Hug an Old Dog Today

October 2, 2012  

Old dogs need special love and attention

By Jessica Pierce Ph.D., for Psychology Today, All Dogs Go to Heaven, reprinted with permission

I absolutely love puppies. Whenever I see one, I feel a kind of magnetic attraction pulling me toward it, making me want to touch it and cuddle it. I want to smell puppy breath. But I have to confess that my heart really goes out to old dogs.

According to the veterinary literature, dogs are considered geriatric when they turn 7 (5 for some larger breeds of dog, 9 for some smaller breeds). My little Maya is eight, which means she is now, officially, a senior citizen. (Does this mean we get discounts on dog food?) She is still active, and when she’s out running with me, she looks sleek and beautiful. But I notice that she sleeps a lot more these days. She is getting all kinds of lumps under her skin (called lipomas) and various skin tags are growing on her eyebrows and chin. The fur beneath her eyes is streaked with white.

Within the population of companion animals, the elderly is the fastest growing category with over 35 percent of all pets in the U.S. now considered, by their vets, geriatric. There are about 78 million companion dogs in U.S. households and 94 million cats, which means roughly 27 million geriatric dogs and 33 million geriatric cats. These numbers are likely to grow, as veterinary medicine offers an ever wider range of treatments, from organ transplants to hip replacements, and as better lifelong care increases pet life expectancies. In step with the changing pet demographic is a growing appreciation for the final stages of our companion animals’ lives: there are geriatric specialists, old-dog and old-cat foods, products designed help older animals maintain functionality, books devoted to caring for old pets, advice from trainers about how to deal with age-related behavioral changes, and old dog and old cat rescue organizations.

Despite increasing attention to the needs of old companion animals, for many, being old is a dark and unpleasant stage of life. There remains a deep prejudice against the old. Many elderly animals are euthanized simply because of their age, or because their human owners don’t have the patience or resources to adapt to their changing needs. Many more languish in shelters, where adoption rates for seniors are very low. Old animals too often suffer from untreated disease and pain, either because owners don’t recognize their changing needs or because they cannot or will not pay for adequate veterinary care.

Aging can be hard on animals, and on their human companions. But the challenges of aging can invite us to know and love new dimensions of our animals, as we become particularly attuned to their evolving needs. It is a time for us to give back some of the unconditional love, patience, and tolerance that our pets offer us throughout their lives.

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Comments

11 Responses to “Hug an Old Dog Today”
  1. trissi_v says:

    I have one of the 33 million geriatric cats out there (she is almost 13).  I have had her since 6 months.  I watched her grow up and stay a kitten at the same time.  I watched her turn into an old lady as soon as I adopted my second kitty.  She naps more now and she has to go to the vet every 6 months for check ups on her kidneys .  I have learned to keep water all over the house for her to be sure she is getting enough liquid.  She squeaks when I pick her up and she hugs like no body else.  She has accepted change in her old age with grace (moving across the world, addition of new animals, moving to a new house),  Her coloring has changed so much from when she was young that she doesn’t even look like the same cat, but her eyes are the same brilliant blue…just a bit more knowledgeable.  
     
    Because of her, I am looking forward to all the youngins in the house getting older (2 dogs, 3 and 4 yrs) and my other little cat (2 years).   Because of her, I plan on making it a point, when the time is right, to foster/adopt a senior animal.   Because of her I will know what needs to be done for my pack as they start to age.  Because of her my heart will break someday, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • StubbyDog says:

       @trissi_v So beautifully said. Thank you for sharing. Your cats are blessed to have you.

  2. Lynne Exley King says:

    I lost my ‘baby’ Jassie earlier this year at the grand age of eighteen, I had her from birth (along with her sister Floyd who we lost five years ago) at one point I had seven cats, along with Jassie and Floyd we had their brothers Ollie and Tom, their mum Tinker, as well as ‘auntie’ Toffee (who wasn’t related) Tinker died five years ago – the day after Floyd, I was devastated, then three month later we lost Toffee at the great age of nineteen, Ollie died last November at almost eighteen, so I have had my fair share of kittens who lived to a great age, and losing my best friend Jassie was so painful I said I would never put myself through that again – until I went to an animal sanctuary and met my one-eyed five year old Tabitha, who hadn’t has a happy life and is now spoilt rotten!

  3. Lynne Exley King says:

    I lost my ‘baby’ Jassie earlier this year at the grand age of eighteen, I had her from birth (along with her sister Floyd who we lost five years ago) at one point I had seven cats, along with Jassie and Floyd we had their brothers Ollie and Tom, their mum Tinker, as well as ‘auntie’ Toffee (who wasn’t related) Tinker died five years ago – the day after Floyd, I was devastated, then three month later we lost Toffee at the great age of nineteen, Ollie died last November at almost eighteen, so I have had my fair share of kittens who lived to a great age, and losing my best friend Jassie was so painful I said I would never put myself through that again – until I went to an animal sanctuary and met my one-eyed five year old Tabitha, who hadn’t has a happy life and is now spoilt rotten!

    • StubbyDog says:

       @Lynne Exley King Aw, we are so sorry for all your loss, but we are happy that you and Tabitha have each other. You were blessed to have your babies so long, and now you have a new baby to love and spoil.

  4. SarahMathews says:

    I hug and kiss and my almost 8 year old pit bull mix everyday. He’s been going gray since he was 3. It just makes him look more distinguished. He is very active and keeps up with my 2 year old pit bull.

  5. jennmartinelli says:

    Older animals have a special place in my heart too. In the last few years we lost our 14.5 year old dog and 17 year old cat. We rescued 2 new cats from our local shelter about 2 years ago now and I look forward to a long long life with them, and hopefully having them in our family well into their teens!
     
    It is indeed true that older animals are often a wonderful delight in so many ways. Our dog Billy became a curmudgeonly grumpy old man and developed such a hilarious personality. Our kitty Emily actually because more outgoing and social as she aged, which was a lot of fun.
     
    Thank you to everyone who appreciates the older and wiser animals. We are lucky to have them in our lives.

    • StubbyDog says:

       @jennmartinelli Thanks for sharing Jenn, so sorry for your loss, but we are thankful you opened up your heart to two kitties.

  6. DianaJones says:

    People fail at so many things as a group, and our abject failure of not honouring aging companions of any species is cringe worthy.  I work with the elders of my community and as a group they are treated very poorly – from basic access to health care, to being warehoused for care and a complete lack of emotional and psychological support they so richly deserve.  We have justified this treatment through a culture of greed and selfishness. So really, is it any wonder that people think aging animals are disposable when they become a perceived financial and emotional burden? 
    I have 3 senior animals currently, and I adore them for their love, foibles, maladies and incredible ability to out fart every known creature on the planet, and maybe off.  I drag them to the vet regularly to stave off illnesses while I can, and will happily pay for any treatment, because as most true animal lovers know, what they give in return is truly priceless. So, until attitudes to our elders change, I think our elder companion animals will suffer. I decided long ago that once my guys die, I will honour their memories with adopting only senior animals. And I will continue to be an advocate for the elders in my community because it has to start there too. 

    • StubbyDog says:

       @DianaJones We couldn’t agree more Diana, what wonderful work you do and your pets are very lucky to have such a compassionate and caring mom.

  7. molly1956pamela says:

    Dogs can be just as loving when they are old.   I had a beautiful sweet great dane that was sweet and loving til we had to put him down.  He was about one week shy of his twelfth birthday.  We still miss him.  We do have another Great Dane who is now six.  If i get to have him til he is the same age, I will be happy because he is sweet and sucky and a bit of a goof at times.