BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Whether your best friend needs to heal or heel, Family Pet’s co-owner, veterinarian Dr. Jane Lohmar, provides the path. With a touch of humor, lots of love, and wise advice, Jane, like the other Family Pet staffers, is there for your “fur baby.”
Pet care providers across Chicago know that nothing melts away the stress of city life like a four-footed friend waiting at your door. And keeping these companions healthy and happy is key.
Jane, doctor to my two Abyssinian cats, recently shared advice for dog and cat owners, tackling everything from old age and disease to helping us navigate the cold winter months and revealing a little about what our pets might be trying to tell us.
How long might we all anticipate, in general, that our pets will live? You have told my husband, John, and me in jest that our cat Sedgwick has moved from his roguish Johnny Depp look, to a more classic George Clooney, and we know that one day soon he could be a AARP “cover cat.” (Thankfully, as his sister, Willow, ages, she can still flash her Ava Gardner eyes.)
I tell clients that my goal for their pet is 15 years, and, after that, every day is a wonderful bonus. Of course this varies from breed to breed, with bigger dogs leading shorter lives. A Great Dane would probably not live 15 year, and there are some little dogs that frequently don’t live beyond 10. We had one cat who lived to be 25, but of course this was an exception.
What are your observations on life with older pets?
My older dog Penny is 14, and I love how she changes. I welcome every day and find her changes so interesting. I do what I can to help her, whether it relates to changes in her exercise or supplements that I give her. They maybe can’t go on as many walks, and maybe don’t hear when you come in the door, so they haven’t run to greet you, but then you find them and they are just as delighted to see you as always.
I know that our pets get many of the same diseases that people do. Do they have dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Of course pets can’t explain what is going on, but if you see a dog going to the wrong side of the door when he is going out or seems confused when he is outside (possibly where to go for elimination), that could be what is happening. It is somewhat like a person getting lost in a mall and not knowing why they are there. The brain does shrink in an older pet, but there are supplements that can help.
How do dogs respond to seasonal change?
Some pets take a short time, others several weeks. All dogs need exercise, sunshine, and fresh air—really all the five senses are exercised when they go outdoors. Even in pretty cold weather, they can go out a little. Dogs get cabin fever and their stored up energy comes out in different ways, used for nefarious purposes. You will see that they often chew on their toys more, over-groom themselves, act more needy, and even show mental or physical anxiety. They need to get out for a little while.
Are their specific game plans for dogs in the winter?
Rolling balls on the floor for a dog helps, and those toys that are receptacles for food. They roll the ball to get the food out—it’s great physical and mental stimulation.
I am a firm believer that you should shave off the fur on the bottom of their feet in the wintertime and try to get them to wear booties. If they can’t abide them, then wipe their feet when they come inside. If they are constantly picking up their feet when they are outside, it means the ground is just too cold for them.
Do cats and dogs really like to watch TV and long to take over a computer? Should we be leaving the TV on for them when we leave the house?
The vast majority of dogs and cats don’t watch the screens, but I remember once my mom and were watching Milo and Otis, and my dog ran around to the back of the TV trying to get to the characters. And we do hear stories of pets sitting in owner’s laps when they work on the computer and some cats love their fish videos.
One of my favorite jobs before Camp Dogwood moved to the Wisconsin Dells was to serve as a part-time vet there. There were lots of sports, nose work for tracking, and, believe it or not, arts and crafts. It is just so important for pets to have variety in their lives.
Cats often seem so mysterious, and, of course, many are exclusively indoor pets. How do they respond to winter?
We have a template at Family Pet that shows how a cat holds its tail, which you can use to tell what their emotion is at the time. I am not a pet behaviorist, but I do think cats are more careful about showing their emotions. Cats love to sit by the window and enjoy birds and other outside adventurers. If they are closed-in without windows, it is hard on them.
You mentioned emotions, and I wonder how an owner’s emotions affects his or her pet?
Scientists have shown that pets really get attached, and that they pick up on our emotions. They are often more clingy and don’t eat as well, feeling the anxiety their owner is feeling. We have to be careful when we have a pet who is very ill to not convey to it our great disturbance because it makes it harder on the pet.
When a person has lost a pet, what advice do you give?
When your pet dies, it is so heartbreaking. I tell people that the grief is commiserate with the joy and love they experienced—would they have wanted to forgo that? In addition to providing purpose, love, and companionship, they can help you be more introspective when you are by yourself. And pets bring you closer to your community because you and your pet are often out and about.
Do you find that if individuals have had a certain kind of cat or dog growing up that they are more prone to sticking with that breed?
You see owners returning to the same breed over and over again. But I counsel an owner not to set his or her expectations too high: remember that every animal is different and not every pet will be like that perfect one in still your mind that you were so attached to so many years ago.
Also remember, you are now 15 years older; you are different, too. People are always saying: ‘I never realized how having a puppy can be so exhausting.’
What do you think about adopting from a shelter or other forms rescue?
I truly believe that until our shelters are empty, it is incumbent on us to adopt. While there are many breeders who have excellent reputations, if you are choosing to go to breeders, also realize that there are very, very bad puppy millers out there.
Have you always had pets?
I now have two dogs and two cats, but I come from a long line of dog people. My grandfather, who was born in 1890, always had working dogs, and my mother raised cocker spaniels at one time.
At Family Pet, we work almost always just with dogs and cats. Once in a while, we might take in a rabbit for a nail trim, but we want to have pets that we can treat very well when they need us. If you have ferrets or parrots, its better to call one of our colleagues.
To Jane Lohmar and her Family Pet colleagues, and all the other veterinarians across the city, we extend our thanks to these perfect pet partners, filled with sound information and generous hearts.
Family Pet Animal Hospital is located at 1401 West Webster Avenue.