I'm Leaving for College — How Can I Help My Senior Dog Adjust?

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Q. I have a 13-year-old Miniature Poodle named Sammy. He gets along well with everyone but is very attached to me and often won't eat when I'm away. I am about to leave for college. How can I help my little guy cope with my going away?

A. The scientist in me can cite the studies, too many to count, that confirm what we have always known in our hearts: Animals are good for us all, young and old and everything in between, but they are really special to us when we’re growing up. So many of us have grown up with a pet like your Sammy, and by the time we are ready to leave home, those pets are old, like Sammy is now. That makes it seem as if we are leaving a friend we may never see again.

I know, as someone who left pets behind for college, how hard that is, and I know it as a father as well, after watching my children leave their pets behind when they went away to school. But I’m going to give you some good news, along with some advice from my work as a veterinarian with more than 30 years of experience: Sammy will miss you, but he will adapt better than you can imagine he will. Even better, he will be very happy to see you when you come home from your first school break.

Start With a Visit to the Vet

Obviously I don’t know the state of Sammy’s health, since I am not his veterinarian. But Miniature Poodles, like many small breeds, can live long lives, and we can do more now for older dogs than ever before. We can help alleviate the pain of arthritis in their aching joints, and we can help their brains with anti-aging “cocktails” that can ease the mental stress many older dogs feel. Dental care is also very important for these older pets because the pain of eating with diseased teeth and gums is why many don't eat as they should.

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