Living with an old dog is bittersweet
By Kim Campbell Thornton
In the last couple of years of my dog Bella's life, I usually found myself outdoors with her in the wee hours of the morning. The medications she took for her heart condition caused her to have to urinate frequently, and since I am a light sleeper, it fell to me to take her out for her late-night perambulations.
It was peaceful. I'd look at stars I didn't usually see or listen to the geese honking in the distance. One night we saw a large, white possum walking on top of the wall that separates our condo complex from the shopping center next door. In fall, we'd listen to the Santa Ana winds blow. We saw the moon in all her phases. Crickets chirped. In Oklahoma, visiting my parents, we heard owls hooting in the tree above us.
There's a twilight time in a pet's life. They're not quite ready to go yet, and we're definitely not ready for them to go. Their treacherous bodies have betrayed them, and they need more help getting around. Maybe they can't make it up and down the stairs anymore and must be carried. We did that with our greyhound, Savanna, after she lost a leg to bone cancer. Or, like Bella, they might need access to the outdoors at odd hours. Not every infirm animal has access to a pet door and a yard or is able to use them on her own. At times, Bella would lose her appetite and need to be hand-fed for a few days.
Currently, my dogs are middle-aged, or not yet at the stage where they need midnight ministrations. But I have friends who are at this point with their senior dogs.
It's hard. I remember. Never getting a full night's sleep. Always keeping one ear open for the sounds that signal she's getting up and needs to go out. You groan, but you don't hesitate to jump out of bed, throw on a robe and carry her downstairs. Because the alternative is cleaning up a pool of pee in the dark so you don't wake your spouse.
I tried to get Bella to use pee pads, but that was a shocking concept to a lady who prided herself on her housetraining. What saved us were diapers. We didn't keep one on her all the time, but she wore one at night. Sometimes, not always, it allowed me to sleep the night through.
I say "sometimes," because if Bella had to potty in the middle of the night, she didn't always like doing it in the diaper. I would be awakened by her attempts to rip it off, so I would get up and take her out. But for the most part, wearing a diaper seemed to encourage her to "hold it" for longer periods.
Caring for an old or sick animal is stressful and time consuming. Feelings of love clash with exhaustion and frustration. You feel guilty about feeling frustrated or wishing you could sleep more, because you know that being able to sleep through the night could mean only one thing: Your pet is gone. And that's not what you want.
Those feelings are normal. They don't mean you don't love your pet or that you want her to die. They are a natural outgrowth of the stress of being a caregiver.
The good news is that our pets love us no matter what. They forgive us for the mistakes we make as we shepherd them through their final years or months. All we can do is our best -- and cherish the time we have remaining with them.
Q: I just got a ferret! What should I be prepared for as far as potential health problems or injuries? I want to make sure I take good care of him. -- via email
A: Oh, man, ferrets are so much fun! You're going to have a wild time with yours. Ferrets are highly active and curious, and that can get them into trouble. They can also be prone to certain types of health problems. Here are some things to watch for, courtesy of my colleague and exotic pet expert, Byron de la Navarre, DVM.
-- Ferrets get caught in recliners and can suffocate or be crushed. Don't use one if your ferret is out and about.
-- Ferrets are heat intolerant. Never leave them in hot cars or other areas.
-- Ferrets can break or tear toenails. Clip off any part of the nail that's still hanging, and use hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound. Styptic powder or cornstarch can help to stop bleeding. Take your ferret to the veterinarian if you notice swelling or discharge at the nail bed in the next two or three days.
-- Ferrets sniff a lot and inhale hair, lint and dirt in the process. They clear their throats with a reverse sneeze, which sounds like they are choking, gagging and sneezing all at once. They may also cough violently. If you notice an unusual increase in the frequency or intensity of coughing and sneezing, take your ferret to the veterinarian right away, especially if he also seems lethargic or isn't eating.
-- Ferrets are prone to several types of cancer. Regular veterinary exams can help to catch disease early.
The No. 1 rule of living with a ferret? Never leave him unattended. That's when he gets into trouble. If you aren't there, he should be safely confined in his cage. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
New cat book
offers hacks, help
-- A "catification hack" is an object that has been repurposed for a cat. Ramona D. Marek found a small corner table with three shelves, used sturdy hardware to attach it to a corner wall 18 to 24 inches above the floor, and then placed cushions on the shelves. Voila! A multilevel cat lounge with a view. That's just one of the many tips she shares in her new book, "Cats for the Genius." With the tagline "Create a positive relationship with your cat from the start!" it covers cats from A (acquisition) to V (vocalizations).
-- A popular Syrian emigre is the Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus), also known as the golden hamster, teddy bear hamster or fancy hamster. The desert rodents are the most commonly kept pet hamsters, thanks to their easily tamed nature and ease with handling. Their golden-brown fur fades to pale on the belly, and dark markings run from the jaw up the cheek to the ear. Syrian hamsters are 6 to 7 inches long and typically live two and a half to three years. The nocturnal animals prefer to live without other hamster companions and can be nippy if disturbed while napping.
-- Saint B, er, kitty? A Hungarian man who was hiking in the Swiss Alps said a cat appeared on the trail and led him to a village after he sprained an ankle and became lost. The route he had planned to take was closed, but a black-and-white cat showed up and encouraged him to follow her. "She was walking and kept looking at me to follow and led me straight to the path that would take me back down to the valley" he posted on Reddit. In true Swiss tradition, the cat belonged to a couple who ran a local hostel. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
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.