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Norwich Bulletin - 12/3/2006

Old Friends This Holiday Season

Our beloved big white cat Milo is over ten years old and it is hard to believe that he has started the winter of his life. My husbandís very favorite brown tabby Tweedle is also over ten and is slowing down, telling us he is in the winter of his life. Capone, our red tabby is starting to look like his ten plus years and he is also in the winter of his life.

Our thirteen year old Lab mix who has slowed down immensely in the past few months and our eight year old Dogo Argentino, are both in the winter of their lives, despite the difference in their ages. With the Dogo's life expectancy around nine years old, she is almost more senior than our Lab! Itís amazing how time passes and we turn around and find our favorite pets are getting old.

Itís hard to pinpoint when a pet becomes a senior. With the available quality of care, our pets now live longer, which means we need to be aware of the changes in behavior and the type of care they will require from us. Animals are like family to millions of people all over the world and we do no less for our pets than we would for our human family members (actually, sometimes we do more).

Aging pets go through a lot of the same changes we do. Their hair turns gray and eyes and ears don't work quite as well as they once did. Their teeth start to decay and may even need to be pulled because infection setting in. They get arthritis and joint pain - kidney and liver disease - and cancer. Some pets get a form of dementia and tend to forget where their litterbox or food dish might be. They lose their sense of direction or forget to come out of the rain.

Aging pets can become distressed when big changes occur because by the time they reach their senior years, they love routine, much the same as an elderly human does. Change can create stress and impact health and so emotional well being becomes as important as the physical health of an older dog or cat. This is why I am always so upset when people call me and tell me they have an eleven or twelve or fifteen year old cat they want to place. How cruel for that poor animal who will only know its human has abandoned him.

I also believe in the quality of life, rather than in quantity. I have given some of my most beloved pets the gift of death when I felt they could no longer live with dignity. On the other hand I have had cats do perfectly well way into old age and peacefully go to sleep and just not wake up. Your senior citizen pet will tell you what it needs if you just listen.

Keeping your older pet healthy may take a little effort, but is well worth it if you can increase his or her life by years! Start with good nutrition. Senior diets provide better nutrition with fewer calories and might be softer for senior teeth. There are specialty diets for kitties that have kidney disease, cardiomyopathy or diabetes. Many of these diets are rather bland and your older kitty may refuse to eat it, but you can add in some home cooked dietary supplements to make it more palatable.

Older pets still need exercise. A ten minute stroll for an aging dog or a game of teaser on the floor (instead of in the air) for a senior cat, will give you and your pet some quality time as well as a proper amount of exercise for the animal. Medication can also prolong life - similar to people. We medicate by using chicken and/or turkey baby food and crushing the pill in with the treat. Most of the time it works and makes it less stressful for the animal.

The biggest changes are those you might have to make in your home. For instance, if your pet has lost its eyesight, try not to change the furniture around every month or perhaps you need to put a baby gate up in front of stairways. Keep things familiar for your pet, make sure they have soft, warm beds and perhaps a ramp or footstool to help your pet get up to its favorite resting spot (like your bed).

There are many cats who have stayed with their people for almost twenty years. They have seen the children grow up, they have been there to help through the difficult times, such as divorce, or given comfort when you a serious loss is felt. They have unconditionally loved and have always been there. This holiday season, hold your senior pet close to you; tell him how wonderful he has been and remember when he first came into your life. And then make sure you give him the best of care in the winter of his life.

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