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Have you recently adopted a senior dog? Has that pup you've been loving and caring for for years finally entered the later stages of life? This care guide can help you take better care of your dog in his golden years, with advice on everything from food and exercise to grooming and veterinary care.

Preparing for a New Senior Dog

How do I know if my dog is considered a senior?

Many references will say a dog is a senior if he or she is 7 or more years old; however, it actually depends on the expected lifespan of the dog, based on his age, breed, size and general health. The general rule, though, is that the last 25% of your dog's lifespan is considered to be his "senior" years. Be sure to have your new dog examined by a veterinarian and discuss if and when he is considered a "senior" based on these factors.

What should I expect during the ride home?

The first ride in a car might be stressful for your dog depending on his history. If your senior dog has been in a shelter for a while, it may be difficult for him. If he’s used to car rides, he might enjoy the trip! Take a crate with you and make a nice bed or provide a pile of blankets so he can lie down. Avoid feeding for several hours before the first ride to avoid car sickness.

How should I introduce my new senior dog to my household?

Walk your dog around his new home.  Show him his food, water and bedding.    Take him outside and show him where you want him to eliminate and praise him when he does.  If he seems very anxious, you may want to confine him to a small area of the house at first.  You can use special "calming" products to help him feel comfortable.   

  • DAP Dog Appeasing Pheromone
    • Available in a spray, a diffuser or a collar, this hormone mimics the natural pheromone released by the mother dog 3-5 days after having a litter of puppies, causing a calming and reassuring effect on the dog.
  • Vetri-Science treats
    • Calming treats can be offered in any fearful situation   

Should I keep my senior dog in a crate when I am not at home?

Crates are excellent training tools if the dog is not house trained already or is likely to be destructive when left alone.  Some older dogs are more comfortable in a crate if that is what they are used to.  Otherwise, it is not necessary.

  • Petnation Indoor/Outdoor Pet Home
    • lightweight, durable, foldable, ventilated soft crate
  • Newport Pet Crate End Table
    • attractive enough to keep in the living room

When should my new senior dog meet my other pets?

Keep all other pets in the house away until the newcomer is comfortable in his area.  Provide as much human interaction as possible!   When the dog appears to be relaxed, you can gradually allow him to explore the rest of the house and meet other pets, under your direct supervision, until all residents are content with each other.  Some senior dogs will adapt very quickly, having had lots of experience with other animals and varied environments.

  • Zuke's Jerky Naturals Dog Treats
    • Treats can encourage dogs to be more social with each other.  Have a "treat party" when the dogs encounter each other, turning a potentially negative situation into a positive one. 
  • DAP Dog Appeasing Pheromone (see above)

Food and Water

Should I feed my dog dry food?

Dry food is less expensive, easier to store, and less messy.  Some dogs will limit their intake when you leave the food out at all times or you can control their calorie intake by feeding a high or low calorie food.  Unfortunately, most dogs will overeat if you have dry food always available.

Should I feed my dog canned food?

Canned wet food and soft moist pouches contain a lot of water, which makes them more expensive and also subject to spoiling if the dog doesn't eat it all in one meal.  However, dogs seem to love it and once you start feeding it, the dog may insist on canned food after that!  You must decide which type of food is most convenient for you, and which is healthiest for your pet. Senior dogs, in particular, may benefit from the added moisture that canned food provides because it helps with kidney health.

How do I know what dog food to buy?

There are so many products on the market it can be confusing.  We recommend foods that are made in the USA with ingredients from the USA, to avoid the risk of contaminated sources overseas.   The food should taste good, maintain your dog's ideal weight, and result in healthy, solid stools.

  • Products:  Orijen, Acana, Fromm, Great Life, Pure Vita,Weruva, Tikicat, Wellness, Natural Balance, Avoderm, Halo, Solid Gold, Merrick, Nutro Ultra, Purina Proplan, Newmans Own, Purina One, Kirkland Brand
  • made in the USA
  • no history of food safety recalls in the past

Does my dog need a diet labeled for senior dogs?

Many dogs can continue to eat an adult dog food their entire life.  Switching to a senior food may be recommended by your vet, however, only if reduced protein, phosphorus, sodium, or calories are required for a specific health condition.

How much do I feed?

Your vet can tell you how much your dog weighs, and if she needs to gain or lose.  Look at the recommendations on the food bag or can and feed for what your dog should weigh and not necessarily what she actually weighs to keep her weight ideal .

  • Petmate Pet Cafe Feeder
    • This free feeder will provide food at all times for several days.
  • Esky Electronic Portion Control Automatic Feeder
    • Automatic feeders can be programmed to dispense just the right amount of food for dogs who tend to overeat, and you don't need to be home.
  • Wonder Bowl Selective Feeder
    • This selective feeder keeps other pets out of your dog's food so it is perfect for dogs on a special diet for medical reasons.

How much water should my dog drink?

Fresh, clean water should be available to your dog at all times.  Dogs on wet food may drink less water compared to a dog on dry. Drinking more than one ounce of water per pound of body weight per day may be a sign of a health issue and warrants a visit to the vet.

  • Pet Safe Drinkwell Original Pet Fountain or Aspen Pet Products Deluxe Fresh Flow pet fountain
    • fountains may encourage your dog to drink more water.
  • Bergan Elite Gourmet Waterer 3 gallon
    • large water containers will ensure that your dog never runs out  

What treats are best for my dog?

Treats should be tailored to your individual dog's needs, and taste buds! Just remember, though, that treats count toward your dog's total caloric intake, so can't be fed too much or too often!

  • Canine Greenies Dental Treats will help keep her mouth fresh.
  • Wellness Wellbites Soft Natural salmon is good for dry hair coats.
  • Smokehouse 100 percent natural duck and sweet potato may help dogs with food allergies.

Where should I place the food and water?

Place the food and water bowls away from high traffic areas and on an easy to clean surface since dogs are messy eaters in general. 

  • Outward Hound 51005 Fun Feeder Slow Feed Interactive Bloat Stop Dog Bowl
    • makes large dogs eat slower and reduces risk of bloat
  • Petfusion Pet Food mat
    • Keeps the floor clean

What human food is ok to feed?

A begging dog is hard to resist, however, avoid feeding from the dinner table unless you want a demanding dog. If you wish to give him a treat, do so after you are away from the table. Many human foods can be dangerous for a dog.  However, there are some that are safe and tasty treats. Not all dogs can tolerate even safe foods as their bodies react in different ways. Add new foods in small amounts, one at a time and discontinue if your dog gets an upset tummy. Human food should never be the main staple in your dog’s diet.

  • Peanut butter
    • Peanut butter is high in protein, but also pretty high in fat. It is best given as a treat or to hide pills. If your pup gets sick, giving any prescribed medication in peanut butter is an easy way to ensure he will get it down. Try using peanut butter in a kong or sterilized bone  to provide hours of sticky and hard-to-get distraction and fun!
  • Carrots
    • Carrots are crunchy, packed with vitamins and low in calories. They are relatively high in sugar so only give in small amounts. Too much of anything can cause an upset stomach.
  • Green Beans
    • Green beans are low calorie and a good source of fiber. They can be added to their diet as a filler if your puppy gets a little pudgy when older and you need to reduce the amount of food he is eating. Both canned and fresh are fine, however avoid canned beans that have added salt.
  • Chicken
    • Chicken is low in fat, high in protein and easily digested. Be sure to remove any skin that may have seasonings as some can be toxic or cause and upset stomach. Make sure there are no bones that can cause obstructions or internal bleeding.

What human foods should I avoid?

Many human foods are toxic to dogs, even in small amounts. Avoid giving your puppy any of the foods below and call your veterinarian immediately if he happens to accidentally eat or drink any.

  • Alcohol
    • This includes any drinks, disinfectants and cleaning products containing alcohol as well as unbaked bread or yeast dough.
  • Apricots, peaches, plums and cherries
    • Leaves and stems of trees and pits/seeds all contain cyanide.
  • Avocados
    • The fruit, leaves, stems and pit/seed have the highest toxicity levels.
  • Caffeine
    • Coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, diet pills and chocolate all can cause toxicity depending on amounts ingested and there is no antidote available.
  • Chocolate
    • Dark and bitter chocolates (ex. bakers) are the most toxic, however milk chocolate is toxic as well.
  • Cinnamon
    • Powered, sticks, decorations, essential oils and trees can cause systemic and topical toxic effects.
  • Currants
    • Depending on the type, toxic effects can be seen in any amount.  For example, small grapes can cause kidney failure.
  • Decaying meat carcasses, garbage
    • Rotting food scraps and bones are toxic in any amount. Rotting meat can cause Botulism while bones pose a risk for obstruction and internal bleeding.
  • Garlic and onions
    • All types and forms of either can cause life-threatening anemia.   
  • Grapes and raisins
    • Grapes, either fresh, dried (raisins) or juice can cause kidney failure.
  • Hops
    • Hops are used for home brewing and the exact lethal amount is unknown, so all amounts are considered life-threatening
  • Macadamia nuts
    • Avoid giving the nuts or foods containing them.
  • Mushrooms
    • While the majority of mushrooms are not toxic, they can be difficult to identify. Therefore, it is best to avoid them all.
  • Moldy foods
    • Avoid giving any food that has mold on it. Try and keep trash up so your dog does not ingest any potentially toxic leftovers.
  • Nutmeg
    • Nutmeg can be found in many baked goods and all forms can be toxic. When ingested in large amounts, it can cause neurological conditions and death.
  • Rhubarb
    • The leaves are the most toxic part of the plant, however, the stems are toxic as well. Severe toxicity can cause low blood calcium levels and kidney failure.
  • Salt
    • Salt is found in many forms including any cooking salts, salt water, paint balls, homemade Play-doh, de-icers and enemas.
  • Starfruit
    • Ingested in large amounts can cause low blood calcium and kidney failure.
  • Sugary or artificially sweetened foods.
    • Sugary sweets can cause hyperactivity. Artificial sweeteners such as Xylitol, the most toxic of this category, are found in sugar free gums, candy, foods and medications

Why does my dog eat grass?

No one knows exactly why dogs eat grass, but one theory is that they are lacking something in their diet. Commercial diets are nutritionally complete, but senior dogs will often develop medical issues that might require vitamins or other supplements. You should discuss your dog’s grass eating habits with your veterinarian.

Why is there a change in my senior dog’s eating or drinking?

As dogs age, they can develop medical conditions that cause them to drink and urinate more or eat and defecate more or less. You should discuss your dog’s drinking patterns with your veterinarian to evaluate whether there’s a medical reason for his increased thirst and/or urination.

House Training

Can I allow my new dog to run loose outside?

Dogs who go outdoors unprotected can be injured by cars, exposed to toxins, get lost, and attacked by other dogs.  In addition, these dogs are more likely to be infected with intestinal worms, heartworms, fleas, bacteria and fungus.  Keep your dog safely secured with a collar or harness and leash.  Make sure the collar is tight enough that it cannot slip over her head.   Also make sure your dog can be identified by a microchip, ID tag, or collar with name and number.

  • Rivet-On custom engraved dog ID tag
  • Go Tags Custom Embroidered Collars
  • Lucky Pet ID tag bone shape custom engraved dog tags
  • HomeAgain Microchip Implant Kit for Administration by Veterinarian
  • QR Code Pet ID tag Accessory w/Smartphone GPS Tracking

Can I allow my senior dog to go out into my fenced yard by herself?

The first time you should definitely go out with her and watch her very carefully to make sure she has no intention of digging under or climbing over the fence.  Watch her through a window for a few days to confirm this.  You should only allow her out unattended if your fence is very secure.   

  • Ideal Pet Products Pet Door with Telescoping Frame
    • allows your dog to go outside whenever he needs to in your absence.   Always lock it at night to keep your dog safely inside 
  • Friendly Pet Products Wireless Dog Fence
  • Perimeter Technologies Wire-Free Wifi Dog Fence
    • technology to reinforce or replace a physical fence

Does my dog need a collar or harness for leash walking?

Depending on the size of your dog, putting pressure on the trachea with only a collar and a leash, causing the potential to pull, is dangerous and can cause the trachea to collapse. The safest option is to use a harness, no matter what your dog’s weight, size, or leash walking manners are.

How often should I take my senior dog out to eliminate?

Certain medical issues and special diets may cause your dog to need to urinate or defecate more often than normal.  Be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian so you can provide for your senior dog's special needs, if any.  Normal, healthy dogs should go out every 6-8 hours and be able to hold it overnight. 

Why is my dog having accidents in the house?

Senior dogs might have to urinate more often, and therefore will have a harder time “holding it” until potty time.

Why is my dog straining to defecate?

Older dogs often develop constipation and/or diarrhea sometimes as the result of a medical issue.

Can I train my senior dog to use a litter box, artificial turf or a pee pad indoors?

Senior dogs may have a difficult time adapting to a brand new location for elimination.  It is best to continue to use whatever location the dog is already used to, especially at first.  You may need to consult a canine behaviorist in order to change habits that are long-standing.

  • PoochPad Reusable Potty Pads for Mature Dogs
    • large and extra absorbent
  • PetZoom Pet Park Indoor Pet potty
    • synthetic grass material that looks and feels real
  • Lowes large plastic storage containers
    • cut an opening for your small dog to enter and exit . Fill with sand or cat litter

Exercise and Play

Why is my senior dog less interested in play?

Many senior dogs will have developed problems like arthritis, and therefore might be less interested in play. It’s also normal for senior dogs to “slow down” just as older people do. This does not mean, however, that you shouldn’t try to give your dog some exercise and mental stimulation through play.

How do I play with my senior dog?

Older dogs will be extremely variable in their participation in play.  Experiment with a variety of toys for fetching, chasing, and chewing.  You can teach your dog to play even if he has never done it before, or he may simply prefer to lie by your side most of the time.

  • KONG pet stix dog toy
    • for tossing and tugging
  • KONG Classic dog toy
    • can be filled with peanut butter or treats to encourage interaction
  • Chuckit! Indoor Ball
    • soft and harmless

How do I get my dog to exercise when I am not home?

Some dogs keep themselves busy, but your senior dog will most likely sleep all day!  You can hide treats for your dog to search and find. Your dog may play with other pets in the house, but if not, you can encourage play with electronic or treat filled toys.  Having a pet door and a fenced yard may encourage your dog to move around more as well.

  • PetSafe Busy Buddy Tug-A-Jug Meal Dispensing Toy
    • fill with food to keep him busy
  • Bark Bazaar Squeaky Ball
    • fill with treats
  • Nina Ottosson's Interactive Dog Toy
    • your dog has to solve a puzzle to get the treats or food
  • iFetch
    • interactive on demand ball launcher lets dogs play fetch without human assistance  (small dogs only)

Can I take my senior dog for long walks?

It depends on the dog!   Always have an older dog examined by the vet to determine how much exercise is appropriate for his age and health.

  • Comfort Control Dog Walking Harness with padded vest
    • Safety, control and comfort all wrapped into one
  • Flexi Explore Retractable Belt Dog Leash
    • Allows your dog additional freedom when walking but can also be locked shorter for tighter control
  • Halti Opti Head Collar for Dogs
    • Helps control pulling by an untrained or especially energetic dog

Sleeping

Where should my senior dog sleep?

An older dog will usually need to sleep more than a younger one.  He or she may also prefer a little more privacy for sleeping, especially if the dog has arthritis pain or difficulty hearing.  Avoid disturbing a sleeping older dog.  They are more likely to react defensibly if woken suddenly. The best place for them to sleep depends on what they are used to, their health (can they get on and off a high bed?) and their personalities. Your dog may like sleeping on the bare floor, in a crate, or prefer a rug or a bed.

  • Armarkat Pet Bed Mat
  • Mud River Crate Cushion
    • for dogs who prefer the floor but could use a little cushion

Do I need to keep my house at a certain temperature for my senior dog?

Senior dogs will need their environment to be a bit warmer consistently and/or have loose blankets and warm bedding to snuggle up with when they’re sleeping.

What kind of dog bed should I buy?

There are many different kinds of dog beds.  You may have to use trial and error to see what your dog likes.  Soft, supportive surfaces are recommended for older dogs with arthritic joints. 

  • AKC Casablanca Round Solid Pet Bed
  • Coolaroo Elevated Pet Bed
  • Milliard Premium Orthopedic Memory Foam Dog Bed
  • K&H Manufacturing Lectro-Soft Heated Bed

Can my dog sleep in bed with me?

Of course!  This is where many dogs want to be.  If you object to this, you will need to provide an alternative place from day one, or your dog may be very difficult to keep off your bed while you are trying to sleep!

  • Pet Gear Easy Step II Pet Stairs
  • Miles Kimball 3 step Pet Stairs
  • Convertible Pet Steps/Ramp
    • Can help your senior dog get up on your bed or into the car.  Non skid step surfaces for safety

How can I make it easier for my senior dog to get on/off furniture?

Older dogs can have difficulty getting on and off high surfaces due to aging joints or arthritis. You can build your dog a ramp or pet stairs, or purchase them from a pet store, to make his efforts to get to all of his favorite sleeping places easier.

  • Pet Stairs
  • Pet ramp

Traveling with Senior Dogs

How do I take my dog in the car?

This depends on what your dog already knows about traveling.  With experience, he may already love riding and will sit on the seat and wear his seat belt like an angel.   If he has never been trained he may be hyperactive or anxious in a car.  It is best to start this dog out in a crate, where he will feel and be safer! A dog loose in the car is at risk for escape, injury or may cause an accident.

  • EzyDog Seat Belt Restraint for Dogs
  • Tru-fit Smart Harness Seatbelt Loop
  • Kurgo Skybox Dog Booster Seat
    • These are safe and comfortable for pet travel.  Smaller Dogs may do better in a seat belt/booster seat combination

Do dogs get car sick?

Some do!  If this happens, call your veterinarian for car sick medication.  It also helps to start with short trips and then gradually increase them.

Can my dog fly with me?

Elderly dogs should never fly in the cargo area of a plane. Only bring your dog on a flight if he can safely travel with you in the cabin.

Can my dog stay in a hotel with me?

If your senior dog is an experienced traveler, he should do very well in a hotel.  Make sure he is well behaved.  (if unsure, use a crate!)  Also make sure he gets outside often enough to relieve himself.

Grooming

How often should I give my dog a bath?

This depends on the type of skin and hair your dog has.  A good rule is to bathe them when they are dirty or have a body odor.  For dogs with oily, allergic, or infected skin, this could be twice a week!   Other dogs can go several weeks without a bath. If your senior dog gets very stressed at bathtime, you will need to do some training, or have the bath done by a professional to avoid risk of injury. 

  • Perfect Coat Natural Oatmeal Shampoo
    • for dogs with allergic or normal skin
  • Duouxo Chlorhexidine PS Shampoo-
    • for dogs with recurrent skin infections
  • Johnsons Dog Shampoo Coal Tar & Sulfur
    • for dogs with oily skin
  • Bobbi Panter Natural Moisturizing Dog Shampoo
    • for dogs with dry skin 

Do I need to brush my dog?

Depending on his hair coat, your dog might need to be brushed to reduce shedding and matting of fur. Use a deshedding tool to get the best results.

  • FURminator

Does my long-haired dog need to be shaved when it is hot outside?

Any dog may need shaving if you are unable to keep his hair from getting matted.  Your dog may also have hair, not fur, and therefore have a coat that does not shed and grows rapidly. These dogs will often need to be shaved.  Do not have your dog shaved simply because of heat.  For some dog breeds, thick fur actually acts as  insulation from the heat. A professional groomer can give you excellent advice about haircuts for different breeds of dogs. Many tools are available to help you remove the loose hair off your dog on a daily basis and prevent excessive shedding and matting

  • Four Paws Magic Coat Love Glove
  • Furminator long hair deshedding tool
  • Safari self cleaning slicker brush

Should I trim my older dog's toenails myself?

All dogs need their nails trimmed regularly, but you will need to be careful the first time you try this on an older dog. Some dogs have been traumatized by painful nail trims or may not be trained for this at all. Consult with your veterinarian if your dog seems uncomfortable with this.

  • JW Pet Company Deluxe Nail Trimmer for Dogs
  • Oster Gentle paws Premium
    • For trimming or grinding nails at home

Do I need to brush my senior dog's teeth?

Absolutely!  Tooth paste made for dogs is usually flavored and safe for dogs to swallow. You can use a finger brush or a regular toothbrush to clean your dog’s teeth.  There are also dental chews, sprays, water additives and gels available for your dog. With training, your dog can learn to enjoy this process and will remind you to do this every day!

  • Petrodex Enzymatic Toothpaste Dog Poultry Flavor
  • Nylabone Advanced Oral Care Dog Dental Spray
  • Arm and Hammer Toothbrush and Finger Toothbrush Set for Dogs
  • Emmy's Best Premium Pet Water Additive

Veterinary Care

What does my vet need to do for my new senior dog before I bring him home?

Your dog should be tested for heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas and have complete blood work checked to ascertain her overall health.

How often should I take my senior dog to the vet?

All senior dogs should be examined by a veterinarian at least twice a year. 

Does my senior dog need vaccinations?

Senior dogs should have a Rabies virus vaccine every three years because it is required by law.  A DHPP vaccine protects against 4 other viruses that are contagious between dogs. If your dog is around any other dogs, they should have this vaccine every 3 years as well.   Bordetella (kennel cough) is a highly contagious disease your dog can be exposed to in kennels, pet stores, and groomers, so all dogs should have this vaccine once per year. The only exception would, potentially, be cases where your dog has a chronic illness that could make him more prone to complications following vaccination. You should discuss whether to vaccinate your dog, do yearly titers, or skip vaccinations altogether in your elderly dog.

What tests does the vet need to run on my senior dog?

Dogs should be blood tested for Heartworms before they are put on Heartworm Prevention and then annually to detect any infection early.  Your dog's stool should be tested for intestinal worms annually as well. 

Does my dog need regular bloodwork?

Geriatric dogs should have senior wellness blood testing performed annually in order to detect health problems early.  If your dog already has any chronic illnesses, your vet will set up a schedule to monitor these problems more often than once per year.  Dogs should also be free of fleas before entering your house. 

Does my indoor dog need to be on heartworm and flea prevention?

Heartworms come from mosquito bites and all dogs are at risk for exposure when they go outdoors for walks or to eliminate.  If your dog lives at very high altitudes, consistantly cold temperatures or exclusively indoors, he may not need a preventative.  Some dogs need a preventative all year round and others only during the warmer months. Discuss your dog's individual risk with your veterinarian. Flea populations are variable as well.  Dogs that are at high risk for flea infestations should be on a preventative all the time; whereas, other dogs may not need it at all until fleas are actually seen on the pet.

Should my senior dog be spayed/neutered?

Absolutely, as long as your dog is healthy enough to undergo the surgery.

Does my senior dog need to go to the dentist?

Your regular veterinarian will let you know when your dog needs a professional teeth cleaning under general anesthesia.  Severe dental disease left untreated can lead to other health problems, such as heart failure.  Infected teeth need to be removed and healthy teeth cleaned usually on an annual basis with senior dogs.  Your vet can refer you to a Veterinary Dental Specialist if you want to save your dog's teeth from extraction, but most dogs have no problem eating even when all of their teeth are gone because they don't need to chew their food for proper digestion.

Should my pet be microchipped?

Yes! A microchip will allow you and your pet to be reunited in the event you get separated somehow. A collar and ID tag can also help, but a microchip is implanted under your dog's skin and can be traced via a special scanner used at any veterinarian's office, animal control, or animal shelter.

Does my dog need pet insurance?

Pet insurance is a wise investment for any pet, but especially a senior animal. Accidents and illnesses are more likely to happen as your dog ages, and pet insurance will help to absorb the costs of emergency or even routine care. Research plans that can help with either the unexpected or the routine care, but make sure you read the fine print carefully for anything that may be excluded due to pre-existing conditions, age, or conditions that simply aren't covered under the plan.

Should I be worried that my dog seems to have less vision or hearing?

Sensory decline in older years is common among dogs. You might see a glassy or white appearance to the eyes: cataracts are normal. Dogs may also become less responsive to verbal commands. You can train them to respond to hand signals instead.

How do I know if my senior dog is sick?

Watch for anything out of the ordinary--you will get to know your dog! Loss of appetite, drinking more water than usual, losing weight, difficulty urinating or defecating, losing hair, and changes in behavior can all be signs of illness.  Take your dog to the veterinarian!

How will I know when it’s time to euthanize my dog?

Most people will just "know" when it's time to euthanize their pet. Usually, if you're seriously asking the question, it means that your pet is on a decline. Any time your dog's condition begins to decline, you should rule out treatable medical conditions that could be contributing to your dog's current condition. In general, though, a dog is a likely candidate for euthanasia if he is not eating, not drinking, and/or has a poor quality of life.

 

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