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Pets, loved ones and caregiving

When there’s an emergency or a need for short or long-term assistance, caregivers are often tasked with looking after pets as well. 

By Mary Bart

This double duty caregiving responsibility can be both a pleasure or a nightmare—especially for those with little or no experience. Let’s meet two family caregivers who are now faced with pet care duties too.

Meet Lisa, Ron and Lamb Felix and Luna
Lisa’s ability to stay safe and mobile in her own home was seriously compromised after several falls. After much discussion, her son Ron invited his Mom and her two dogs, Lamb Felix, a Westie and Luna, a Portuguese Water Dog to move into this family home. Ron claimed to know more about taking care her dogs than people. Taking care of Mom promises to be a challenge, he told his buddies, but looking after her two “wild ones” will be fun. Here are a few things that Ron did to ensure the pups were well taken care of:

• Annual check-ups. Thankfully, Ron knew his mum’s veterinarian and, in a quick call, proactively discovered that she’d missed last year’s wellness checks and hadn’t given them the heartworm medication in a while (Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes and is one of many parasites to be aware of. This tiny roundworm can attack both indoor and outdoor pets.).

He scheduled an appointment and sat down beforehand with his mum to compile a list of concerns and questions. Check eyes, ears, heart, joints and weight, recommend updated vaccines etc., and also possibly a switch in food as both dogs were getting older. 

Good dental hygiene is important to help prevent gum disease, tooth loss, liver, kidney, or heart issues so Ron expects the vet will check that too.

• Joint health.The Vet recommended joint supplements and to keep the dogs at a good weight and reinforced the fact that exercise is important to maintain muscle mass. Swimming is a great way to build muscle strength while reducing direct impact on joints. He suggested ramps may help with household stairs or for entering or exiting a car.  

• Pest free pets. Ticks, lice, mites and fleas can carry diseases that may impact the long-term health or even cause fatal reactions for pets so Ron bought the products are best suited for his mum’s dogs and their lifestyle. 

• Microchipping. Both Felix and Luna didn’t have microchips which Ron deemed important. Microchipping is a small rice-sized chip that contains the owner’s contact information and is linked to a registry database. Using a hypodermic needle the vet inserted the chip under the skin between each dog’s shoulder blades. No surgery or anesthesia was required. Upon finding the pet, any vet or animal shelter would be able to scan the chip and then contact Ron.

• Walking schedule. Both dogs had not been walked regularly during mum’s rehabilitation. With the change in homes this would now be possible. Regular exercise would not only help keeps them strong, fit and less likely to take up destructive behaviours (such as destroying your favorite pair of shoes or furniture). Ron asked the vet for exercise recommendations and set up a schedule for walks that would include his daughters had offered to help out. 

• Toys. toys. toys. It was suggested that toys would be good to keep Felix and Luna active, happy and busy for hours. The pet shop owner showed Ron ones that were durable, not toxic and just right size for each of them. His cautionary note, however, was to wash them regularly and replace or repair them if they get too tattered.

• Mindful of weather. Ron and his family also discussed how to keep the dogs safe in cold, heat or humid weather. In the winter, walks would be shorter. In the summer they discussed never leaving the dogs in the car and always having water available. 

• Regular grooming. Grooming not only helps keep their skin, hair, fur and nails healthy but it is an excellent time to check for skin issues such as pests, redness, dry skin, rashes, bald patches, lumps, sores and dandruff. Ron’s daughter took both dogs to the groomer based on the vet’s recommendations and booked a follow up appointment in a month.

• Socializing and training. Thankfully mum’s dogs were well behaved and loved to be social with other dogs and people. Ron wanted to keep them off the furniture and stop their jumping up so he’s working on a bit of retraining. He’s considering professional help if things don’t go smoothly.

Meet Bev, Marsha, Pig and Posy
After one phone call, her sister Bev suddenly became not only a caregiver for Marsha but to her unhealthy pets, the Guinea Pig and Possy, the moody cat was not what she was happy about. 

• Weight management. Turns out the cat was overweight and being fed too much. The vet recommend new food and encouraged Marsha to review the package guidelines and reduce the number of treats. On a side note, she suggested experimenting with raw veggies and keeping the water bowl fresh and clean.

• Starting off on the right foot. Since Marsha really knew nothing about either pet, she set up a Vet appointment and got the cat neutered. Once he had a clean bill of health, Marsha and her sister agreed that the guinea pig should be adopted. But Marsha wasn’t successful in getting Bev to give up Posy.

• Stay observant. As there was a change in lifestyle, the vet suggested that Posy may be eating less, not sleeping well, sleeping too much, more moody, aggressive, vomiting or lethargic. If Ron was worried that something may be wrong, she reminded him to be proactive and call the pet hospital.

As we know, older adults who own pets are generally happier and healthier according to some studies so it’s not such a bad thing to become a pet parent in the short or long term if you can manage it. Spending time together whether you are playing, hugging, or going for a walk, a pet will sense your love and give it back to you ten-fold. The connection and bond between you and your new fun and quirky new companion could just make both of your lives better.  

Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an Internet-based charity that offers education and support to family caregivers.

12 benefits of pet care

Not only are pets cute but they add a lot of positive energy to your life. Here are the reasons why having a pet might be good for you:

1. You get more physical activity:By walking more, lifting more and bending down more, dog and cat owners tend to be more active.

2. Lowers blood pressure: Pets can help reduce hypertension. Some studies have shown that pets can reduce blood pressure by about 10% in the left side of the heart. 10% is better than nothing of course.

3. Reduced stress and calms us down: Yes, pets can be stressful (especially when they are young or sick) but generally speaking they help calm us down and reduce our stress. Studies have found that being around animals helps decrease the hormone called Cortisol that is known to increase stress. Animals live in the moment which helps pet owners to be more at peace and less likely to be consumed by worries of money, health or family problems. 

4. Fight depression and anxiety:Animal assisted therapy is a known treatment for mood disorders and depression. Pets force us to focus on them, not just ourselves and our issues.

5. Detecting low blood sugar levels: People with diabetes know how important it is to monitor their sugar levels. Some specially trained service dogs can smell that blood sugar levels have changed. Their sense of smell may just save a life or at least may alert a person that things have changed and that they need to check their blood sugar levels. 

6. Reduce risk of heart attacks and strokes: Studies have shown that cat owners were 40% less likely to have heart attacks and 1/3 less likely to have strokes than compared with non cat owners. Could their calming effects be the cause or could the cat owners themselves already be naturally calm and have matched their temperaments with cats? Is your pet calm? Does your cat’s mood rub off on you, making you calm too?

7. Improves our brain power: Pets need regular care and attention which forces us to keep our brains sharp in order to feed them, give them meds and take care of them. Take a friendly dog into a seniors’ facility and even people with dementia will be thrilled to see the animal and often will fondly remember their former pets.

8. Improved security: There is nothing like a loud barking dog to scare people away from your door. They often can sense that there is someone on or near your home and can bark to get your attention of the possible intruder.

9. Companionship: Older adults and living independently can be more vulnerable to loneliness, isolation and potential elder abuses. Pets give us unconditional love, few demands and often a reason to laugh. They are always so glad to see us and often just love to sit with us as our loyal companion.

10. They keep our secrets: Pets are our trusted companions. You can tell your pet anything. They will not be judgemental or gossip about you. They keep our secrets, boost our spirits, and rarely let us down, which is often better than what our family and friends do to us.

11. You socialize more: There is nothing like taking a dog for walk in the park to not only meet other dogs but for a chance to say hello to other dog walkers. Taking your dog to a dog park gives you the opportunity to meet and chat with other dog owners, some of whom may become friends. 

12. Gives your life purpose: A pet keeps us busy and not just focussed on our needs and issues. They help give our lives value and purpose. Pet owners have real reasons to get out of bed, get dressed, shop for pet food and take care of another living soul. The bond with a pet improves our overall quality of life. How wonderful is that?

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