Frightening, Yet Factual Facts About Sarcopenia

If you have pet dogs at home, what worries you most with regard to their health? Do you worry if they fall prey to rabies, or to some deadly canine-related viruses? Well, I think you should also be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of – Sarcopenia! According to veterinarians, sarcopenia is defined as an age-related progressive loss of muscle mass and strength. The main symptom of this illness is muscle weakness, and is a type of muscle atrophy that’s mainly caused by the natural aging process. Here’s a look at more frisky yet factual facts about this canine-related condition.

Sarcopenia is the Gradual Loss of Muscle, Mass, Strength & Function

One of my town’s friendly veterinarians tells me that the medical definition of sarcopenia is the age-related loss of LBM, or Lean Body Mass, which occurs unrelated to disease. With age, the rate of protein metabolism often exceeds protein synthesis.

This imbalance often leads to progressive loss of lean body mass and comes with significant loss of strength, reduced quality of life and shorter life span in dogs. Although this ailment occurs in both dogs and cats, it surprisingly seems to be more clinically significant in cats.

There’s No Single Known Cause for Sarcopenia

What’s so surprising, and worrisome, about sarcopenia is that there’s no single known cause for this condition. The multi-functional etiology of this slowly-progressive condition includes inadequate intake of protein or calories, and altered protein turnover with decreased protein synthesis, along with a chronic increase in inflammatory cytokines, as well as increased oxidative stress.

While good nutrition cannot fully prevent sarcopenia, the earlier this condition is identified and monitored, there will be more opportunity to help delay the age-related changes in body weight and body composition of older pets.

The routine nutritional assessments, which include body weight, body condition and muscle condition scoring can also help in earlier identification of loss in lean body mass. Fur parents must also ensure that dietary protein is adequate to minimize lean body mass loss, and they should only restrict protein if medically essential.

Sarcopenia Leads to Changes in Muscle Mass, Hearing, Immune Function & More

It is actually common for dogs to experience sarcopenia as they age. Apart from muscle mass, the disease also leads to various changes in body and organ function. 

Like for example, sarcopenia can lead to changes in hearing. Age-related hearing impairment is caused by degeneration within the cochlea, which is a structure or part within the inner ear. The cochlea is the one responsible for producing nerve impulses in response to sound vibrations. 

While there are no solutions for correcting this condition, positive behavioral adaptations can be of great help. One great way to be proactive is to teach hand signals in conjunction with verbal commands before the hearing loss in the dog occurs.

Second, sarcopenia can also lead to gastrointestinal changes in dogs. Examples of these include delayed emptying of the stomach, decreased motility within the colon, decreased stomach acid production and alterations of the cells lining the intestinal tract.

Third, sarcopenia can also lead to cardiac and vascular changes in dogs. By the time the dog is geriatric, the amount of blood pumped in the heart gradually decreases by as much as 30%, and the heart muscle also loses some of its flexibility. These changes often lead to considerably diminished activity and stamina in dogs.

Fourth, sarcopenia can also lead to kidney function and immune system changes. This condition leads to major damage in nephrons, which may result in a substantial decrease in number and permanent loss of function, and eventually kidney failure.

Older dogs who have mild kidney failure often do not act sick, but without kidney reserve, they become far less resilient to other illnesses and conditions, or certain physiologic changes which may arise.

Fifth, sarcopenia also leads to major immune system changes. In general, older dogs become less resistant to infections, and are less capable of putting up an effective immune response to vaccinations.

What Fur Parents Can Do to Protect Their Dogs From Sarcopenia

If you truly love and care for your furry friend or family member, here are a number of things that you can do to protect them from the dangers of sarcopenia. The major signs to look out for include lameness, limping, resistance to walking, playing and exercising, as well as lack of energy and difficulty in navigating stairs.

Regular exercise also helps dogs build, and maintain healthy muscle, just as it does in human beings. Low-impact activities such as walking and swimming can actually build muscle mass without causing undue strain. Consult with your vet so that they can determine what type of exercise is good for your dog, and how much exercise is right.

A number of recovery products and therapies are also available to support a dog’s muscle health. For example, orthopedic dog beds help to reduce pressure and stress on the dog’s joints, as well as minimize the risk of health conditions that may lead to atrophy.

Sleeves and braces also provide additional support and relief to dogs. Hydrotherapy and dog pools also are effective low-impact exercises which help keep dogs active and strong. Physical therapy has also been noted to be a potent treatment for muscle loss in dogs, and offers targeted exercises which help the muscles and joints.

For your dog’s nutrition, it is also best to implement a well-balanced diet that is specifically chosen or designed for your dog’s weight requirements. To prevent excess weight gain, and the ensuing stress it puts on the body, you should set up a goal-specific diet. 

And, since protein helps to maintain existing muscle mass, always make sure that the food you give to your dog is protein-rich, unless otherwise advised by your vet.

While a number of the age-related transformations that we see in our dogs are not really problematic or worrisome (of which some may even feel endearing like the graying of the muzzle, or more interest in lap time), the changes of concern that I mentioned earlier may result in the impairment of normal function, Thus, keep close tabs on these, to ensure that your dog ages gracefully (and in a less stressful way).