HUMANE SOCIETY: Care for your pets through their golden years
Special to the Tribune
Baby boomers are reaching age 65 in mass numbers in 2011. Maintaining health and fitness is a universal interest, with many adopting the attitude that 60 is the new 40. Pet aging is receiving more attention as well. In general, pets also are living longer, better lives. By developing empathy for our pets, their “golden years” can be rich and comfortable for both pet and human.
We can help our pets ease into their senior years with trust rather than fear or depression.
The first step is to recognize signals for extra attention and adaptation. A pet wellness exam including blood screen at about six or seven years is like the milestone over-50 exam for humans. It sets a baseline for measuring future changes.
Many signs of pet aging mirror human experience. Hearing dims. Eyes cloud over. Limbs need a warm up to get up. Smell is less sensitive and appetite might wane. Pet dementia or “forgetfulness” can come on with episodes of standing in a familiar room, still and staring for a bit, or wandering with a bark, whine, or meow.
While outdoor cats are always at risk and often die before five years, indoor cats can live into their ’20s. Aging cats sleep more and groom less. Grooming may be less effective because the roughness of a cat’s tongue can grow smoother. Frequent brushing alleviates hairballs and stimulates circulation. When the scratching post is used less, nails need to be trimmed more often. Weight loss may result because cats depend on smell to stimulate appetite. Heating food or changing to food with a stronger aroma can help. With general muscle weakening, the litter box or a favorite sun spot becomes hard to access. Litter cleanliness is critical for cats who experience urinary changes. Cats hide illness too well. Paying attention in a sensitive new way can uncover health issues.
Size as well as genetics predicts the canine life span. Small dogs can stay young to 14 or more years. Giant and large breeds experience old age at eight or ten. Osteoarthritis is prevalent in aging dogs. The dog park romp is for younger dogs only. Daily runs become leisurely sniffing expeditions which are good for the canine constitution, help maintain muscle tone and stimulate continued mental alertness. Older pets also may need more potty breaks. Teaching an old dog new tricks is fun and good for mental health. They sleep soundly and do not hear well so can be startled or cranky when awakened. Onset of blindness is not uncommon but can be coped with by being mindful when moving furniture and always using a leash.
Dental disease can become a life threatening condition. Home preventatives are available. Proper nutrition is key to provide correct calories, vitamins and minerals. If possible, avoid stress from household changes.
Above all, our pets live to please us, even at risk to themselves. We honor and safeguard our beloved companions by recognizing their new needs. Our ultimate, mutual comfort is that a long cuddle on the couch never grows old.
– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.