As springtime awakens in our gardens, many of us are inclined to get out and be more active. But for some of us, increased activity is a stark reminder that our pets are aging and no longer able to keep the pace they once did.
As someone who prefers to adopt older animals, I deal with geriatric pet issues on a seemingly continuous basis. My little-big man, Zack, was 13 when I adopted him. He was also blind and supposedly diagnosed to have cancer. He had been abandoned at a large city shelter, where his outlook was pretty bleak. I adopted Zack, not expecting him to live very long and essentially thinking that I would provide hospice—allowing him to live out his final weeks or months with dignity and comfort.
I could not bear the thought of this sweet little guy alone and afraid in the twilight of his life.
That was more than four years ago and Zack (knock on wood) is doing great. He is 17 years old now and fully deaf, as well as blind, but he has such a happy-go-lucky little soul. With his own special joy for life, Zack is a vital part of our family and I hope he will remain so for a long time to come.
The reality is that pets, like people, have a natural lifespan and Zack is approaching the end of his. He is slower and requires more help. His deafness allows him to sleep very soundly and he is a great napper. He also gets lost a bit more often and sometimes needs rescuing when he is stuck. But he is active and happy and completely fearless. He loves his stuffed toys and his turtle pillow. He likes being wherever I am and will sometimes search for me when I leave the room.
He is not really much of a lap dog, but on occasion he will "ask" to be picked up and held. I always gladly oblige him. I am thankful for the time we have together. He requires a leash when outside, to steer him away from objects, to avoid bumps and spills, and to keep him from wandering off.
This week I was again reminded of Zack's mortality when not one, but two dear friends had to make the excruciating decision to let their much loved pets go. One was a 20-year-old cat that had lived long and well with the best of everything, including a person, Susan, who was devoted to her. The other was a dog who had a rough start in life with many homes and rejections. When my friend, Jen, adopted him, she committed to loving and caring for him for the rest of his life. Together they went through very trying times and where others may have abandoned their vow to see it through, Jen never did. To his last breath, Jen was there for her dog, as Susan was for her cat.
We do not like to think about the end of our loved ones' lives, our pets or ourselves, but in doing so, we can provide the kind of care that will not only prolong life, but make those twilight years and months as happy as possible.
Like people, pets, in many cases, are living longer than they used to. With advances in general and veterinary medicine, we have the tools to help our pets through their entire lives and well into their dotage.
This article is the first in a series on geriatric pets.
I would love to hear from readers who are willing to share their stories about their elderly animals and the special bond they have. We will speak with local veterinarians, as well as other pet care professionals, about geriatric care and the simple things you can do to keep your elderly pets comfortable. We will identify geriatric issues, including pet dementia and suggest some ways to deal with these issues. We will also discuss some basic old age changes that every owner should be aware of.
Please email me if you feel you have a geriatric pet related issue or story for this series.