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Old pets...when do we let go?

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It can be incredibly difficult to come to terms with the reality that, generally, we outlive our very much loved pets. Often we've had them since they were the cutest, most vulnerable kittens or puppies, being with them as they grow through to middle and then old age; and ultimately, finally, witnessing and being a part of their death. Large parrots, of course, are the exception, as they can live for a good forty years plus and even up to seventy or more, meaning you have to remember to leave them to someone in your will! (Talk about pets being a big responsibility!)

So how do we know when our pets have become just too old and are suffering? It's never an easy process and is affected by many things such as religion, belief systems and personal experience - endlessly nuanced difficult decisions about ones we love. Our general advice in this very personal matter is that you should focus on quality of life. If you feel that your pet's quality of life is poor, and perhaps too poor, and you therefore feel you should at least discuss euthanasia, then talk with your trusted vet openly and honestly so that a fair assessment can be made and proper respect paid to all the issues. Your vet will be able to examine your pet, run tests if necessary, and give you the advice you need. It's never an easy decision and involves a balanced assessment of both your and your pet's needs on a number of fronts, including emotional, medical and financial.

Here are some tips for caring for your aging pet:

  1. Cats and dogs over the age of seven should fed quality senior diets.
  2. Monitor weight carefully. Overweight dogs and cats tend not to exercise as much, thus putting strain on already-aching joints and bones. Conversely, don't assume that weight loss is always a good thing.
  3. Watch appetite and water intake. Drinking and urinating more than normal can indicate problems. Hungry older cats who don't put on weight can have thyroid problems. Older pets with a poor appetite may have one or more bad teeth.
  4. Make sure your old pet has a comfortable and warm place to relax and sleep, as well as easy access to food and water bowls - don't make poor old Felix jump onto the counter for his dinner like he used to!
  5. Old cats often can't self-groom due to arthritis or obesity. Brushing is helpful, but if you suspect your cat is in pain (not jumping but instead climbing up furniture, sleeping a lot and not interacting with the family), ask your vet for treatment options.
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