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Published February 25, 2011, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Options when age is issue

Dear Dr. Fox: I read your articles regularly, even though my husband and I have no pets because we are both 90 years old. When we did have pets, we experienced how much they loved us (as we loved them), so we feel it is not fair to the animals to leave them at our age when we are gone and they miss us.

By: Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: I read your articles regularly, even though my husband and I have no pets because we are both 90 years old. When we did have pets, we experienced how much they loved us (as we loved them), so we feel it is not fair to the animals to leave them at our age when we are gone and they miss us. Years ago, we had two collies, and the younger one whined and cried for days in the spot where the other had died of old age.

But that is not why I’m writing today. Our daughter had a puppy that was being housetrained on newspaper, which she gradually moved close to the door leading outside. But the puppy wouldn’t do her business outside, only on the paper inside. One day, our daughter moved the paper outside. She showed the puppy the paper outside and then let her out. The puppy would do her business outside if the paper were there. She was completely housebroken from then on. – G.G., St. Peters, Mo.

Dear G.G.: Readers with puppies who need to be housetrained will value your daughter’s confirmation of the method I have long advocated for getting puppies used to evacuating outdoors. But certain breeds (I don’t want to embarrass anyone) never get it – they seem to be cognitively challenged! The trick is to put the pup on the newspaper or pee-pee pad at regular times when he or she is most likely to want to evacuate, which is soon after waking up, after a bout of play, before and soon after feeding, and last thing at night before turning in.

Your observations on getting too old to have pets are much appreciated. Yes, indeed, too many elderly people take in young animals that will outlive them, without forethought. Parrots (who can live into their 60s) and some reptiles like turtles may pass from one generation to the next.

I know of several active senior citizens who love animals and have decided, as you have, to live without one but now offer their services to care for neighborhood pets when the neighbors are away at work during the day or on vacation. Others take in old dogs or cats from the local shelter, offering tender loving hospice care as an alternative to euthanasia because most people want to adopt younger animals. In many instances, these older animals are from owners who have passed on or are living in retirement homes where pets are not allowed to live, only visit. What better gift than to adopt such animals if other immediate family members are unwilling or unable to do so, and take the pets to visit their owners at the retirement or nursing home.


Dear Dr. Fox: I must tell you that my old cat has become addicted to your massage treatment. Thank you for your excellent book “The Healing Touch for Cats.” My only complaint is that Mr. Bubbles insists on his evening massage and won’t stop rubbing, rolling, and meowing until I oblige. He seems more lithe and lively ever since I started six months ago, and he is going on 15! – R.E., Arlington, Va.

Dear R.E.: Older cats do become arthritic, and massage therapy, plus a warm heating pad on which to lie, can work miracles. The same goes for old dogs. Massaging one’s animal companion can become more than a daily routine – a ritual of healing and communion. Our Minnesota-winter-rescued feral cat, Mark Twain, was so crippled from years in the cold that the veterinarian who neutered him thought he might have a damaged spine or injured hips because his hind legs could not be extended fully when he was under a general anesthetic for surgery. Now, after a year of rehabilitation, he is almost normal, and his favorite back and hip massage is when he stretches out fully with his front claws hooked into his scratch post and he waits for a deep back and hip massage!

Arthritic problems such as his can make it difficult and painful for afflicted cats to properly use the litter box because assuming the normal squatting posture is virtually impossible. They can become house-soilers, messing outside or on the edge of the litter box. It is regrettable that many older cats who stop using their litter boxes are euthanized when this generally treatable condition is not recognized.


Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.

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