles play a vital role in supporting the joints, bones, and other tissues in the body. Weak muscles can put extra strain on the joints, leading to pain, discomfort, and a higher risk of injury.
Maintaining muscle mass is also important for overall metabolic health. Muscle tissue is metabolically active, which means that it burns calories even when at rest. As pets age and their metabolism slows down, maintaining muscle mass can help prevent weight gain and maintain a healthy body weight.
How to maintain muscle mass in aging pets
There are several ways to help maintain muscle mass in aging pets:
- Regular exercise: Regular exercise, particularly activities that challenge the muscles, can help to slow down the rate of muscle loss and maintain muscle mass in aging pets. Walking, running, and playing tug are all great options for general muscle activity. To grow muscle mass specifically, the muscles must be overloaded in order to adapt and strengthen- think of going to the gym for yourself. This can be more challenging in our dogs, particularly if they have any arthritis or joints with pain. Hydrotherapy- particularly underwater treadmill can accelerate muscle growth, without straining painful or stiff joints. A canine rehab therapist or canine physiotherapist is also a great option to create a targeted exercise program to meet your individual dog’s needs. Balanced diet: A balanced wholefood diet that includes adequate protein intake is crucial for maintaining muscle mass in pets. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate diet for your pet's individual needs.
- Joint supplements: Joint supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, or green-lipped muscle oil extract can help to support joint health and reduce the risk of injury in pets with weak muscles. This then allows them to mobilize and complete strengthening exercises while avoiding pain.
- Regular veterinary check-ups: Regular veterinary check-ups can help to monitor your pet's muscle mass and overall health.
- Pain management: Your veterinarian can also prescribe pain medication if required. If your dog is experiencing pain, it can be very difficult for muscles to grow. Hydrotherapy and their home strengthening programs will be much more effective if pain is adequately managed. Cold laser therapy, massage, and acupuncture can also help with pain management, enabling improved mobility and allowing strengthening to occur
In conclusion, maintaining muscle mass is important for the overall health and well-being of our aging pets. While some muscle loss is a natural part of the aging process, regular targeted exercise and hydrotherapy, a balanced diet, and other interventions can help to slow down the rate of muscle loss and maintain muscle mass in aging pets. If you have concerns about your pet's muscle mass or mobility, consult with your veterinarian, canine physiotherapist, or canine rehab therapist to get a plan.