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It is hard to compare the unadulterated love and loyalty that one receives from a beloved pet. A dog will never judge you and will always be happy to see you when you come home from a long stressful day. If you sit down to watch TV, a cat will keep your feet warm and slightly massaged while it purrs with contentment. A ferret will playfully attack your feet and bring out your inner child. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t help buy smile every time a cocktail whistles cat calls at me. For many of us, our pets bring unexplainable joy and love into our lives and we cherish every moment we get to spend with them. Of course your love for them will not fade as they start slowing down and using less energy. Now that you have an older pet, it’s up to you to make sure they get the special care they need so that they can stay here on earth with you for as long as it is naturally possible.

The cats and dogs in our lives will be the main focus of this article. But make no mistake, all of our pets get old. Most of them are mammals like us, warm and furry and they have adapted to most to our human idiosyncrasies. We have learned a lot over time for how to care for our interspecies friendships. And so it is important to know the basics of how to care for a senior pet. In honor of senior pet month, here are 5 tips for how to help your Dog/Cat/Ferret/Pot Bellied Pig/etc. live a long and healthy life!

1. Annual Vet Check-Ups.
Yes, I know some of us just do not have the dough to go to the vet willy nilly. In fact, where I am from many pets only visit the vet when it’s a life or death situation. But here’s the thing: annual and semi-annual check up for an older pet can actually save you a lot of money in the long run. Check-up screenings will usually catch anything wrong with your pet in its early stages. If you don’t catch it early, it could mean a lot more money to fix the problem and even then, you still might have to say goodbye to your pet. Senior pets have the tendencies to develop diseases like arthritis or degenerative diseases that really make him/her slow down. Screenings can pick up on health of your pet’s heart, liver and kidneys. Your vet will have invaluable information about your pet’s particular needs and provide you with the appropriate treatments.

2. Keep an Eye on Your Pet’s Teeth
Dental disease can actually cause weight loss in your cat or dog as well and majorly bad breath and a shabby coat. It can be very painful for your big puppy when he is crunching on his kibble which means he will have to switch to more costly wet food. Dental disease in some cases can begin as early in your dog’s life as 2-3 years of age. This is why it is important to brush your dog’s teeth, or get those dental sticks for them to chew on. There is even a powder that you can stir into your pet’s water dish to help remove tartar and plaque buildup by eating away the bacteria that forms on teeth. Why don’t they make this stuff for human teeth??

3. Watch That Diet
Yeah yeah, we all know don’t we? Dog-gone-it, it’s so joyful to see that look in your dog’s eye every time you feel her some table scraps. No! Stop begging says someone, why you sneak a treat under the table. Why not? Maybe every once in a blue moon this is ok if it is just a tiny morsel, but really sneaking fatty treats to you pet is not doing them any favors. This is especially true for a senior pet. What you really need to do when you have an older pet is to get some food that is specially fortified with DHA and EPA fatty acids. It’s going to have more protein and less fat in it. I like going to the Tractor Supply Store or even a Feed Store. They are going to have store brand varieties of pet food that is hearty, healthy and nicer to your wallet than pet store name brands are. Check your labels! If meat is not the first ingredient, don’t get it! Everyone thinks a fat cat or dog is cute. But if Fluffy’s joints are so worn out by the time he is 14, it’s not so cute anymore, you dig me? Your cat and dog need to stay relatively active and diet plays a huge role in keeping your pet from becoming a couch potato. It’s so much easier to put your pet on a healthy diet than it is for yourself, so why not start with keeping them healthy and maybe it could be the motivation for your own positive life changes.

4. Keep Your Fuzzy Buddy’s Butt In Motion
Moderate exercise is key to ensuring longevity for your beloved pooch or kitty. Depending on dog breed, you can determine the amount of exercise necessary. For example, a big dog will need a longer walk compared to like a Chihuahua who may be only able to handle one lap around the block. Just like when humans start exercising, if your older pet needs more exercise, start slow and work your way up. Just this morning, I sprayed some liquid catnip on a feather cat toy and went to town with my two kitties. They wanted to murder that toy, but they were also breathing harder afterwards from the good workout. Little Bear is almost 12 and Merlin is somewhere around 9. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at them. Playing with your pet or taking them out for a good walk is a great way for them and for you to stay lean and active. Throw a ball or a stick today and make your pet’s day! Heck even ferrets will play with the same toys as cats and with much more gusto! Did you know you can call a ferret over to you by squeaking a squeak toy? Now you do.
5. Give Your Old Dog A Soft Place to Sleep
Like I said before, arthritis runs rampant amongst older pets, so you want to make sure you have a soft comfortable bed for your fur baby to relax in. If you let your pet sleep in bed with you, you might want to get some doggy stairs so you dog doesn’t have trouble jumping up and down from the bed. You may even want to carry your dog up and down stairs if they are really getting up there in age, or even engineer a special ramp for them. Rugs are also a good investment if you have a hardwood floor so that you pet’s feet can get better traction and avoid slipping.

Unfortunately, there are countless numbers of senior pets that are surrendered to animal shelters. Many of them stay homeless until they die. And that is heartbreaking.  But in recent years, there have been a handful of organizations and wonderful people with spare time and love to give to older cats and dogs. When you rescue a pet from a shelter, many times, the pet will rescue the person just as much. It’s easy to find a senior pet in need of a home. There are people who just do not have the lifestyle suited to caring for an older pet. If they are good people, they may make a few posts online through different websites to help find a new home for their pets. Websites like LSN or even your local facebook marketplace app will feature pets in need of new homes. You are likely to find programs in your city or the surrounding area that allow people to foster older pets and help find them a forever home. Adopt an old dog, cat or even a ferret or two because they have lived a life and now they wanna live the rest of it with you. They still have so much love to give.

So now we come to the hard part of this article. But, it is a very important part.

There are programs that do something called “Hoster” which is a combination of the words foster and hospice. Dogs or cats who develop fatal diseases like cancer or diabetes will need special care and love until it is their time to leave this earth.

It is a sad reality. We have to say goodbye to our beloved pets eventually because their life spans are simply not as long as ours. An average dog will live to be about 11-15 depending on their breed. Cats live a little longer, because it is not unusual for a cat to live to be about 20. But their time will come just like ours will. Coping with a pet's death or having to decide whether or not to euthanize them after a trauma can be one of the hardest decisions a person or family will ever have to make. It hurts, it’s feels not fair, and you may even pray or bargain for a different reality. It is natural to go through this when you are mourning the loss of a cherished member of your family. Just remember, to not keep your pet, who is in a lot of pain at this point, alive for you. Keep your pet alive for your pet. It is up to us to do what is best for them.

Ok, hard part over. The most important thing about caring for your senior pet is to love them and pamper them for as long as they are with you. Time is a fleeting thing and our pets are the ones who will be there unconditionally to comfort us and provide companionship. Never give up on your senior pet, they would never give up on you. Just be patient and as always, love them and they will love you right back. Old Pets Rule! / Issue 195 - June 2018
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