The golden years are meant to be the ones when you put your feet up and chill, do whatever you want. The same goes for our dogs, it is a time to give lots of tlc. Senior dogs need patience most of all and understanding. There is nothing more sad than seeing an old dog in a rescue or a shelter. Their owners hand them over when they don't want to deal anymore. How you treat the old is a true sign of who you are I believe. "This is too much work," "I can't do this." "This is too hard." These three phrases often come with onset of age in the once much loved dog. Sad, very, very sad.
This past December and January we lost our two oldest. It was something I knew would be coming but caught us off guard and suddenly. The oldest, Jessie suffered with Dementia or Cognitive disorder for over a year. It came on slowly causing me to try attempt to figure out some strange behaviors that she started. From the time that I realized what it was to the end it became far worse. She became incontinent, lost and very very confused. She needed constant guidance and supervision.
Many old dogs seem confused, but Cognitive disorder is much different than a bit of confusion from age. When I tell people about it many have said "maybe that is what my dog has." Dogs can get it at any age but it is often seen in old dogs. It is not a little bit of confusion nor is it incontinence, dementia is very much a different affliction and if your dog gets it you will know. There is not a lot to be done if your dog is stricken with it but give great care accompanied with a bucket load of patience.
Tilley was hit with Vestibular disease over two years ago. This too can come with age and is a very difficult disease in the beginning. Many people sadly euthanize their dog at the onset, it hits hard and very sudden. It too is a very clear affliction, not just a bit dizzy or wobbly. I carried er haround for days, she could not even get to her feet. Then for many months after I carry her up and down the stairs. She recovered but lived in a constant tilt, she adjusted and did amazing for an old girl. After dealing with Vestibular for a year she was hit with a spinal issue causing complete paralysis of her front end. Again I carried her until we figured it out and got her back on her feet. Patience, patience, patience.
Both the girls became incontinent which is common in old dogs as well; more so with the females. This meant daily blanket washing, underwear and pad changes and lots of supervision. It became a huge hassle because Tilley could no longer be left with the dog door open having to wear underwear. My freedom became less and less but with a great deal of planning through trial and error we worked it all out. It was a great deal of work but after spending so many wonderful years with a dog it is the least we can do for them. Wouldn't we want someone to do the same for us?
Old dogs have different nutritional needs, they often need much less food due to the lack of movement. Every extra pound on them makes their life more difficult. After carrying Tilley for so many months I realize what an extra 40 pounds would feel like hauling around. As dogs age often food becomes more important so they seem to be hungry all the time. If you have guilt issues looking into those seemingly starving eyes then switch to a very low calorie treat. Much of the care decision with old dogs needs to come from the head and not the heart. It is more important to give quality food than quantity.
Old dogs should be kept nice and lean and they still need exercise. Their exercise needs to be trimmed down, perhaps from big hikes to small ones. Maybe runs now need to be walks but they need to move. The more they remain stationary the harder it is to move and more painful. Senior dogs need to get out just as much as young dogs. Even if it is just for a nice long sniff session, it is really good for them. Again, patience is required with senior dogs as they walk much slower. As Tilley and Jessie got well into their senior years our walks were at the speed of old snails and took some getting use to.
Dog beds or comfortable places are a must. Quiet places where they can rest undisturbed is really great. I remember Tilley going up to my office and sleeping for hours at a time. Her hearing was going so she never heard my comings and goings. It made me smile to see her so comfy on the big bed as the breeze in on her face. Loss of hearing and vision is very common in old dogs. This is something that you should check on a regularly basis on your own. With the loss of vision, the first problem is seeing in low light so be sure to have lights on for your older dog. A fall down the stairs can result from not enough light.
If you notice a hearing loss be sure to accommodate for that by speaking louder and being more visual. Try to avoid startle moments which can be very upsetting for an older dog. Make sure that people know that your dog cannot hear properly. If your older dog is becoming hard of hearing you may want to think about letting them off leash. One day at the park I had Tilley off and when I called to her I realized she couldn't hear me; that was the last time that she was off leash further than an arms throw from me.
As our canine companions age they can be afflicted with many illnesses or diseases just like us. I like to make sure that they have at least a yearly if not more full senior blood panel. Catching things early can often keep them at bay for a while. Doing a weekly look over is essential, feeling for new bumps and lumps is great so that you can direct the Veterinarian to any new ones. Dogs get lots of little things on them as they age, most are just age but sometimes they can be something serious. Check their teeth weekly as well as they can be a real problem if you are just feeding kibble.
Grooming is very important to keep up with older dogs. It can be hard to find a groomer who will take the time to do it but it is important to keep looking until you do. That is if you use a groomer and don't do it yourself. Tilley went from standing on the grooming table to lying on the ground for her grooming. It became all about her as my back suffered from the extra strain. Making them comfortable both physically and emotionally is essential. If your groomer complains about the extra work, give them an earful and leave.
Old dogs are work, much more work than the middle aged, well trained, fully energetic ones. Caring for them in their golden years is an act of love and for me not work at all. Yes it is work but after sharing a life with a wonderful canine companion it should be a given that we give back. There comes a time when we have to say good-bye but while they are with us they deserve at least as much love as they have given us. From the smallest of pocket pooch to the big whopping giant breeds they all have the most amazing heart that there is, the heart of a canine. Give your dog an extra hug today.