How to Care for A Senior Pet

How to Care for A Senior Pet

Smokey, My Aging Cat

I met Smokey in 2002 when I was volunteering with Pals for Paws.  She was part of a feral cat colony that lived in the woods somewhere behind a business on Oaks Road in New Bern.  There were a handful of cats of various ages, sizes, and colors living there.  Several volunteers took turns feeding them morning and evening.  We’d park behind the business and hike a trail in the woods to their spot. 

We spread out about five cans of wet food and fill up bowls of fresh water and watched them dine.  When it was my turn, I would talk to them and try to win their trust.  The youngest of them was Smokey – a gray cat with a white spot on her chest.  She would follow me down the trail when I was leaving – talking the whole time.  We bonded before she even let me pet her. 

By summer I dreaded hiking in the woods because it was so hot and full of mosquitoes.   It dawned on me that I could take Smokey home and feed her in my air-conditioned house.  The other volunteers thought this was a splendid idea. 

We ended up trapping the whole group, taking them all to the vet, made sure they were all spayed and neutered and healthy and found homes for them all.  Smokey came to live with me and fit in harmoniously with the rest of my pet household.  I now had a balanced “petfolio” of three cats and three dogs.  Smokey is the only pet left from that original group.  The others have passed on.  It’s tough watching her struggle with illness and the effects of old age.

Making Adjustments

She is smaller and lighter than she used to be.  She no longer jumps up to the heights she could easily soar to in her youth.  Arthritis keeps her slow and close to the ground.  I leave some soft bedding in various rooms so she can rest more comfortably. I lift her onto my bed each night.   Smokey was diagnosed with a thyroid condition a few years ago and can only eat special food.  I try to vary her food a little even though it’s basically the same formulation.  I may add water one day or heat the food in the microwave on another.

I place her dish on something to lift it a few inches off the floor so it’s easier on her neck when she bends over to eat.   I groom her every day as she needs a little help.  Her coat has dandruff so I brush her with a soft brush and wipe her down with a wet cloth being careful not to brush her spine. 

After noticing a few accidents, I changed her litter box recently to one that is shallower with lower sides so she can get in and out with ease.  I’m pretty sure she doesn’t hear me anymore either.  So I move carefully near her so she isn’t startled.  We visit the vet’s office more frequently for nail trims and wellness checks.  Her numbers are good – for now.  

Love & Comfort

I plan to keep her comfortable and well-cared for in her senior years.  She still follows me around, enjoys resting in sun spots, loves to eat, and cuddles with me each night before bedtime. I wonder if I am doing enough. I hope so.  I love her. 

I have clients with older cats that seem healthier and more agile.  Maybe Smokey’s mother was too young and stressed when she gave birth. Perhaps Smokey is missing some early comfort, love, nutrition, and safety that is influencing her aging process now. I do know that this once little cat from the woods fills a big space in my heart.        

What’s A Normal Hurricane Season?

What’s A Normal Hurricane Season?

Remembering Florence 

One thing I learned after 2018 Hurricane Florence is that we don’t always know what we are going to do until the last minute.  We were glued to weather reports that changed overnight.  At bedtime, the path of the storm was heading one way and by breakfast the next morning the path had shifted to another. My friends and I didn’t know if we should be hunkering down or packing to leave.  Hurricane Florence was baffling and unpredictable until she was on top of us.   And then she hit us so hard that many are still dealing with the aftermath.

Looking back, I was about as ready as I could be.  For my pets, Ginger, Davy, and Smokey, I prepared an emergency kit, packed water, food, can opener, cat carrier and dog crates, litter box and litter, puppy pads, plastic bags, pick up bags, medicine, medical records, leash, collar, harness, pet photo, ID tags.  For myself, I packed clothes, food, cell phone, charger, and my laptop.  For my house, I had put away yard art, bird feeders, outdoor tables and chairs, and had a pear tree cut down that wasn’t doing so well.

Go or No Go?

My car was gassed, serviced, and ready to go. I had checked off the items on my disaster preparedness list.  Short of boarding up my windows, I basically did all the things that were in my  control. Even so, I was anxious until an unexpected invitation came from a good friend in a safe area to ride out the storm at her house.  Once I backed my car out of the driveway with a destination and my precious cargo, I felt like everything would work out.  Ginger, Davy, Smokey and I were on our way to Wake Forest.

I followed the storm’s impact from the news on TV and kept an eye on my business from my laptop.  Crockett’s Critter Care was essentially closed for about two weeks.  I was in regular contact with any clients scheduled during this time and, I am happy to say, all their pets were safe.  However, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the other people who called me days before the hurricane started desperately looking for pet care while they left town.  I truly hope they were able to take their pets with them. 

You can’t just rely on Plan A.

Hurricane Florence has reminded us all to be aware of the perils of a disaster and to plan well for the safety of our family and our pets.   I also learned that one can’t just rely on Plan A.  Florence showed us that we might have to put Plan B or Plan C into action.  From one moment to the next flights were canceled, traffic bottlenecked or roads were impassable, and hotel rooms were scarce for a hundred miles around New Bern.  Disasters come with so many unknowns and the more prepared and organized we are, the better we can cope with them.

I was relieved that my pets were used to being crated, handled the drive well, have good house manners, and figured out that they had to be on their best behavior.  Ginger and Davy were quiet, walked nicely side by side around their new neighborhood and got along well with my friend’s puppy.  Smokey was content to explore, enjoyed meeting new people, and gladly settled into her new surroundings.  The Feliway pheromone spray that I applied to her bedding helped to alleviate some of her stress.

I don’t know how calm I would have been had I stayed behind and faced the storm on my own.  I waited about ten days until the power was restored and the flood waters receded before returning home.  When I asked my Facebook friends what they would do differently should our area be threatened again, I was impressed with their responses.   The changes they would make were mostly minor.  Some vowed to set aside more water for themselves and each of their pets, others said they will start to stock piling things earlier and one, in particular, is going to add another generator to help save the Koi in her outdoor pond in the event of a long power outage.

Now that the 2019 season has begun, I hope it is mild and uneventful.   No matter what happens I know that family, pets, and friends are at the top of the list.  Being organized and having a plan will help to cope with any storm.  Take care of the things that matter most and stay safe.

Do You Give Your Dog Choices?

Do You Give Your Dog Choices?

I’ve been involved in several discussions lately with “dog” people about the importance of giving dogs choices.  For example, Davy and I attend classes with a local trainer.  During a recent training session, each handler was asked to enter the ring alone, remove the dog’s leash, and walk away from their dog.  When it was our turn, Davy watched for a few seconds and then bounded to catch up.  I proceeded to change pace (normal, slow, fast) and make many quick changes of direction.  I was so proud of Davy as he showed great interest and enthusiasm to keep pace with me. He happily and eagerly did what I asked with each maneuver.  He read my “cues” and fell into place with ease.

This class consists of pet owners who are actively involved in showing their dogs in agility, rally, and obedience; performing in dog sports like barn hunts and dock diving; and training their dogs in scent work.  The dog participants ranged in age from puppies to seniors and include Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, Dobermans, Aussies, Cattle Dogs, Cavaliers, and German Shepherds.  We all took our turn.  Some of the dogs were a little unsure at first and wandered off to sniff a bit – but once they figured it out, I could see their confidence rise, their energy level pick-up, and their tails wag.  I have to admit, it was a nice break from sit, stay, down, left, right, about, and heel.  Most importantly – it was fun!

So I began to think of other ways to give my dog choices and started to set up little problems for Davy to solve.  Instead of dictating the direction of our walks, I started to ask Davy, “Which way?”  As long as his choice was safe, I followed his lead.  What this is doing is letting it be his walk.  He gets to add his own input which makes him feel more in charge.  After all, who wants someone dictating their every move?              

At home, we play the “Find It” game – especially on rainy days.  I ask him to sit, show him a toy, hide it in a place where he can’t see it, and then ask him to Find It.  But now, I ask him to select the toy from a few toys that I bring out for the game.  It’s one more choice that he gets to make.  Then for a treat – he gets to choose the one from my right hand or my left.

Pick a ball… any ball

Davy loves to play fetch in the yard.  What started with one ball has increased to three – a sturdy Kong ball, a lightweight whiffle ball, and a bouncy La Crosse ball.  Davy gets to choose the ball he wants me to throw, and he gets to choose when I throw it.  He knows that he must be in a sit before I put the ball in play.  He’s good at making the right choice.

At night, Davy is able to select his sleeping spot.  He can choose from several dog beds, the couch or my bed. Interesting that his choice is not always the same.  He’ll come up on the bed when I am reading or watching TV, but leaves when I turn out the lights. Then his preference is his doggie bed on the floor.  During the day, he is more likely to be found resting on the couch.  I like to give Davy choices.  I think it enriches his world to be able to have a say.  It breaks up the routine, builds confidence, and instills in him a happy working attitude.  It also helps to create a better relationship between us.  Letting your dog make the right choices is the key to success.  Next time you are paying attention to your dog, give him a chance to make some of the decisions.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.