If you could choose a best friend
for your children, you'd probably
look for someone who plays well,
listens to their problems without
passing judgment, gives them
unconditional love and stays close
If those are the criteria you'd use,
you might do well to choose an older
cat or dog.
Even if your child or family hasn't
had a pet during its early years,
senior-aged dogs and cats are still
a good first choice for a pet.
Animal shelters and rescue
organizations are full of older
animals eager to please and eager
for homes. And an older pet can
offer several advantages. Compared
to an average puppy or kitten, they
are generally calmer, already
housetrained, and not as likely to
chew furniture, shoes or fingers.
Research is revealing that older pets have a
positive impact in many other ways, as well.
Robert Poresky, associate professor of Family
Studies and Human Services at Kansas State
University, is one of dozens of researchers who
are examining the impact of having a pet in the
home. His findings include evidence that
children who are involved with and attached to
pets develop higher levels of empathy, learn
responsibility earlier, and may even have higher
IQ scores than children who don't have pets.
"In one study, we found that 3- and 4-year-olds
with pets were better able to understand the
feelings of other children than those without
pets," Poresky says. He also says there are life
lessons to be learned from taking responsibility
for a pet. "A dog or cat won't always do what
the child wants them to do, and that can be very
important," he says. "This helps kids learn that
there are other perspectives and ways of looking
It's not just having a pet in the home that
benefits kids, Poresky says. It's the
involvement and time the child spends with a
pet. "The more they do together, the greater the
positive impact on a child's life," he says.
Choosing a Pet
It's a good idea to learn as much as possible
about a senior pet before bringing it home, says
Judy Dworkin, of the Animal Humane Society in
Golden Valley, Minn. "Many animals up for
adoption come with histories that tell whether
they've lived with children and how they get
along with them. If that information isn't
available, parents and children can spend time
with the dog or cat in a private room to see how
everyone gets along," she says. "Every animal is
unique. Taking the time to see how they'll
interact helps ensure that you bring home the
Senior Pet Health
Just as humans need more medical attention as
they age, senior pets can benefit from
additional checkups by a veterinarian. Bernadine
Cruz, DVM, in Laguna Hills, Calif., recommends
senior pets receive twice-annual exams for and
regular blood testing to help identify diseases
in their earliest, most treatable stages.
"Very often," she says, "what is key to early
detection is an owner who notices subtle
behavioral or physical changes in their pet and
discusses them with the veterinarian."
Steve Fox, DVM, managing technical services
veterinarian for Pfizer Animal Health, agrees.
"Many of the early signs of medical conditions
are often mistakenly attributed to signs of
normal aging. Educating pet owners that certain
changes can signal a health problem can lead to
early detection and treatment.
For dog owners, some signs to watch for include:
-- limping or lagging behind
-- stiffness after exercise or difficulty
-- decreased tolerance for exercise
-- tremors or shaking
-- change in appetite
-- decreased interaction with family members
-- changes in sleep patterns
-- loss of housetraining
-- change in thirst or urination
-- difficulty posturing to toilet
-- skin, hair and coat changes
-- weight changes
-- bad breath
(Many of these signs also apply to cats.)
In most cases, early detection can promote
effective treatment of canine and feline
diseases, says Fox. "With the diagnostic tools
and treatment options now available to
veterinarians, there is much that can be done to
give senior dogs and cats lives that are longer,
healthier and happier than ever."
See your veterinarian for information on new
treatment options available for canine
arthritis, cognitive dysfunction syndrome
(disorientation) and periodontal disease.
Courtesy ARA Content, www.ARAcontent.com;
Common Senior Pet Health Concerns
Here are some common conditions that affect
senior pets. If your dog or cat exhibits any of
these physical or behavioral signs, consult your
-- Arthritis: Limping, lagging behind, stiffness
after exercise, difficulty climbing stairs.
-- Cancer: Unusual growths or abnormal bumps.
-- Cataracts and vision loss: Bumping into
furniture, doors and walls; easily disoriented;
-- Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS):
Disorientation (confusion), decreased
interaction with family members, abnormal
sleep-wake cycle, loss of housetraining.
-- Cushing's disease: "Potbellied" appearance,
increased water or food intake, increased
urination, hair loss, muscle weakness, changes
in activity level, decreased responsiveness to
-- Diabetes: Increased food or water intake,
increased urination and weight loss.
-- Gastrointestinal disorders: Vomiting,
flatulence, diarrhea or constipation, decreased
appetite and weight loss.
-- Hearing loss: Sleeping more soundly, apparent
lack of awareness of loud noises, non-responsive
-- Heart disease: Labored breathing, coughing,
sluggishness, fainting, abdominal fluid.
-- Kidney failure: Increased water intake and
urination; weight, muscle and appetite loss.
-- Obesity: Weight is more than 15 percent over
-- Periodontal disease: Bad breath, buildup of
plaque on teeth, inflamed gums, excessive
drooling, reluctance to be touched on face or
near mouth, decreased appetite and difficult
-- Thyroid disease
Hypothyroidism - dogs: Reduced activity, weight
gain, hair loss, shivering.
Hyperthyroidism - cats: Increased appetite,
water consumption and urination; weight loss;
EDITOR'S NOTE: Pfizer Animal Health has
increasingly focused efforts on meeting the
special needs of senior pets. Pfizer Inc.,
discovers, develops, manufactures and markets
leading prescription medicines for human and