Creature Comforts

When we humans get to a certain age, our doctors, and even our medical insurance companies begin to recommend certain laboratory and other tests on a regular basis. We veterinarians make similar recommendations for senior pets.

We begin to consider cats and dogs senior citizens by the age of seven. It generally is recognized that the larger breed dogs age more quickly than smaller dogs and cats. Also, animals showing signs of illness tend to age more quickly, and this is true of any size animal.

The longer you’ve been around, the more wear and tear on the joints, organs, and other body systems.

“Good owner of

a senior pet” quiz:

1. You notice the litter box contains monster-sized clumps of urine lately, and your nine-year-old cat has been hanging out in the kitchen sink, drinking nasty water from the dirty dishes. You:

a. Get a baby pool from Toys-R-Us to use as a bigger litter box, and a pitchfork for scooping it. No problemo.

b. Stop leaving dirty dishes in the sink.

c. Arrange an intervention with all your cat’s friends to approach him about his drinking problem and how it is affecting others.

d. Make an appointment for the cat with your veterinarian immediately.

2. Your 10-year old dog has lost weight, you think, but he’s eating normally. You also notice his belly seems bigger, even though his back and hips seem bony. The collar he’s worn for the last few years is now two notches too big. He’s pretty slow to stand up, especially on slippery floors, and sometimes he seems clumsy lately, walking a little strangely in the back end. You:

a. Figure he’s just getting old.

b. Tighten his collar.

c. Buy him some shoes with rubber soles.

d. Make an appointment for him with your veterinarian immediately.

3. Your cat has awakened you for the past 7 years by licking your nose while sitting on your chest each morning. Lately, you have noticed that the time of his wake up call has become earlier and earlier – in fact, he seems very hungry all the time. You also can’t help but notice he very badly needs a breath mint. You:

a. Get him a breath mint and go back to sleep.

b. Invest in an Army approved gas mask to wear to bed.

c. Get up and feed him, because you live to serve him.

d. Make an appointment for him with your veterinarian immediately.

4. Your 10-year-old cat is huge. But now that you’re looking at him, you notice his coat is really messy, and he’s not acting like himself lately. You haven’t seen him jumping up on the windowsill to watch the birds, and he’s been sleeping on the couch instead of your bed, his former favorite spot. You’ve been finding what you think might be vomit (just some yellow slimy stuff) here and there for the past week. You:

a. Change his food. Maybe he’s depressed because you bought him the wrong flavor last time.

b. Saw the legs off your bed to make it easier for him to jump up.

c. Make an appointment at the groomer.

d. Make an appointment for him with your veterinarian immediately.

5. Your 12-year-old dog sometimes seems blind, but you know she can see. Sometimes she seems deaf, but other times, she definitely hears. She stands in the corner and stares. She seems to have forgotten her housebreaking altogether, and that is very strange. You:

a. Clean up her messes.

b. Lock her in the kitchen where her messes are easier to clean up.

c. Figure she must be bored and is getting back at you for being away so much.

d. Schedule an appointment for her with your veterinarian immediately.

If you answered “d” for all of the above, you pass. Each of these scenarios can be associated with some pretty serious health problems. The animals in these examples (in no particular order) may be suffering from dental disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, liver and kidney diseases, anemia, infection, arthritis, cancer, heart problems, urinary tract problems and even the animal equivalent of early or manageable senility. Most of these problems can be managed, and some can even be corrected through specific treatments. But, the longer they go undiagnosed, the more serious they can become.

We recommend a battery of blood, urine and heart tests on a yearly basis for any pet over 7, called our “Senior Screen.” Yearly testing helps us establish a baseline for future comparison – with elderly dogs and cats, diseases can start and progress rapidly.

Having that information as fact and not speculation, combined with a professional’s opinion, expertise and compassion, should help you feel better about the decisions you make on your pet’s behalf.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital.

Creature Comforts

When I was asked recently if I still have cats at home, it occurred to me that I haven’t written about my two feline friends in quite some time. My main reason for this is that they have ceased to do anything interesting or naughty for the last several years. As kittens, their shenanigans provided much in the way of teaching points and pure entertainment, but once cats reach adulthood, they sleep 80 percent of the time, not leaving much room for strange and interesting behaviors to relate to anybody. Sleep, eat, litterbox, sleep, eat, repeat. They behave in a more dignified, mature and most boring way, now that they’re all grown up.

Not that my two aren’t amiable companions – they spend much of their awake time hanging about, usually on an end table by the couch or from some safe perch observing us or seeking the comfort of a warm lap. Wyatt has been known to sit on my lap snuggled amongst the almost ever-present dog or two, if he must. He uses all of his considerable mass to carve out a spot for himself, and then kneads my abdomen, purring loudly, (checking me for internal weaknesses?) until I tell him to quit it and he settles in for a serious snuggle. While he may nap, I would guess it’s not a restful sort of thing, as I can’t help but stroke his fur and kiss his forehead at intervals. Wyatt doesn’t seem to mind.

Meanwhile, I can feel all tension unwinding itself from my body – fur therapy’s the best. And the way I see it, with that many bodies on my lap at 102 F each, I can lower the thermostat setting a couple of degrees, saving heating costs!

Mine are two of the most laid-back cats on earth, and put up with being roughly molested by dogs half their size (Wyatt-tipping is a favorite sport amongst the younger dachshund set) at intervals throughout the day, should they dare to skulk past an alert dog and foolishly make eye contact. Virgil’s a bit of a dim bulb, seeming surprised each and every time a dog begins to run in his direction. As this has been a repeating process more than once a day for the last 7 years, I’d say he is not likely to wise up anytime soon.

I have gotten used to them simply being around and perhaps taken them for granted of late. The fact that they no longer knock over lamps while stalking flying insects or steal plastic straws from the drainboard next to the sink or perch on top of the refrigerator and nearly fall on my head when I unsuspectingly open it is probably contributing to my jadedness at their constant presence.

They do still sit on stuff. Important, delicate stuff, usually. Or stuff you’d rather not be covered in cat hair. While my children and my husband and I are used to this, we sometimes are caught by surprise at how quickly the cats appear in situations where we’d rather they would stay away. For example, my daughter and I picked out a piece of black felt for her school project. I admonished her to keep it safely sealed in its plastic package until she gets it to school. Because otherwise, it would most certainly become the best sleeping spot for two mostly white cats in the whole wide world. The only thing that would trump a piece of black felt would be perhaps black wool, or velvet – or a box of cupcakes.

Wyatt enjoys playing Dungeons and Dragons with my husband and his friends. OK, well recline like an ogre on top of anything important to the game is more his style, but for some reason, the guys don’t appreciate his efforts to spice up the action. And for all his efforts to ingratiate himself with the players, he rarely scores even a crumb of cheese or whatnot as a reward. It usually ends in Wyatt being unceremoniously ejected from the room, at which time, he walks off in a huff and binges on whatever is left in his food bowl. He’s a stress-eater, like me.

Since Virgil chewed off all the cords for every mini-blind in our home, I have replaced all with cordless blinds. Now that he can’t die of a string foreign body or strangulation, it has freed up a lot of time for him to stare out the window. His favorite window being in our dank, unfinished basement, we don’t see much of Virgil during the daytime. He prefers to be undisturbed on his wobbly shelf for hours at a time.

On the rare occasions when there are no dogs at home, the cat welcoming committee enthusiastically greets any and all at the door, slathering on their exceedingly unctuous charm. They make a particular effort to become especially chummy with cat-haters and the violently allergic. They have been known to assist these people, in particular, with unpacking their belongings – something not all of our visitors seem to appreciate, for some reason.

Both cats still become most amorous toward humans who are attempting to take care of business, whether it be typing on the computer, writing a check, doing homework, or using the bathroom. I list these in increasing order of affection.

In my musings about my cats and how we have come to accept them in their peculiarities, and perhaps take their company for granted, I have come to a startling realization: they are 9 years old. We, in the veterinary community, consider any dog or cat over the age of 7 to be a senior citizen. My once naughty kittens are not only all grown up – they are already into their geriatric years! My, how time flies.

While my two mini-lions are getting older, they have been healthy all these years, so we have been lucky, so far. But there are things we do to continue to observe what might be flying below the radar, medically speaking, so we can act quickly to treat or prevent illnesses that become more common with advancing age.

Whether you call them “seniors,” or “mature adults,” or “geriatric,” or just old, the fact remains: animals age rapidly, and there are things we can and should be doing to ease them into their dotage. Early detection often means early intervention, treatment and better quality of life. Tune in next time for some advice on seeing pets comfortably through their senior years – so the fur therapy doesn’t have to end prematurely.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital.

Creature Comforts

This summer, we replaced our old, rotting dog-permeable fence with one that is strong, tall, handsome, and only dog semi-permeable. We also added a second, Invisible Fence. My husband thought I was a bit ridiculous to insist that we install TWO layers of fencing to our backyard, but he has come to see the light.

The way I figured it, no fence is foolproof. Or, in this case, dog-proof. We needed to remove our dilapidated fence, to be sure, but wanted to replace it with a more private, solid version. We knew this would not be enough to contain our tiny dogs. And given their propensity for finding and following rabbit scent trails, it was only a matter of time before they would find their ways out of the inevitable gaps in the physical fence and be on their way to freedom – and be squashed by a truck.

So, we also had an Invisible Fence installed. For the uninitiated, an invisible or underground fence essentially is an electrical forcefield generated by a wire that is laid in a shallow trench around the perimeter of a space. The animals to be contained within, wear collars that have a transmitter with two metal prongs that touch their necks and deliver a mild electrical shock if the transmitter crosses over the wire. I have felt the shock a number of times, and though it is very unpleasant, it leaves no lasting pain or injury. It does get one’s attention, however, which is the point.

Once we had the wire installed where we wanted the dogs to be contained, we had a period of several weeks in which we trained them (still on leashes) to avoid the boundary lines, marked with little, white flags. They were wearing the transmitter collars, with the correction (shock) switched off, but an audible beep turned on. When they crossed over the wire, a beep would sound, and we pulled them back, and made sounds to scare the bejeezus out of them. We trained them to fear the beep and hate those flags, essentially.

Though it was tedious, it was an important step in teaching the dogs their new boundaries before we took the system “live” and turned on the correction. Once we decided they understood, we had the system turned on, but continued to walk them on leashes for about a week. Why? Because they would inevitably walk across the wire, and when they did, receive their first doses of correction. Because every dog’s pain tolerance is different, it was important to observe how they reacted to this, and to make sure they moved back INTO the safe areas of the yard to avoid the shock, rather than farther over the wire, to continue to be corrected. Some dogs panic when they feel the correction, and run the wrong way – not learning anything in the process, except to be fearful to go outside at all, so it is an important point to be present and ready to act when the dogs are in the initial phases of this training.

This was especially true for our oldest dog, Shultz, who does not hear the beep, which means he has no warning of a correction coming a second later. This created a bit of a scarier learning process for him, because he would meander into the field and get shocked without warning. At first, he was fearful of any area of the yard that had zapped him, and eventually, stuck to walking only in the center of the yard. He has become more adventuresome as the weeks progressed, and is beginning to wander around more freely and taking wider sweeps of the yard in the process.

In our experience, we found three of the four dogs learned very quickly and efficiently and can now be trusted never to cross the field.

And then there’s Miriam. She is our 14-lb menace to society. Ok, not really, she’s actually very sweet, but apparently also very tough. I have our Invisible Fence guy on speed-dial and I believe he knows me by my voice. I only need to say one word, and he knows he has to come back to make adjustments: Miriam.

While this problem is found occasionally in rugged, pain-tolerant dogs like Huskies, it’s actually sort of humorous that my little, female dachshund wears a pretty pink transmitter collar dialed up to its highest setting, yet still meanders in and out of the electrical field as if nothing is amiss. (FYI, the other three dogs wear transmitters that are set at 20 percent of the maximum correction, and are VERY respectful of it).

I have witnessed Miriam standing in the field, receiving a shock that is causing muscles on her neck to twitch, and she looks at me quizzically as if I, yelling her name and waving my arms to come into the safe zone, am off my nut. I have repeatedly tested her collar on myself, and believe me, it works just fine. We replaced the battery, we replaced the transmitter three times, just in case. Same result. The Invisible Fence guy was able to read out her patterns of testing the system from her transmitter (isn’t technology cool?) and found she walked into the field more than a hundred times in a three week span!

After almost three months of this, Miriam finally did what I feared she would: squeezed out of the yard and into the real world. Twice. To see what she could see.

So, my old adage stands true. No fence is foolproof or dog-proof. Or foolish dog-proof. But, while Miriam is a work in progress, I give it to the Invisible Fence guy – he’s been a trooper with us, and is working hard to find a solution. I’m pretty sure we’ll come up with something that will teach her to stay in our yard. Too bad they don’t have a system that throws magazines toward her – she’s terrified of that, even if they don’t come anywhere near. For now, the most practical thing is never to let her outside without direct observation. Thankfully, she listens pretty well and is motivated by treats.

Despite our issues with Miriam, to say life is better now would be an understatement. Life is way, way, WAY x 10^23 times better. The dogs love to go outside, and even don’t mind doing their business in the rain (all dachshund owners gasp) yes, rain. Having the freedom to roam where they like, sniff what they like, eat rabbit droppings all they like because we can’t stop them, roll in whatever they like whenever they like – life for dogs is good. Watching them enjoying their newfound independence is even better. Goofy doggie smiles are infectious.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital.