Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

OLD DOGS RULE

EIGHT REASONS TO CONSIDER A SENIOR PET

By Kim Campbell Thornton

She flies down the hall to greet me, mouth open in a toothless grin. She chivvies our other dogs out of the way when treats are on offer, no matter that they are two and three times her size. She rocks nose-work class. If it weren't for the gray on her tiny pointed muzzle and the almost complete lack of teeth, you would be forgiven for thinking she's a much younger dog.

When we adopted Gemma almost two years ago, the shelter estimated that she was 12 or 13 years old. Even if they were off by a year or two, that means she's now at least 13 or 14. You couldn't tell it by me. She has a heart murmur that's being monitored by our veterinary cardiologist, but otherwise she's in good shape, based on her latest lab work. Her teeth were rotten when she was pulled from the shelter, but the rescue group that took her in paid to have them removed, all but the two lower fangs. It doesn't slow down the rate at which she scarfs her food.

What possessed us to adopt a dog who, I must admit, was less than attractive at first glance, not to mention up there in years? As far as I'm concerned, we would have been crazy not to. Gemma embodies all of the rewards of adopting a senior dog or cat. Adopting a golden oldie has more benefits than you might realize:

-- They are a known quantity. You know their personality and that they're not going to get any bigger.

-- They are restful. If you want a pet to hang out with you while you watch TV or read, a senior is the way to go.

-- They aren't necessarily inactive. Gemma is the only dog I've ever had -- including the retired racing Greyhound -- who takes me running, at least for the first five minutes of our walk.

-- They are usually housetrained. They've lived in a home and they know the drill, whether it's going outdoors to potty or using a litter box. Every once in a while you meet one who isn't, but older dogs can learn just as quickly as youngsters if you take them out consistently, keep them on a schedule, and don't give them the opportunity to make mistakes. For older cats, simply putting a litter box in an accessible place and keeping it clean usually does the trick.

-- They are wise in the ways of the world. Older animals are observant and they know how to learn, either by watching other animals in the family or from picking up on your cues. Watching them and seeing what they know and how they apply it to their new life is fascinating. (Gemma clearly came from a home where burrowing under the covers at bedtime was a regular occurrence.)

-- They come with a senior discount. Many shelters reduce or waive the adoption fees for older pets. An "older" pet may be one as young as 3 years old. Some veterinarians may offer reduced exam rates for adopted seniors.

-- They give us the opportunity to save a life. Older animals face a lot of rejection for no good reason. They often fit easily into a home because they are already experienced at living with other animals and people. And they can have more good years left than you might think.

-- They give us the gift of their love and joy. Some people say that older dogs are grateful because they know you gave them a second chance. Maybe that's true. All I know is that Gemma makes me laugh every day. That's priceless.

Q&A

Cat's tongue-lashing

causes bare spots

Q: I know cats are good at grooming themselves, but my cat is taking it to extremes. He's licking himself so hard that he has some bare patches. What could be the problem? -- via email

A: We call these cats fur mowers. The short answer is that your cat may be licking himself bald because he's itchy, in pain or upset about something. Itching and pain can occur for many different reasons in cats, so you and your veterinarian will need to do some detective work to narrow down the cause.

Start with a medical history and exam. The area or areas where your cat is licking may offer clues. For instance, if he's licking at the base of his tail, he may have infected anal glands. If he's licking at a joint, it may be a signal that he's developing arthritis.

For the medical history, your veterinarian will want to know what food and treats you give the cat, what grooming products you use, whether you give him any medications or supplements, any changes in his routine or in the products you use in the home, and so on. This information may help differentiate between an allergy and a behavior problem. He may be anxious about something going on in his environment, such as a conflict with another pet, or a change in the home, such as a new spouse or baby.

During the physical exam, your veterinarian will check the entire body for obvious causes, such as fleas or other external parasites, as well as swelling or signs of pain. It may be necessary to order lab tests to check for diseases such as hyperthyroidism, which can cause excessive licking. Skin scrapings or fungal cultures can also help to identify itchy skin problems.

Once the cause is identified, your veterinarian can prescribe an appropriate treatment. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

You don't mess

around with them

-- A man who jumped the fence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue last month and ran toward the White House made it only about 20 yards before he was taken down by Secret Service K-9s Hurricane and Jordan and their handlers. The man kicked and punched the dogs, but the two Belgian Malinois prevailed with bites to the suspect's arms, back, chest and knee. In addition to misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and unlawful entry, the man faces two felony counts of wounding a law-enforcement animal. Hurricane and Jordan sustained minor bruising and were cleared by a veterinarian to return to duty.

-- No, this cat didn't stick his claws into an electrical outlet. He's a Selkirk rex, a curly coated breed with an easygoing nature. The Selkirk, named after Montana's Selkirk Mountains, is an example of a cat breed developed when someone found and took an interest in a cat with a natural genetic mutation -- one for a curly coat. The first known cat with the mutation was born in 1987 to a feral cat in Montana. She was found to carry a "rex" gene, which causes hair follicles to become oval instead of round, producing hair that curls instead of growing straight.

-- Pet-friendly policies in the workplace improve morale and productivity, reduce stress, and even improve employee health and working relationships. Those are the findings of several studies on the subject, according to an article by Lisa Evans in Fast Company. Office dogs facilitate conversations between employees, leading to more trust between them, and give employees an incentive to get up and take a walk, which has health and creativity benefits. People who bring dogs to work also have lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Office dogs even have marketing benefits, because consumers appreciate their presence. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

CAPTIONS AND CREDIT

Caption 01: Her happy nature helped Gemma quickly charm her way into a new family. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Playful with a bit of a silly streak, the Selkirk rex is an outgoing cat who loves a lap and is smart enough to learn to open doors and drawers to get what he wants. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2