Pet column: Senior pets offer bonus perks

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

Many pets who come into the animal shelter system are displaced due to a family illness, move to assisted living or death of a guardian. They are senior orphans who are fully trained, family experienced, but bewildered and overlooked in the competition for a new home. It’s not unusual that they are fully up to date on veterinary care, healthy, and offer many years of loyal companionship if only a new family will give them the opportunity.

With new value placed on pets as full family members, companion animals are living healthier, longer lives. Although the veterinary profession and pet food companies consider a pet to be “senior” at six years of age, comparisons can be made to fit senior humans who consider that “60 is the new 40.” Toy breeds can live far into the late teens while larger breeds may slow but still go into early teens. November is Adopt-A-Shelter Senior Month. Some shelters have ongoing programs to promote adoptions with reduced fees when senior people are matched with senior pets. Others periodically lower fees for anyone who adopts an older pet when that pet has been in the shelter far too long.

Some senior citizens stop adopting pets when they age due to fear that they will pass on before the pet does. However, others plan with family so that if the guardian passes on first, the pet is assured a lifetime home with a friend or relative who is familiar to the pet. Families or friends can also help with veterinary expenses when a senior is on a fixed income. With planning and support, there is no reason to be denied the companionship of a loving animal, especially when facing a sometimes lonely time of life. Cats and dogs become more sedentary as they age, just like people do. Naps together on the couch suit both. And daily walks keep pet and person fit. Senior pets for senior people in particular can be the perfect match.

The benefits of caring for a pet are well documented. Both mental and physical health are enhanced. Depressed people get out of bed because their pet needs them. Pet owners may pay better attention to the food they eat, skipping junk food while they make sure their dependent animals eat healthy as well. In fact, having a pet can influence a pet owner to get a flu shot. Oregon State and Iowa State University studies are showing that people can transmit forms of the flu to their pets. It’s called “reverse zoonosis.” Veterinary researchers are cautioning sick pet owners to avoid cuddling with pets for at least 24 hours after temperature has returned to normal. Although flu vaccination protocols can be controversial, the first recorded case of human-to-pet flu transfer was in Oregon during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. An indoor cat died from pneumonia after contracting the flu infection from his owner. Between 2009 and 2012, 13 cases of flu infection transfer from owner to dog or cat were documented. Cats seem to be more at risk.

Senior pets can enrich any adult home. Some people seek out senior pets because more often they are easy going, having learned through the years how to live successfully with humans. Some adopters know that the seniors have a tougher time coping and these compassionate people have empathy for those a little deaf, a little blind, the arthritic, the less demanding cats and dogs who ask only for a warm spot by the hearth, a chuck under the chin or an empty lap. Look into the eyes of a senior cat or dog and find them full of love and thankfulness and wisdom to be fathomed and shared with their human companion.

Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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