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Pets are more than just our companions — they are a part of the family. As your pet ages, it is important to consult your veterinarian for help providing the proper care for your senior pet’s changing needs.
Every animal is different, so the senior life stage occurs at different ages in different pets. For instance, dogs are typically considered seniors at seven years old, but older dogs age more quickly than smaller dogs. Cats can be considered mature at 7 years and seniors at 11 years old. Breed and species aside, your pet’s genetics, nutrition, health and environment will ultimately determine when your pet is considered a senior.
One of the telltale signs of increasing age in pets is a decline in physical activity. For instance, previously active pets may not play as much, and both dogs and cats may need assistance climbing on and off the bed or couch. Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), explained when pet owners can expect this transition into senior pet behavior. “A decrease in physical activity depends on the breed, size and genetics of the pet,” she said. “However, some older pets are still quite active in their senior years.”
In addition to a decrease in physical activity, older cats and dogs tend to develop more degenerative health problems. “Chronic degenerative disorders like heart and kidney disease are common in older pets, and so is cancer,” Eckman said. “In cats, kidney, heart and thyroid disease are the most common aging conditions. In dogs, different breeds are more prone to certain conditions. For example, some breeds are more likely to see a dramatic increase in cancers as they age.” A visit to the veterinarian every six months can help determine what is normal for your pet so that any changes in behavior or health can be detected early.
Aging cats and dogs are also prone to arthritis, dental disease, loss of sight and hearing, and a decrease in mobility. Just like humans, pets may need more assistance getting around and taking care of themselves. Despite this change in mobility and physical activity, it is important to keep your dog and cat active to slow the progression of joint pain and arthritis. In addition, a healthy diet that adequately nourishes your pet is also key in reducing your pet’s risk for obesity, which can also contribute to joint pain. “The single most important aspect in helping your pet stay as happy and healthy for as long as possible is maintaining a healthy weight throughout their lifetime,” Eckman said. “A healthy weight should be coupled with regular exercise and activity.”
Perhaps the hardest part about having an aging furry best friend is accepting when they are no longer happy in everyday life. It is never easy to let go of a pet, but in some cases, euthanasia is the most humane option. “Making the decision to euthanatize a pet is a personal and difficult decision,” Eckman said. “The decision is dependent on what signs and symptoms the pet is showing or what disorder the pet is experiencing. When owners are questioning if they should euthanize their pet, they should discuss it with their veterinarian to help guide the decision-making process. At the CVM, we typically have owners think of three-to-five specific characteristics of their pet, and when the pet stops doing these things, then it may be time to consider euthanasia. For example, my dog loves to play ball. When he stops playing or does not get joy out of this any longer, that would raise concerns for me.”
As much as we would love our pets to live forever, they grow old and need special care. To ensure your pet lives a long, healthy life, be sure to visit your veterinarian regularly to discuss your pet’s diet, exercise habits and overall health.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By JoAnn Bacon
Our family has always had pets and each is a valued member of the family. Our painted turtle, Myrtle, is over 30 years old. She was my husband, Joel’s, birthday gift when he was 15 years old and has made multiple moves over state lines with him, and eventually with both of us and our twochildren. We also have given a home to three gerbils, a dozen Koi fish, and two dogs.
But it wasn’t until after our daughter, Charlotte, died at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, that we realized the full impact dogs can have on our well being.
Charlotte was an avid dog lover. When we rescued our yellow Labrador, Lily, Charlotte was three years old. Charlotte accompanied Lily on her first veterinary visit, and quickly decided that she would be a doggy doctor when she grew up. Charlotte spent her playtime with Lily or playing with her stuffed dogs. Loving dogs was one of her defining characteristics.
In the months following her death, Joel and I searched for the perfect way to honor Charlotte. We settled on focusing on the thing she loved second to only her family, dogs. With the help of award-winning author Renata Bowers, we wrote the children’s book Good Dogs, Great Listeners: The Story of Charlotte, Lily and the Litter. The book focuses on Charlotte’s relationship with her constant companions, Lily and her litter of stuffed dogs. The details and adventures are authentically Charlotte and beautifully illustrate the strong bond between Charlotte and Lily. As we were working on publishing Charlotte’s story, another story was beginning to write itself and it involved our son, Guy. This story also included dogs.
Guy attended the Reed Intermediate School in Newtown, and in the winter and spring of 2013 the school administration brought in dozens of therapy dogs to comfort Newtown students. Initially, Guy was anxious about returning to school, but the therapy dogs were highly effective in helping Guy acclimate. They provided a sense of calm, eased anxiety, and provided a perceived layer of security that had been stripped away on December 14th. During many school days, Guy interviewed the therapy dogs and took notes that he kept in a notebook. Months later, he decided he wanted to write a book just as Joel and I were working on Good Dogs, Great Listeners. Guy thought everyone should learn about the therapy dogs that visited his school. He wanted his book to be a tribute to the dogs and to highlight their different personalities. Guy worked on this project for two and half years, and in September 2015, The Dogs of Newtown was released. For Guy, it was his way of saying “thank you.”
After watching the powerful impact these dogs had on Guy and to honor Charlotte’s biggest passion, Joel and I decided to advocate for the use of therapy dogs in all schools. We founded the Charlotte’s Litter program to bring awareness to benefits of therapy dogs in schools with the hopes that more schools and districts will adopt a therapy dog program of their own. We have seen steady interest from schools that would like to introduce therapy dogs, and our next concern is advocating for and supporting the training of more therapy dogs teams to meet the demand.
Our family has suffered a tremendous loss and we continue to grieve each day. We were fully aware of the joy and comfort a family dog brings to a home, but had never considered the impact that working therapy dogs would have on our family. Most of these therapy dogs are just regular pets who like to sleep, cuddle, play catch, and perform tricks for treats in their leisure time, but when it is time to work they commit to giving fully to the human they are helping. It is a demanding job, but these dogs demand nothing in return. That is dedication to the highest degree.
To learn more about Charlotte, therapy dogs, and our books, visit our websites:
Like humans, pets can become obese and develop excess body fat, which can lead to serious health problems, such as diabetes or degenerative joint disease. In order to provide your furry best friend with the highest quality of life and increase their life span, be sure to follow these simple steps to prevent your pet from becoming obese.
Weight gain in pets is often a result of overfeeding and lack of exercise. To keep your pet at a healthy weight, be sure to provide a healthy balance between food intake and physical activity. For example, give your dog or cat two to three meals a day instead of providing food at all times, and make sure to include at least one daily walk or some playtime.
Maintaining a healthy weight for dogs and cats also depends on the type of food they eat on a daily basis. Owners should choose an appropriate pet food according to the animal’s age, weight, and activity level. Generally, younger dogs and cats need to consume more calories per pound of body weight than older dogs and cats. Animals with active lifestyles and pregnant or nursing females require more protein, minerals, and calories in their diet.
Dr. Audrey Cook, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained the best way to choose the healthiest option for your pet. “Your regular veterinarian is the best person to give advice on what to feed your pet,” she said. “They will be able to provide an optimal diet type based on the animal’s age and body condition. In general, feeding guides on food products tend to overestimate the amount of food needed, so these guides can be misleading.”
In addition to diet and exercise, pet owners can regularly monitor their pet’s weight by routinely weighing them around the same time of the day. This can be effective in catching your pet’s weight increase before it becomes a more serious problem.
Obesity can also be caused by some serious health problems rather than simply reflecting poor diet and lack of exercise. Weight gain can be related to hormone problems, such as hypothyroidism in dogs and acromegaly in cats, which is defined as excess growth hormone production. Dogs with hypothyroidism gain weight without eating more food than usual, while cats with acromegaly will experience an increase in appetite. Dogs and cats with Cushing’s syndrome will appear as if they’ve gained weight with their pot-bellied appearance, but these patients rarely experience a weight increase.
No matter the cause of obesity in dogs and cats, severe secondary diseases and health problems can develop if the obese patient is left untreated. There is good evidence that obesity impacts quality of life as well as life span. “In dogs, obesity is often associated with joint problems, such as arthritis and loss of mobility,” Cook said. “Obesity in cats is strongly associated with diabetes mellitus.” In addition to these health conditions, an obese pet may also have difficulty breathing, become fatigued with routine exercise, and be unable to groom itself effectively.
Though it may be tempting to spoil your pet with table scraps and extra servings of food, consider thinking twice about the consequences your pet may face as a result. To provide your pet with a healthy and happy life, consult your veterinarian in keeping a balanced lifestyle and choosing the right food for your pet’s needs.
Elmbrook Humane Society Waives Adoption Fees Thanks to Local Philanthropist
Through January 4, 2015, Elmbrook Humane Society (EBHS) is waiving all adoption fees. Last week, two local organizations, Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Care and Control Commission and Wisconsin Humane Society, announced a similar promotion thanks to a gift by Skylark Vending. Wanting to impact the lives of as many animals and people as possible through pet adoption this holiday season, Skylark Vending and the Kass Family extended their generosity by making a gift to EBHS to sponsor the adoption fees of all animals in their care.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to enrich your life through adoption,” shared Heather Gehrke, Executive Director. “Through this gift by the Kass Family, you have an opportunity to forgo the adoption fee which allows you the opportunity to invest the money saved for other needs such as training, care, and supplies,” Heather went on to explain.
Realizing not every home is in a position to add a pet during the holidays, adoption fees will be waived into the first part of 2015. “It is our goal to ensure that homes add pets to their lives when the time is best for everyone and for some, the holidays are very busy,” shared Heather.
EBHS asks anyone considering adding a furry or feathered friend to their life, to stop in and meet with an adoption counselor to explore if your next family member is at EBHS waiting to be found. EBHS adoption counselors are excited to help make great matches so that as many cats, dogs, and small animals in need find a new home this holiday season that showers them with love and attention and in return, you will find a faithful and loving companion!
EBHS is open from 1pm – 6pm Monday thru Friday and 11am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday; EBHS will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. For more information on adoption and to view pets available for adoption at EBHS, visit http://www.ebhs.org/index.php/adopt-2.
The mission of Elmbrook Humane Society is to provide shelter for homeless animals, promote the human animal bond, and prevent animal cruelty and neglect. Elmbrook Humane Society is the only No Kill animal shelter in Waukesha County, serving the community since 1964. www.ebhs.org.
“Sylvie” is a rescued Pit Bull Mix, roughly 1.5 years of age. She is a red/white female discovered on the streets of Milwaukee. She had marks of bad tethering around her neck and may have been used for breeding and then tossed out. She is as loving as a “Golden Lab” and so gentle. She loves to sleep with her head on your lap. A small, negotiable adoption fee may apply and contract is required. Spaying will be including. Please call Lisa with you inquiries 414-445-4233!