By Kim Campbell Thornton
Remember when you got that bundle of puppy love? Remember when you took him to training class, to the beach, on that road trip? Remember when he spent a whole week just snuggling with you in bed when you had the flu and he brought all his toys to help you feel better?
If you've ever loved an old dog or have one who is approaching his golden years, you have lots of "remember whens." And you can have lots more with the help of "Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy and Comfortable " (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26), a compendium of science, stories, myth-busting and more information than you might have known existed about the care and companionship of aging dogs. Compiled by veterinary experts at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and edited by Tufts veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman, the comprehensive tome covers everything from behavioral changes to expect and recognizing signs of potential problems to making health care and end-of-life decisions.
How long can dogs live? A lot longer than you might think, Dodman says.
"Here at the veterinary school, we see about 8,000 old dogs per year out of our caseload of about 24,000. The oldest one we had on record was 21, but I know dogs can make it to 22 or 23."
With dogs living longer, pet owners are more likely to confront such canine health problems as arthritis, cancer, congestive heart failure, kidney disease and even a form of Alzheimer's disease. Dodman, whose contribution was a chapter on doggie dementia, says classic signs of the condition are disorientation, a reduction in social interaction, sleep disturbances and loss of house-training, identified by the acronym DISH. If your dog seems to get lost in the house or stare into space, no longer greets you when you come home from work, sleeps fitfully or becomes agitated during the night, or starts to have house-training accidents, chances are that senility is setting in. The good news is that medication, activity and diet can all help. That's true for almost every effect of aging.
Aging is not a disease, Dodman says -- there's even a chapter with that title -- and when it does cause problems, there is a lot that can be done to help pets. With regular veterinary examinations, careful observations and the advice in this book, we can help our dogs glide comfortably through their golden years.
Cat owners are equally fortunate in their choice of reading material. Cat expert Darlene Arden has written "The Complete Cat's Meow: Everything You Need to Know About Caring for Your Cat" (Howell Book House, $20). The clowder of cat-centric advice includes tips on raising kittens, training cats (yes, it can be done!), fixing behavior problems and helping shelter cats through clicker training. Along the way, she addresses nutrition and wellness, details exactly how to hold a cat, trim sharp claws and successfully administer medication, and debunks the myths that give cats a bad rap, from black cats crossing paths to cats sucking the breath from babies.
For instance, Arden begs to differ with the notion that cats are loners. Why else do cats choose to sit in our laps, sleep with us, walk across our keyboards and spread out across the newspaper we're reading?
"They're solitary hunters, but they're not solitary creatures," Arden says. "They're looking for attention."
Keeping cats intellectually and physically challenged is a big part of living happily with them, says Arden, who believes most cats spend the day doing the mental equivalent of twiddling their thumbs. They need playtime with their people -- "Even three five-minute play sessions a day is great" -- and interactive toys so they can play on their own when they want.
"You can have so much fun with a cat. I really hope everyone will look at them in a different light and will have more interaction with them."
Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning writer an a member of the PetConnection team.
Keeping dogs safe
when on the road
Q: My dog loves to ride in the car with his head hanging out the open window, ears blowing in the breeze, but my neighbor keeps telling me it's not safe to let him do that. Why not, and what's the best way to protect him when he's riding in the car? -- via e-mail
A: There's no doubt dogs get a thrill out of sniffing the fantastic odors carried in the air and feeling the wind ruffle their fur.
Unfortunately for them, there's a lot that can go wrong when they are allowed to ride loose and stick their heads out the window. Dust and other debris can blow into their eyes and cause injury, and in the event of a collision, an unrestrained dog can be flung about in the car, endangering the driver, passengers and himself. He can hit the windshield with hundreds or even thousands of pounds of force or even be thrown out the window into traffic.
Instead of letting him ride loose, restrain him with a seat belt or car seat made for dogs, or confine him to a crate or soft carrier that can be secured with a seat belt through the handle on top or a loop located at the back of the carrier. A canine seat belt should consist of a one-piece harness with wide, padded straps that can be attached to your car's seat belt or some other sturdy anchor point. A car seat should attach to a passenger seat and come with a strap that hooks to your dog's harness (not his collar).
Whichever option you choose, your dog is safest in the middle of the back seat. An air bag punching out of the dashboard at 140 miles per hour is just as dangerous to a dog as it is to a small child.
What's the safest way to restrain your dog? A seat belt or car seat prevents him from flying through the air, but a crate may do a better job of protecting him from a flying object in a collision. Either way, he will be safer than if he's not restrained at all. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
Tailless cats count
for less in one way
-- No one can definitively say how many bones a cat has. A long-tailed Maine Coon cat will have more vertebrae than a Manx with no tail, or a Manx mix with just part of a tail. And a cat with extra toes -- they're called polydactyl -- will have extra bones as a result. The range is usually between 230 and 250, with the average cat counting about 244 bones, if cats could or cared to count. Anyway you count it, the average cat has about 30 more bones than we have. But we have something cats don't: collarbones. Not that a cat would consider that a disadvantage. Without a collarbone, a cat can fit his body through an opening the size of his head. Assuming he isn't overweight, of course.
-- While being fat isn't funny for a cat, crash diets can be deadly for obese felines. Rapid weight-loss can trigger a dangerous liver disease, hepatic lipidosis. Talk to your veterinarian about how to reduce your cat's weight safely.
-- In many parts of the country, fenced yards are uncommon, so some people keep their dogs on chains. Tethering a dog for a short while is fine, but it should never be a permanent way of confining a dog. Dogs who spend their lives on chains are more likely to become dangerous, biting anyone who comes onto their turf. That's because a dog who spends his life on a chain is isolated and frustrated, and he'll sometimes lash out to protect his pitiful bit of territory. Chaining can be dangerous for the dog, too: There are countless cases where a dog tried to jump a fence, didn't have enough chain to clear it and ended up hanging himself from his collar on the other side. If you don't have a fenced yard, walking your dog or buying a kennel run for him to hang out in when you can't be with him is better than chaining him outside.
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.