Pets teach us that patience, persistence and assertiveness are an important part of aging
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Cavaliers follow their people around. Harper is much like other members of her breed when it comes to trailing in my wake, although she has always been a little more on the independent end of the spectrum. It’s one of the things that made me choose her over the other puppies in her litter. She seemed able to entertain herself, an important skill for the dog of a writer.
I’ve noticed, though, that as she has aged -- and especially as she has developed some health problems -- her personality has changed. She’s a little clingier, a little more demanding that I come and sit on the sofa with her instead of at my desk.
Changes in attitude or personality aren’t unusual in aging pets. Sometimes the changes are welcome, sometimes endearing, and they always teach us something about our pets or ourselves.
Active animals may surprise us by eventually slowing down and changing the way they interact with us.
Linda Kay Hardie got her Abyssinian cat Aidan when he was 4 years old. At that age, he rarely sat still for more than four minutes at a time, she says. It took about eight years before he started cuddling up to her for longer periods. Now he’d be happy to sit on her chest for hours if she had time for that.
Some animals seem to have a better appreciation for the health care they receive, even if it isn’t comfortable. Dora, a 13-year-old Chinese crested, enjoys receiving her subcutaneous fluids for the cuddle time it brings with owner Lis Carey. Or maybe she has noticed that the fluids make her feel better, Carey says: “She’s getting back her energetic bounciness.”
Both Dora and Harper have made concessions to age. Neither jumps into the car on her own anymore; both wait to be lifted up. Harper learned after her heart surgery a few years ago that she was no longer allowed to take the stairs on her own -- up or down -- and waits patiently to be lifted and carried.
Vocalizations sometimes become louder or more frequent. Cats in particular may become more likely to share their opinions about anything and everything -- especially if it involves changes to their routine.
Those vocalizations are sometimes annoying, but they can also help us get to know our pets on a deeper level. Mary Nicole Morrison has a 16-year-old cavalier named Jasmine who has always been imperious, but who has now taken to making her demands known in a more direct way.
“She has become much noisier than she ever was before,” Morrison says. “She barks and whimpers to let me know when she needs to potty, is hungry, is cold or hot, or wants to be moved to a different chair or bed. I actually find it quite charming; I now know what she is thinking more often than not.”
Some dogs become less clingy. Perhaps it’s because they are sleeping more soundly, or their hearing is less keen. They are less likely to notice when we get up to move away from them. If she does notice that I’ve moved, Harper, now 13.5 years, is sometimes content to follow me with her eyes and wait to see if I come back before deigning to get up and pad after me.
Sunny, a 15-year-old terrier who lives with Melissa Frieze Karolak in Ohio, has multiple ailments, but the one that has been life-changing for him is cataracts. But he has handled with grace the loss of much of his sight.
“He will call for help when he needs it,” she says. “He’ll bark, and I’ll come carry him up the steps. I say all the time that I hope I age with as much grace in the face of such significant health challenges.”
Anyway, Harper’s barking that it’s time for me to come to bed. Gotta go.
ruins love life
Q: My dog growls at my boyfriend whenever he shows me affection, and it’s killing our vibe. How can I help them become friends?
A: When I would hug or kiss my wife, our Pomeranian-mix, Quixote, seemed to think he was a high school hall monitor, there to break up any displays of affection by barking and howling.
It’s not unusual for dogs to act as canine chaperones, but with a little training, they can learn to relax their policing of romantic relationships.
Dogs may try to separate lovers because they’re confused by our body language. Dogs don’t “get” hugs. To dogs, receiving a hug can be intimidating or frightening, and they may worry when they see humans hugging. This can cause them to stare, bark or try to step between the two. Dogs with a heritage of guarding or herding may be especially suspicious of hugging or other affectionate behavior.
Are they jealous? Maybe. Some dogs are used to having their person’s sole attention and may become upset when it is focused on someone else. Even if they’re scolded for trying to break things up, the attention is back on them, so they repeat the behavior.
To change your dog’s behavior, have your beau become the giver of good things: tossing treats in your dog’s direction without looking at him; feeding meals; tossing the tennis ball. You can also gradually condition your dog to tolerate touches between you by rewarding calm behavior during brief, light touches and slowly moving toward actual hugs or kisses as the dog remains calm instead of reacting.
One last hint: Provide food puzzles filled with goodies to keep him busy. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Dog dies after
-- Keep masks away from pets! A 16-month-old cocker spaniel named Oscar died after swallowing a face mask. The wire nose clamp pierced his intestines, causing sepsis. Emergency surgery and a blood transfusion couldn’t save the beloved family dog. Elastic bands or other ties that fit over ears or around the head can also cause serious problems, such as intestinal blockages. If you notice your pet has swallowed a mask or something stringlike, don’t try to pull it out; that can make things worse. Get your pet to the veterinarian right away.
-- Have you ever wondered why cats have a reputation for playing with their prey? It’s not because they’re cruel. They are attracted by motion, and the thrill of the hunt brings them to a high state of arousal, leading them to deliver the “kill” bite. If prey tries to escape, the cat is motivated to stalk and pounce some more until again reaching that high level of arousal. Even after the mouse or bug is dead, the cat may remain at a level of excitement that leads him to play with his food some more until he’s ready to eat. Of course, if he hasn’t been trained to hunt by his mother, he may simply go through the innate stalking and pouncing motions, which resemble play.
-- Lories and lorikeets are nectar-eating birds. In the wild, they feed on sugar-rich nectar from flowering plants and obtain protein from pollen. They also eat foods such as honeydew melon, fruits, seeds, chickweed, dandelion and the occasional soft-bodied insect. Their tongues are specially evolved for their diet, being muscular and extendible, with a specialized brush tip and a cluster of papillae that help them extract nectar and pollen. Pet lories and lorikeets eat commercial or homemade nectar diets, supplemented by fresh fruit. -- 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, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets 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.