Owners of younger pets sometimes seem to live in a world apart. They pop into the clinic every 2-3 years, sometimes on schedule, sometimes not, to get a couple shots updated, replenish their flea pills, or have the occasional ear infection addressed. It seems a pretty carefree existence. The transition away from that youthful lifestyle can be a bit rocky, however. If you are one of those lucky folks with only younger pets, beware. Up ahead is a progressively more challenging path.

It’s difficult to grasp the fact that your 8-year-old dog is entering the sunset years of his life, but this is an unavoidable event, like taxes. And the other thing. At eight or ten years, your pet may still revel in the role of a child, but his physical age is approaching that of your parents and grandparents. As his primary caregiver, you will need to visit the doctor more frequently in order to maintain good health and prolong his lifespan. You’ll need to accept the baggage he accumulates, like ongoing prescriptions, previous drug side effects or injection reactions, and chronic conditions that affect his organ function. Life is like a sand castle. No matter how good you are at building them, it can only reach a certain height. At some point, it is going to gently collapse, regardless of how you hover around spritzing it with water and fending off bumbling beachgoers. Sometimes you can make it last a pretty long time… but the taller that castle grows, the more attention it’s going to require.

You may chafe when the vet visits get more frequent or more expensive, perhaps even decline this care with the comment, “He’s always been a really healthy cat; he doesn’t need that.” This kind of denial is a bit like claiming that there’s no need to fill up your gas tank—because the car’s been running fine for days. The way of the world is that cars run down to empty, sand crumbles, and our pets become more frail as they age. The sad fact is that you could easily have a longer relationship with your dentist or your mechanic than you will with your treasured pet.

Please, if you have an aging dog or cat, resist the temptation to change her routine unless you have an important reason to do so. In fact, her diet and activity should be kept as consistent and boring as possible, because older pets don’t accept changes easily. Don’t worry; boredom is in their wheelhouse! I’m not telling you to put the old girl in a locked display case, but do exercise extreme caution: pulling a muscle, suffering a bit of diarrhea, embarking on a brief hunger strike—all relatively minor challenges for a youngster. Any one of those, however, can pose a substantial threat to your elderly animal. The taller and more elaborate that sand castle gets, the more likely it is to slither down with even a breath of a breeze. If you can possibly help it… don’t be that breeze.

Dr. M.S. Regan