And Gina Spadafori
People flip over puppies, but to me, a well-loved older dog is one of the most beautiful creatures on earth. An older dog has a nobleness about him, a look in the eyes that speaks of years of the special love that only a pet can give -- trusting, nonjudgmental and unwaveringly true.
Your dog's health as he ages is not entirely in your control, but you can have a real impact on his attitude. Your dog doesn't know he's getting older. His gray hairs concern him not, nor does he worry about the other visible effects of time -- the thickening of his body, the thinning of his limbs. He doesn't count the number of times he can fetch a ball before tiring and compare that to his performance when he was a young dog in his prime.
A dog lives in the now. Just as he doesn't reflect on his past, he can't imagine his future. Your dog takes his cues from you. When you're upbeat, encouraging and loving, he'll be at his best, no matter his age.
This time can be a special one for both of you, and it's up to you to make the most of it.
As your dog ages, increase the frequency and diminish the intensity of his exercise. Instead of taking your dog to the park once a week to chase tennis balls until he's exhausted, take him for a long walk daily. If your dog is having problems with physical activity, talk to your veterinarian. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications may help, as may supplements such as glucosamine and Omega 3 oils, or complementary treatments such as acupuncture. Your veterinarian can also prescribe medications that may address the confusion and anxiety some old dogs experience.
Your dog has no real sense of shame or embarrassment, so he suffers no loss of face if you come up with some ideas to make his life a little easier. Here are a few tips to get you thinking:
-- Beds. Think soft. Think cushioned. Think low. Think heated. Your dog will thank you for all of these thoughts, especially at this time of year.
-- Clothes. Older dogs, like older people, have a more difficult time maintaining their body temperature. This problem is even more pronounced in slender, short-coated breeds like the greyhound or whippet, or in tiny dogs. So check out the sweater selection at your local pet supply store.
-- Ramps and steps. If your dogs are allowed on the couch and the bed, consider buying or building steps to help the dog who can no longer make it in one jump. You wouldn't want to watch TV without your dog at your side, would you? A permanent ramp going down the back-porch step or a collapsible one to help your dog into the car will also be appreciated.
-- While you're making household adjustments, don't forget to make an appointment for a senior dog checkup, ideally twice a year, to improve your odds of catching little problems before they become big ones. Your veterinarian will likely recommend some diagnostic tests in addition to a physical examination -- typically blood work and an X-ray -- to spot problems early, or to establish a baseline of what's normal for your dog. You should also discuss having your dog's teeth treated and cleaned under anesthesia, because gum infections and mouth pain will affect his comfort and health.
The senior dog checkup is also a good time to determine if your dog's slowing down means his diet will need to change to take excess weight off his joints.
Helping to keep your older dog healthy and fit will mean his senior years will be happier and more comfortable. And that will be good news for you both.
Dogs on the couch
source of dismay
Q: We had my in-laws over to share Thanksgiving dinner. They have a dog, but they don't let her on the furniture. We have two dogs, and we do let them on the furniture. Also, the bed.
Now, I vacuumed the furniture so there would be as little fur as possible on it, but my mother-in-law complained to my husband behind my back that the dogs shouldn't be up on the couch and that she had dog hair on her pants. He told her that he was fine with the dogs on the furniture, but that if she wanted, he could put down a clean sheet for her to sit on.
Her house is not that clean, by the way.
What do you think I should say about the dogs on the furniture the next time she's over? -- via e-mail
A: Say nothing, and if she says something, smile, nod and change the subject.
You and your husband have an absolute right in your own home to allow your dogs to get on the furniture and the bed. Your husband's offer to put down a sheet to protect his mother from whatever stray pet hair remained after you cleaned was more than sufficient.
The fact is that few things so perfectly reflect the changing attitudes we have about pets as what people believe about pets getting up on beds and furniture.
It used to be that the majority of questions I got regarding furniture were about how to keep pets off. Some people still don't want to share their furniture with their pets, and some allow pets on some pieces but not others, or on the furniture but not on the bed. But more often than not, these days I get questions such as "Where do I buy steps for my older dog?" (several companies make them now, and you can find them in pet care superstores), or "Can you recommend an easier way to clean pet hair off the upholstery"? (use a damp sponge).
For dogs with behavior problems, having access to the furniture and the bed is frowned on by trainers and behaviorists. Keeping them off the privileged people perches is often part of programs that get the pets to respect limits and an owner's authority.
If behavior problems aren't an issue, sometimes allergies and insomnia are. Doctors recommend that people with either (or both) of these health issues establish the bedroom as a pet-free zone, so at the very least the sufferer can get a good night's sleep.
But in the absence of any of those situations, there's no reason why your pets can't sleep anywhere you choose to let them. If it continues to be a problem, you can always have next year's Thanksgiving dinner at your in-laws' home. -- Gina Spadafori
Roaming days over
for more pet cats
-- Keeping cats from roaming continues to gain in popularity, with 64 percent of cat owners telling the American Pet Products Association that their pets are not allowed outside. Safety is the main advantage for cats: Indoor cats are protected from infectious disease, from being hit by cars, attacked by other animals or trapped by neighbors who don't want cats on their properties. Despite the advantages, there are some downsides: Indoor cats are prone to boredom and obesity-related health-problems, although both of these can be avoided by providing an enriched environment to engage the animal.
-- Prenatal exposure to farm animals and cats lowers a child's chance of developing atopic dermatitis, according to European research reported in BusinessWeek. The condition affects up to 20 percent of children in industrialized countries and is one of the most common childhood skin diseases.
-- Korean Sapsaree dogs have come back from the brink of extinction. The shaggy-haired, medium-sized dogs were nearly wiped out by the end of World War II after decades of being killed for their fur. Only eight of the dogs could be found by 1980, according to Reuters, when a Korean professor combined traditional breeding with advances in DNA technology to save the breed. The Sapsarees, whose name means "the dogs that ward off evil spirits or misfortune," can be traced to 37 B.C. and are one of only three native Korean breeds.-- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.