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Pets and People: Tips for Aging Pets, Overweight Cats, Hot Weather, and More

The problem with cats is that they get the exact same look on their face whether they see a moth or an axe murderer. 

—Paula Poundstone 

The Biggest Best Friends 

Research published in Frontiers in Public Health showed that the effects of vibrations produced by horses during riding lead to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which may improve learning in children.  

Professor Mitsuaki Ohta of the Tokyo University of Agriculture noted that earlier studies demonstrated the physical and mental health benefits of horseback riding, but little research has looked at the cognitive effects of riding on children. 

Professor Ohta and his team studied how horseback riding affected the cognitive performance of younger riders, who were given simple tests to complete before and after riding; simultaneously, children’s heart rates were measured in response to the horses’ movements. 

The results showed that riding on some horses greatly improved children’s abilities to perform behavioral tasks, but the effect was smaller when children were asked to solve math problems. This might be because of the simplicity of the math test, as increases in heart rate were linked only to the behavioral test, according to Professor Ohta. The results indicate that riding horses might benefit children’s cognitive skills and improve learning, memory, and problem solving.

Fat Cat? 

Indoor cats live longer and generally healthier lives, but a lack of outdoor activity may make them heavier than their ideal weight. Research suggests that feeding overweight cats smaller meals more often during the day could increase physical activity and decrease weight. In addition, meals with a little water added seemed to raise activity levels in lean cats. Researchers also discovered that cats were more active before meals, especially those fed four times daily or fed a random number of times per day. If your feline is packing on the pounds, ask your vet if these tactics might be worth trying. 

TLC For Aging Pets 

In addition to frailty and weakness, our geriatric pets can develop many of the illnesses that older humans face, including cancer, heart disease, joint or bone disease, diabetes, and even senility. Just as human elders are considering “aging in place” by adding features to their homes that ensure their safety and comfort, aging pets require the same consideration. 

While their owners think about adding grab bars in showers and stair lifts to reach the bedrooms on the second floor, pets may need movable stairs to reach their best friend’s bed or their own favorite couch or chair. Aging cats may need a litterbox that’s easier for them to get into.  

In addition to pads for incontinence, older dogs who have arthritis, dysplasia, or other mobility problems may benefit from front or rear support harnesses that help them on their daily walks. 

To learn more about caring for your aging animal companions, visit, the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association. If your best friend is a senior feline, visit Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine at The Cornell Feline Health Center offers lots of useful information on its web page titled “The Special Needs of the Senior Cat." 

Hot-Weather Tip 

If you use KONGS for your dog, try keeping some sliced bananas in the freezer. When you need a treat in a hurry, pop a banana slice or two into your best friend’s favorite treat toy. For more ideas, check out Real Food for Dogs: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Canine Gastronome by Arden Moore. 

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