When it comes to your pets, change usually is a bad thing. A change in routine or work schedule can leave your pet pawing its head in confusion. A change in diet may result in you performing an unanticipated post-work clean-up of gastric proportions. Then, there are those changes that occur during a pet’s life that will lead to other changes that may alarm you, the pet owner. Our discussion this month will center on some of those changes that may or may not be anything to fret about.
Certain changes occur at seemingly premeditated times in an animal’s life. The more obvious changes occur early on in your dog or cat’s life, most of them in the first two years. The reason is that a pet ages at a more rapid pace in the first two years than at any other time in its life. Your pet could be 24 years old in people years by the time she is 2 in dog years, depending on her size and weight. Your pet may even be sexually mature at 6 months. That is some quick aging! We all think about the seven-to-one pet-to-human age ratio, but truthfully, smaller pets age less quickly than larger ones.
So let’s address some of the aforementioned changes during this stage in a pet’s life: Certainly the most common would be a change in eating habits. People are often so alarmed by a drastic change in appetite that they will bring their pet in for an exam. Puppies will scarf down their food as if it was their first meal—or their last. At about 12 months of age, your dog may just not see the need for vaporizing the food bowl. At this point, it seems as if your pet realizes that you, in fact, will be feeding him on a regular daily basis. More likely, though, is that your pet’s metabolism has ‘grown up’ and is starting to slow down. Of course, you see no evidence of this as he is ripping the siding off your house. But at about a year old, your pup or kitten is approximately 18 years old (people years), maturing and settling into a more ‘adult’ routine. If you see your ‘chow hound’ become suddenly peaceful around the food dish at 10 to 18 months of age, don’t be too alarmed.
Another change that is directly related to the previous one: a concurrent weight gain during the same time period. The weight gain change can occur all the way out to 3 years of age, though, as the pet approaches 30 ‘people years.’ And we all know what happened to our own waistlines when we hit that mark. The worst part is that you feel like you have done something wrong by making your pet fat, when in fact, that is not the case. Its metabolism just switched from hyper-spastic growth mode to a regular adult-steady state. Your pet has changed, you haven’t, and they will put on the pounds before you know it. Take solace that this is the easiest weight to lose at this young age. Often, your pet will return to proper weight with little modification in diet and exercise—kind of like losing baby fat!
Another change that can occur at 15 to 20 months of age is a loss of any remembrance of house-training. All of a sudden, your perfectly potty-trained pup is pooping and piddling all over the place. What gives? All of your hard work down the drain, and there’s anger over ruined carpets and resentment of your old buddy. What happens is that at some point in the late teenage (people) years, your dog may decide to ‘test’ you one last time by exercising their independence and a last shot at dominance. So all of a sudden, there may be chewed up furniture and a pile in the dining room. Don’t worry, it is just a passing minor revolution in most cases. Reaffirm your authority and re-institute the tactics you employed that worked during the puppy stage and almost always the mutiny will cease.
A negative change at this same teenage time-frame can occur when your pup’s rejuvenated independence turns a vigor for dominance into aggression. Thankfully, like the loss of potty-training and overall obedience, it usually is short-lived. But it must be taken very seriously and with a touch of caution and possibly a good dose of professional help. If your pet gets ‘bossy’ at about 18 months, you must squelch that behavior immediately. If you are not succeeding, seek the help of a one-on-one trainer to deal with the specific problem of aggression. Unchecked, this change can get ingrained as normal behavior and now your kid’s friends (and your homeowner’s insurance) are in jeopardy.
These are just a few tips to ease you through that super-fast aging phase that is the first two years of your pet’s life. If you are aware and prepared, you may just keep your friend happy, healthy and well-trained.