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Photo credit: YOUTHOPIA/CHARLOTTE CHANG

What it’s like living with an elderly pet

Preparing to let go of a beloved pet is never easy.

Charlotte Chang
Charlotte Chang

You’ll never meet anyone who loves thriller movies more than her.


Published: 10 January 2022, 12:28 PM

Upon getting a new pet, the last thing on your mind would probably be its inevitable death.

My family has had a dog since I was seven years old. It’s a mix of a toy breed and a mid-sized dog, so its lifespan ranges between 15 to 17 human years. 

While it’s still very healthy and active for a 12-year-old, a part of me lives in constant fear of the day it takes its last breath.

 

dog-sitting-down
This is Cookie, my 12-year-old pet dog that I treat almost like a sister. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/CHARLOTTE CHANG

 

The death of a beloved pet is a depressing and touchy topic, but sitting around moping about this cruel impending fate won’t change anything.

I’ve learnt that instead of dreading the future, it’s better to focus on the present. So while it won’t be easy accepting reality when the time comes, here are some actions that I’ve taken to make this remaining time with my pet more meaningful.

1. Changing up its diet

While there’s nothing wrong with kibbles, your pet may grow tired of always eating the same food after a while.

For Cookie, we started out by adding apples to its meals, like a dessert of sorts. Seeing how much my dog loved it, we started feeding it carrots too.

From there, we transitioned to adding cooked meat and vegetables to its meals, just to let it taste something different every once in a while.

 

dog-food
Some other ingredients that we’ve begun feeding it include yogurt and bananas as well. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/CHARLOTTE CHANG

 

However, just because we’ve expanded its diet doesn’t mean we stopped feeding it kibbles entirely. At the end of the day, kibbles still contain the necessary nutrients for pets that home-cooked foods may not always be able to offer.

Given its old age, experimenting too much with its diet such as swapping out kibbles for raw meat might pose a risk to its health, so let it get used to new ingredients slowly by incorporating them into its usual meals. 

Just remember to research thoroughly on which foods are out of bounds and which are okay beforehand, and do consult a veterinarian if you intend to make major changes to its meals.

2. Making meaningful memories with it

There’s nothing wrong with lazing around with your pet on a Sunday afternoon, but being couch potatoes together wouldn’t be much of a memory of fun times shared.

When your pet is gone, you’ll probably want something to remember it by. More than the toys we’ve given it, I personally wanted a material item with a precious memory both of us share. 

So I summoned the artist in me to make a clay memorabilia of its paw print.

 

paw-memorabilia
Rather than focusing on the arts and crafts aspect of this activity, it’s more meaningful to use this time to bond with your pet. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/CHARLOTTE CHANG

 

With the air-dry clay I bought from Daiso and some leftover paint at home, I first moulded the clay into a palm-sized cuboid. I then placed a layer of plastic on top of the mould before pressing my pet’s paw down onto it just to make sure clay didn’t get in between its paw.

With the mould’s shape formed, I left it to dry for a day before painting it. The paint is optional, but colours do add on to the whole theme of sentiment.

I’m no artist, and that memorabilia is by no means a masterpiece. But whenever I look at it I’ll think of Cookie, and how it initially tried to eat the clay and refused to cooperate until I coerced her to with treats, and how we celebrated the final product even though it wasn’t the prettiest.

3. Paying extra attention to its behaviour

This might be a no-brainer for elderly pets, but it remains just as important to be said.

Your pet might be old, but curiosity has no age limit. I’m sure my pet isn’t the only one with the tendency to dig things out of the trash, even occasionally consuming unfinished food.

 

dog-toilet-paper
Many pets, including my own, have the tendency to dig through the trash for used tissues. PHOTO CREDIT: RICHARD THIJERATT VIA UNSPLASH

 

While this odd behaviour may make you laugh at first, things do become more difficult when it becomes a bad habit. Not only may there be unfinished food in the trash, but there could also be toxic items like insecticide or mothballs that they may believe is edible, making those bad habits harmful to your pet in the long run. 

That’s why it’s even more important to pay attention to the slightest of new behaviours that it is picking up in its old age, and rectify any issues while they’re still in development.

4. Pampering it with its own toys and bed

Just like how you would treat yourself on a self-care day, pampering your pet is all about making it feel at ease with itself. Rather than spoiling it, pampering is more for the sake of making them feel as comfortable as possible.

Like humans, pets can feel nervous too in various scenarios, such as being left alone at home. Without the presence of its owner, it may feel stressed over the sudden change in environment.   

Give it personal items like toys to encourage mental and physical stimulation while building independence, or maybe even a soft bed to help it sleep better.

 

dog-chew-shuttlecock
As a puppy, we’d get Cookie all sorts of squeaky chew toys, only for it to go back to the familiarity of shuttlecocks every time. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/CHARLOTTE CHANG

 

One way we’ve done our best to let Cookie feel pampered is giving it a bed to sleep on and a soft toy for it to play with. This way, not only would it be able to keep itself entertained when there’s no one around, it will also feel more relaxed too, being more in control of its environment.

When the time comes for it to go, there’s no doubt that you’ll have regrets. Healing from that loss is going to be a very painful journey, but don’t be too hard on yourself. 

You’ve done your best in the time that you had, and can be certain your pet knows that.


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