I now share my house with geriatric pets, and they are not shy about letting their oldness get the best of all of us.
Maybe it's not something people think about when they adopt pets, all young and full of energy with zero health problems. I know, rationally, that eventually animals will age, just as I will age, and they will develop problems as they age.
One is just never prepared for it when it finally happens, even if when it's expected.
For almost ten years I have shared my house with Tess, Percy, Puckett, and Willow, in that order. I've had Tess the longest. Percy came quickly after her, so they are close to the same age. Puckett was older when I adopted her.
And now that I've had them almost a decade, they have all entered the twilight zone of elderly animals.
Just like elderly people, they develop health issues. They aren't as energetic as they used to be, they have digestive issues and weight gain, their fur isn't as shiny and thick as it once was. I think the cats at least are in the early stages of dementia since they can't seem to remember when they ate last even if it was just five minutes ago, and Tess' eyesight is definitely going.
Plus Tess is starting to smell like "old dog." German shepherds, when bathed regularly, do not have the natural "doggy odor" that many other breeds are cursed with. Hounds and bully breeds seem to suffer the most from "doggy smell." And I'm not a huge fan of "doggy smell," which is one reason German shepherds have always been my top breed of choice.
There is no denying that Tess smells. She gets bathed. She also spends a lot of time outdoors. That never used to contribute to her smell when she was younger, but it does now. She smells like "old dog," and she has super bad doggy breath despite the fact that she gets her teeth cleaned once a year.
The cats smell too. Percy farts like a horse, has the nastiest diarrhea that just gets worse as he ages thanks to his Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and the fact that he will eat whatever presents itself to him and moves. It doesn't even have to move. The other day he was chewing on plastic just because it was there. He also tried to gnaw on one of my rosebush stems, because, well thorns feel good in the mouth.
Willow has the nastiest smelling poop, and she's the only one who can't be considered geriatric yet. I think she's about seven years old. She just acts like the others because she's always been an emulator and has no mind of her own. I think she just doesn't want to feel left out.
Puckett's old age is noticeable as she has given up trying to jump up on the bed and will literally haul herself up by her front claws, ripping up the bed sheets and blankets in the process. She gets constant mats in her fur from lack of grooming. Come to think of it, so does Willow. Declining hygiene is also a sign of old age. Where they once obsessed over licking themselves and each other clean, they no longer seem to care. Percy still grooms, but he too doesn't seem to have as much enthusiasm for it.
The loss of control of bodily functions is the biggest sign of the end of their lives approaching. My carpet is absolutely ruined. Tess has peed on the bedroom carpet enough times now that there is nothing left to do but throw it out. Puckett yaks up her breakfast and/or dinner every other day, and it's usually on the carpet. Percy can't seem to get everything in the litter box when he's using it, so he tracks his business across the floor, and inevitably ends up on the carpet. Willow can't seem to get her whole, and I might add, tiny butt into the litter box so she always manages to pee over the edge. That's a lovely surprise in the morning when I grab the box to clean it and get a handful of cat pee.
I realized the other day just where I was at in the life cycle of pets when I stood in the Petco and stared at an aisle full of "How to keep your pet from soiling your house" products. Among them, doggy diapers, pet wipes, and potty pads. I know these are marketed for other reasons - potty pads for housebreaking puppies and doggy diapers for females in heat - but my dog is incontinent and she has reached the point where she just doesn't bother holding her bladder anymore.
You know you've reached doggy old age when you are contemplating diapers for your dog, and giving up on housetraining altogether. You buy potty pads just to save the carpet. Plus, I think the cats might enjoy potty pads rather than trying to drag their old butts into the litter boxes. That obviously seems to be too much work.
My solution has been to buy a doggy gate and just keep Tess out of the bedroom. That way, if she messes on the floor during the night, she'll do it on the kitchen floor that is tile and easy to clean up.
I have to keep the gate braced in the doorway slightly elevated so the cats can crawl underneath it, as they no longer leap or climb over it. Too old or too lazy. Or maybe a combination of both, but you should see the shitty look they shoot me when I put the gate up, and they actually have to make some effort into getting into the bedroom.
Incidentally, they don't want to go into the bedroom until I've put up the gate. Then they absolutely have to be in there, and even crawling under the gate seems to be beneath their dignity.
Like, "How DARE you barricade this otherwise open doorway for me to use whenever I want??"
Just breaks my heart to watch it, really. Those were the days when even Puckett would leap over the gate and land with an audible thump on the other side. She wasn't very graceful about it, but she did it and it kept her active and fit.
Well, somewhat fit.
Now she just sleeps.
Tess still runs up and down the stairs of the deck, but she mostly just likes to sleep on the deck as well.
Winter will be hard with everyone once again cooped up and even less space to roam now that the dog is banned from all things carpet.
The worst thing about the animals getting older is my lack of patience. I tell myself everyday, they are old, they can't help it, it's only going to get worse, but then I stare down the barrel of the gun of litter scattered everywhere, piles of the most vile-smelling poop I've ever experienced deposited five times a day, and puddles of pee and puke, and sadly, I tend to lose my mind. I know I should be more patient, and I don't yell at them for it. Yelling at Tess for peeing on the floor at night because she can't hold it, or yelling at Puckett for throwing up her breakfast because her stomach can't handle too much food at once will only make them more miserable. They are animals. They don't understand.
But I do lock myself in my bedroom and scream silently into a pillow. Or I cuss to myself as I clean out the litter boxes and sweep the floor for the tenth time that day. This of course upsets the animals anyway. They don't know why I'm cussing at myself, they just know I'm agitated about something, and they disappear.
My entire life outside of work is cleaning up animal messes.
Plus Tess is almost offended at having been banned from the bedroom. She has a huge soft doggy bed in the hallway just outside the door, but I get it. She thinks she's being punished. I'm just tired of smelling dog urine in my bedroom, so out of the bedroom is where she must stay.
It's the most awful limbo. I don't want my pets to die, of course. I also don't want to keep cleaning up mess after mess after mess and I know, horrifically, that the only light at the end of that tunnel is the eventual inevitable death of my pets.
This is the worst part of pet ownership. It's the price we pay for wanting to share our homes with these furry, happy creatures that have a lifespan one tenth of ours. If we are devoted pet lovers, we can go through this awful cycle many times in our own lives. And every time we promise ourselves, never again. After this lot, no more dogs, no more cats, not even a friggin hamster! I can't do this again!
And then six months after they are gone, or maybe a year, we find ourselves at the animal shelter and yet another pair of big sad brown eyes gets our attention, and we get sucked in all over again.
And the cycle begins again.
Percy clearly does not have enough toys to play with so he has to actually force himself into the toy box.