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

Downsizing Pets?

Depending on circumstances, a dog of any size can be a good companion for a senior. Here are factors to consider

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

I’ve had cavalier King Charles spaniels for 20 years. My husband and I switched to the small spaniels after the death of our greyhound, Savanna, from bone cancer. We lived in a condo and decided our next dog should be one we could easily carry up and down the stairs if necessary -- something we had to do with Savanna after a leg amputation. We planned to go back to bigger dogs when we bought a house.

That house purchase never happened, but occasionally I still yearn for a larger dog -- before I get too old. But is there such a thing as “too old” for a big dog?

Age doesn’t have to preclude dog ownership, not even of large breeds. Bobbie Thrutchley, 88, of Leawood, Kansas, was feeling lonely after the death of her goldendoodle, so she went down to the shelter and adopted a Lab mix, whom she named Coco.

“We’re good for each other,” she says.

As with any choice of a dog, though, there’s a lot to consider.

“Variables include owner experience with dogs, owner ability to train the dog, the relationship between dog and owner and the dog’s temperament,” says dog trainer Liz Palika of Kindred Spirits in Escondido, California. Other factors are a person’s own health and fitness and the dog’s size and health.

Barbara Saunders, 47 at the time, injured her back carrying her 19-year-old 65-pound dog up and down two flights of stairs. Vision-impaired and arthritic, the dog was afraid to walk down them himself. For her next dog, she chose one weighing only 20 pounds.

If you’re a senior considering getting a puppy or adult dog, think ahead. Does your local senior housing, assisted living center or nursing home allow pets? If so, is there a cap on weight or height? Choose a dog who won’t exceed the limit. For the same reason, a dog who’s quiet -- or can learn to be that way -- is a necessity. And consider whether a puppy might outlive you. Adopting a middle-aged or senior dog may be a better option.

Experts have favorites they recommend for people of a certain age. Journalist, breeder and dog show judge Allan Reznik of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, recommends a well-trained adult greyhound, Doberman pinscher or standard poodle for people who own their own home, don’t face community size restrictions and enjoy walks. “If they prefer something smaller to cuddle and spoil, I’d suggest a cavalier, papillon or pug,” he says.

Dog groomer Julie Ellingson of Sacramento, California, is a fan of Chihuahuas -- “clever, brave little dogs” -- and miniature poodles. She says clients who are seniors most often have Pomeranians or Shih Tzus. “The Poms require a bit of effort for brushing, but have distinct shedding seasons, and Shih Tzus are best kept in short teddy bear clips. Both have sunny temperaments.”

Many seniors might not want to live with a dog they couldn’t pick up and carry to the car if necessary, so big dogs are out.

A small dog isn’t always the best choice, though. While they don’t weigh much, it can be difficult to bend down to pick them up if necessary or to attach a leash or harness. It’s also easy to trip over or step on them. Karen Henderson of Minerva, Ohio, has a goldendoodle and a yellow Lab. She says they are easier to care for than smaller dogs.

Gail Parker of Philadelphia lives with an Irish setter, Daisy. For her, a tall dog is nice for help with balance when going down steps or walking on an uneven sidewalk. She adopted Daisy, then 8 years old, from an Irish setter rescue group, and notes that some shelters discount or waive adoption fees for seniors, especially if they adopt older dogs.


Sun-loving cats

need protection

Q: My cat loves to nap in the sun. Why is that, and do I need to worry that he’ll get sunburned?

A: Cats have made their way around the world and now live in all types of climates, but they are descended from desert animals. Their wild relatives like to bask in the sun during the day and hunt in the cool of the evening, and our domestic cats carry on that tradition as much as they are allowed.

We’ve all seen cats lying in a patch of sunshine, catching a few rays wherever they can. If your cat is indoors, you probably don’t need to slather him with sunscreen, but cats who have access to a catio or a yard with a cat fence preventing them from getting out can benefit from sun protection.

Cats most at risk are hairless or have thin, light-colored coats. If they go outdoors, put pet-safe sunscreen on their nose, ears, belly and tail, and protect the rest of the body with a T-shirt or other item of clothing -- preferably one that provides protection from UV rays. You can find UV-protective clothing for pets online or at pet boutiques. The label should say “certified UPF 50+.”

For cats and dogs, avoid sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or salicylates. If licked, those ingredients can be toxic or even deadly. Your veterinarian can recommend pet-safe sunscreen.

Consider topping a catio with a cover made of fabric that’s treated to block the sun’s rays. You can also reduce your cat’s exposure to the most harmful rays by keeping him indoors between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun is at its highest in the sky and rays are strongest.

Finally, unless it’s medically necessary, don’t shave your cat. Fur provides natural sun protection. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Study links dog,

human stress

-- Stressed? Your dog may be, too. A Swedish study published June 6 in the journal Scientific Reports found that dogs tended to mirror the stress levels of the people they lived with. Researchers looked at 58 women with border collies or Shetland sheepdogs and compared levels of cortisol -- a stress hormone -- in the hair of both dogs and humans. “We found that the levels of long-term cortisol in the dog and owner were synchronized, such that owners with high cortisol levels have dogs with high cortisol levels, while owners with low cortisol levels have dogs with low levels,” says the study’s principal author, Ann-Sofie Sundman of the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM) at Linkoping University. In the future, researchers hope to learn how different types of dogs -- hunting dogs, for example -- are influenced by humans, and whether sex of the owner plays a role.

-- Don’t despair if your cat is diagnosed with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). The disease isn’t curable, but cats with it can live a normal life. Take your cat to the veterinarian if he has signs such as fever, anemia, weight loss and diarrhea. A blood test can identify the presence of the FIV antibody. The disease is most commonly seen in young adult or middle-aged cats. They should live in a low-stress indoor environment and receive regular veterinary care. Ways to ensure a low-stress lifestyle and veterinary visits for cats can be found at

-- Icelandic sheepdogs have the typical prick ears, curled tail, thick coat and barkful nature of their Nordic relatives, along with a cheerful and curious nature. They thrive on human companionship and are best suited to homes with people who will keep them busy with activities such as hiking, camping or competing in dog sports. Note: Icies bark and shed. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


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 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 or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.