What You Need to Know About Your Older Dog

Old dogs are often the companions of aging owners because that old pet has the same problems they've got, says William Tranquilli, DVM, a professor and pain specialist at the University of Illinois. "They don't necessarily want a young pet, they want to do what they can to help their old buddy." They're willing to spend the money and often have more time to treat chronic disease to try to make the old animal more comfortable. And because the pets that we love are good for human health, just having a dog around can reduce the trips owners take to their own doctors. Some physicians recommend that heart attack survivors keep a pet, because it increases their survival.

People of all ages, whose human family members live far away, become even more emotionally dependent on the dog. In cases of elderly owners, Fritzie may be the only remaining family member they have. Of those pet owners who have a will, 27 percent have included provisions for their pets. Prolonging the dog's life touches on a host of social and emotional issues.

Dogs who have spent a decade or more with us have learned what we like and expect -- and we've learned to anticipate the senior dog's needs, likes and dislikes. Over the span of years, we build and then enjoy a comfortable companionship together. Our aging pets share with us our life experiences, successes and failures, joys and sorrows, and they represent milestones in our lives. They may have celebrated with us when we graduated from school, got married and had children or grandchildren -- or comforted us during convalescence, the loss of a job or retirement. They have been there for us, through everything. The more time we spend together, the greater our affection grows. Our compassion, love and empathy for each other reach a depth that has no parallel in human existence.

"We share our secret souls with our pets in ways we wouldn't dare with another human being," says Dr. Wallace Sife, a psychologist and president of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. "We're human beings, and love is love. Love for a pet is no different than love for another human being."


Reprinted from Complete Care for Your Aging Dog by Amy Shojai © 2003 Permission granted by New American Library.

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