SIMPLE CHANGES CAN IMPROVE A SENIOR PET'S QUALITY OF LIFE
When I started writing about pets for a living almost three decades ago, I had one middle-aged dog and one young one. When I sat down to write this article, my final "Pet Connection," I again have one middle-aged dog and one young one (as well as three cats, one horse, two goats, two ducks and 23 chickens, but who's counting?). In the years between that first column and this one, I've held many pets in my arms at our veterinarian's for the final good-bye, most of them dogs.
Even though I know the signs of aging pets mean the hardest part of sharing a life with them is inching ever closer, I never regret having an old dog around. To me, an older dog is one of the most beautiful of life's many gifts to us. It doesn't matter what time has done to the animal's actual appearance -- an older dog looks special to me, and always will.
I know I'm not alone in this feeling, but I sometimes realize that I am in the minority when it comes to leveraging the strategies -- often simple and relatively inexpensive -- that can make an older dog feel years younger. This time can be a special one for both of you, but it's up to you to make the most of it.
The place to start is with your veterinarian. With my senior pets, I go to twice-yearly comprehensive wellness exams, which include not only a complete physical and dental examination, but also diagnostic tests to see what's going on "under the hood." With my last three dogs, those diagnostics paid off by revealing health issues that weren't yet showing, including cancer and renal failure. In all three cases, diagnosing, addressing and treating the conditions early allowed me to enjoy extra time with all three of these dogs.
But even when tests reveal nothing abnormal, I've been able to take my veterinarian's advice based on those twice-yearly visits to improve the lives of my senior dogs. My veterinarian has been able to suggest dietary changes and nutritional supplements, for example, that eased the pain of arthritis. I've always worked in partnership with my veterinarian, and that's never more helpful than when managing an aging pet.
Once I have a pet's medical needs addressed, I look at changes to make at home. These include:
-- Beds. Think soft. Think cushioned. Think low. Think heated. Your dog will thank you for all of these comforts, especially in cold weather.
-- 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. 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. A permanent ramp going down the back-porch step or a slide-out one to help your dog into the car will also be appreciated.
The most important thing you can do for an older dog? Keep him moving, every day (avoid "weekend warrior" syndrome), and keep his weight at or just below normal. For my dog Heather, I added a life preserver so she could continue to swim almost daily in the river near our home, providing her with low-impact exercise that wasn't overwhelming.
In the 30 years since I started helping others help their pets, nothing makes me happier than thinking about how many wonderful pets I've known -- and not just my own, of course. You can't make time slow down, and you can't change the too-short life span of the animals we adore. But you can make the most of the time your pet has, and you should always try. Start by talking to your veterinarian, today.
Gina Spadafori has retired from the Pet Connection team. Kim Campbell Thornton, an award-winning writer and the author of many pet-care books, has taken over as Dr. Marty Becker's writing partner for Pet Connection.
Is there a problem
with 'service' dogs?
Q: Last month, I flew on a plane in the same row as a dog who sat on her owner's lap the entire way. When the flight attendant told her to put the dog in his bag under the seat in front of her, the owner claimed the dog was a service animal and had the right to sit on her lap.
Although I can't be sure, I suspect he was a fake service dog. I've been hearing a lot about this trend lately, and it seems like faking a disability only makes things more difficult for people who have real disabilities and real service dogs. Why doesn't someone do something about this? -- I.P., via email
A: Service dogs seem like they're everywhere, including airports, restaurants and hotels, among other traditionally undogly places. And during peak travel seasons -- summer, and the approaching holidays -- we see more dogs in these places simply because there are more people patronizing them.
The increase in the number of service dogs says a lot about what these animals can do. No longer do they belong almost exclusively to the blind, the deaf and people who need wheelchairs to get around. Today's service dogs also assist those with diabetes, epilepsy and PTSD, among other not-so-obvious disabilities. This, too, undoubtedly makes their presence seem more pervasive.
Yet, it's true that the expanding definition of service dogs makes room for abuse –– "fakes," as you put it. And it's also true that people can and do flout the law by exploiting a loophole that prohibits establishments from requiring either proof of disability or official service dog credentials.
The problem is that closing this loophole, as you suggest, would currently cause more difficulties for the disabled than it would fix. So until we can all agree on an inexpensive, accessible method of credentialing service animals, I recommend that we refrain from passing judgment on these animals and the people they may well be serving. Their roles could be exactly as claimed, and these owners need their help, not our distraction. -- Dr. Patty Khuly, DrPattyKhuly.com
Ford asks dog lovers
to let pets 'ride inside'
-- The image of a dog in the back of a pickup is as much an American icon as a small-town parade on the Fourth of July. But the Ford Motor Co. has teamed with the American Humane Association to convince people to protect their pets by ending the dangerous ride. The "Dogs Ride Inside" campaign warns that putting pets in the back isn't all that safe, and notes that extended-cab pickups leave plenty of room inside for Rover, ideally riding in a safety harness.
-- The Walk In Sync harness is the invention of a Colorado dog trainer looking to improve on other no-pull harnesses. The harness clips in the front to prevent pulling, and the higher cut of the harness prevents the rubbing noted by earlier front-clip harnesses. Information and ordering information is at dogwalkinsync.com.
-- The Wall Street Journal reports that the boom in so-called "backyard chickens" has led to a shortage of veterinary options when the birds are sick. That's because most veterinarians who specialize in poultry health work in the food industry, where the answer to a sick chicken is not treatment, but removal from the flock and a swift death. The WSJ reports the situation has led to do-it-yourself doctoring for those who see their birds not as meat, but as pets. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
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 Kim Campbell Thornton. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also are the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.