The changing care of ageing pets

13 December 2010
Pets become a favourite part of the family very soon after they come into our lives. We feed them, care for them, provide comfort and warmth and make sure they're healthy. Every day I see their faces, they're as familiar to me as Hanno's, but life is relatively short for our pets and in a heart beat they're gone.

Alice, our Airedale Terrier, is 13. We've had her since she was a puppy. She came to us from the same person who bred her Aunty Rosie. It seems like yesterday when we had Rosie here with us too but it's over two years now since she died. Now Alice is declining in health, she's weak and she may not last too much longer. She's deaf and can't see properly because she has cataracts. She is very thin, although she's still eating a lot, she's incontinent at times, she has a lot of growths - the vet says they're similar to the growths old ladies get, her hair is thinning, and she often stumbles when she walks. She spends most of her day in bed in the kitchen, either asleep or watching Hanno and I as we go about our daily chores.

There are times when she's alert and runs around like a puppy. She likes to walk out to the front gate with Hanno or I to bring in the bins or close the gate. She still sniffs her way around our boundary fences every time she's out there. When she knows it's dinner time, she comes looking for us and bounces around like a clown. Yep, there are plenty of signs of the younger Alice still there, but there is nothing the vet can do for Alice. She is nearing the end of her life, she has leaking heart valves, so we have to accept that and make her as comfortable as we can.

And we have to enjoy every day we have with her and take lots of photos.

Pets require a different kind of care when they're young, during their prime and when they age. You need to adjust what you do and keep on the lookout for signs of ageing. We decided Alice needed a softer bed. She's slept on the same bed for a number of years but with no fat on her body and not as much hair, she needed a softer, warmer bed. Hanno bought a nice piece of thick foam rubber a couple of weeks ago. It supports her weight nicely and I think she'd find it's a big improvement on the older bed. Yesterday I made a cover for it. Her bedding needs to be changed quite frequently now so we need two such covers. I'll do up another one during the week. We're also feeding her three times a day now. She has two Weetbix with milk for breakfast, a raw chicken carcass or a raw egg flip for lunch and her usual homemade dog food for dinner. Apart from that she drinks water and she has the occasional piece of toast or biscuit.

Hettie is our white cat. She's a bit older than Alice and she's slowing down too. She's never been a wanderer but sometimes she used to go into the bush near the house, now she sleeps on a table or a chair on the back verandah all day. At night she sleeps on a soft bed on another table a bit further back. She's still in reasonably good health but she can't jump like she used to. She hesitates and has a few tries at jumping on the table where she is fed. I moved a chair closer to her second table so she can get up there easily. Hettie's meals haven't changed much; we do buy the senior biscuits for her now.

They give us a lot of pleasure, these animals, and it will be a sad day here when they die. I clearly remember the day we buried Rosie under the Banksia Rose in the backyard. We were both devastated. I used to think we'd get another dog straight away when Alice died, but now I'm not so certain of that. I don't want to think about a time when she's not here so that decision will have to wait. I am sure those of you with pets will know how we feel. How have you looked after your ageing pets?