Years ago, when I first starting talking about the concept of our pets suffering from midlife crises, people accused me of taking pet psychology way too far. It was suggested that it might be the right time for the “men in the white coats” to pay me a visit! Even you may be shaking your head in disbelief but please hear me out before you make a judgment.
There comes a point in ever pet owner’s life when the thrill is gone and the novelty of having that pet in the household has worn off. After all it’s taken for you and your pet to settle in with each other (the housebreaking and basic training of Fido’s crazy puppyhood; keeping up with your cat’s frenetic energy and mischievousness during kittenhood), you’d think you both could just sit back and enjoy each other for the years to come. You know the idyllic scenario I mean – you relaxing in your favorite easy chair with your middle-aged cat curled up contently on your lap or your middle-aged dog snoozing happily at your feet.
Well, I hate to break the bad news to you, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Middle age and contentment don’t always go hand in hand. What often happens is that your pet gets taken for granted.
While I’ll focus on dogs and cats, be aware that the same holds true for just about any pet you own. Yes, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, snakes, even fish can suffer their own midlife crises! So whatever type of pet you have, read on… you just might learn something.
Midlife Crises In People
We’re all familiar with the fact that many people go through midlife crises. They’ve spent many years of their lives doing things they’re not so sure was right for them. They sense they’re in a rut that has no meaning. A midlife crises often results in a few simple changes… a change in hairstyle or hair color, a new wardrobe, or a new job. Sometimes a person’s reaction to a midlife crisis is more drastic… a relocation to a new part of the country, perhaps even a change in spouse! Whatever the result, a midlife crisis generally means a need to reinvigorate the mind and body.
The symptoms In Pets
Fluffy and Fido can suffer from their own midlife crises, too. Particularly if their lives have become one big routine, day in and day out, with nothing to keep them interested and alert. Our pets can become bored, depressed, lethargic, experience personality and behavior changes… just like people going through midlife difficulties.
At the other end of the behavior spectrum of depression and lethargy is the acting out our pets may do. Just as with children who don’t get enough attention, our pets would rather get negative attention rather than no attention at all. That may mean your dog may suddenly start chewing up your shoes or your usually well-behaved cat may start using your sofa as a scratching post. Our pets may do whatever it takes to get attention from us if they’re feeling like their being ignored or overlooked. They’d rather be yelled at and reprimanded by you than be treated like a part of the furniture.
If you’ve owned a pet for a couple of years, ask yourself the following questions: How much time am I spending truly interacting with my pet? (Feeding him doesn’t count and neither does reprimanding him!) Do I spend as much time stroking and playing with him as I used to? If you’re a dog owner, are those walks only for eliminating purposes? Are they shorter and less frequent than they used to be? If you’re a cat owner, do you resent cleaning Kitty’s litter box and lugging those heavy sacks of litter? Do you think your cat’s purpose in life is to sleep most of the day? Do you assume that cats are independent and only rely on people to be fed? Or, whatever type of pet you have, do you spend your time reprimanding him for misbehaving?
If the walks, stroking and play periods have all decreased (or have become totally non-existent), odds are you’re contributing to your pet’s midlife crisis. If cleaning Kitty’s litter box and having Fido out for his last walk of the evening have become a burden, watch out for the resentment towards your pet that may underlie these feelings. You may have not recognized them yet but our pets, with their keen intuitions, know they’re there.
Prevention Is Best
As always, it’s best to prevent a midlife crisis from happening in the first place. That’s why I’ve always advocated keeping your pets mentally and physically stimulated throughout their lives. Don’t take your pets for granted after the cuteness of puppyhood and kittenhood have passed. Don’t let your pets take a backseat to what’s going on in your lives. Pet’s who get pushed aside because their owners are just too busy with their own lives are at great risk for a midlife crisis. But so are pets whose owners follow the same monotonous routine day in and day out. Even people who are home all day with their pets don’t always provide the type and quality of stimulation that their four-footed family members need.
So, what can Fluffy and Fido do to get themselves out of their ruts? Fluffy can’t go out and buy herself a Porsche and Fido isn’t able to go out on a shopping spree. It’s up to you, their owners, to help them through such a slump.
The first step is to change things around. Make everything a little different. Different food, different treats, excursions to different places, even a different wardrobe. Yes, I did say a different wardrobe! Get Fido a new leash and Kitty a new harness. They may not say, “Wow! I love my new outfit,” but they will appreciate the fact that you’ve done something special for them. They’ll know that you care.
And be sure to bring home some new toys. Don’t assume that your adult pet isn’t interested in toys anymore. And that doesn’t just go for you dog owners. Cats also need that sort of stimulation and change. And speaking of change, don’t forget those paper (not plastic) bags and cardboard boxes for Kitty. She’ll enjoy exploring and climbing in and out of these items.
Remember, it’s not enough to simply plunk down these new items. Make the time to play with your pet. Get down on your hands and knees and toss around these new toys with Fluffy and Fido. Set aside some private playtime for you and your pet each day. A few minutes of one on one interaction will go along way towards getting your pet out of his slump and re-establishing your loving relationship with him.