None of us likes to think about our best friend getting old and infirm but those old dogs are so precious that it's not hard at all to give them the extra love and time that they need. More patience is required as the pace of daily walks and playtime slows but what a wonderful way to slow ourselves down and remind ourselves to "stop and smell the roses" or better yet, stop and hug our old friend.
As your dog ages, companionship and commitment are more important than ever. Even though he may be slowing down, there is no reason the older years can't be some of the best years. With regular veterinary attention, proper care and nutrition, your “senior citizen” can lead a happy and healthy life. Here are some things to remember about caring for your old dog:
A consistent daily routine is essential to your old dog's physical, mental and emotional health. Mealtime, naptime, walks or playtime should occur at the same time every day if possible. Interruptions to the daily schedule can cause stress to your dog. Keep his bed in a dry area free from drafts and extremes of temperature. When vacationing, it might be best to leave your dog in the care of a friend who can look after him at your home. Travel and strange surroundings can be stressful for senior dogs.
Continue his regular grooming sessions. A good brushing will help distribute skin oils and prevent dandruff. This can be a relaxing time for you and your dog, and an opportunity to check for any lumps or other abnormalities. Regular bathing will make him look good and feel good. Be sure to dry him thoroughly and don’t forget to tell him how beautiful he is.
Older dogs, just like older people, often have special health needs. As dogs grow older, their organs become less efficient, and they are less able to resist infection and disease. Watch your dog for any changes in his condition or behaviour that may indicate a problem. If your dog refuses food, has problems eliminating, is reluctant to go out, or is in obvious pain, ask your vet for advice.
Regular exercise is just as important as ever. Exercise improves circulation and digestion and can help reduce arthritis pain. Older dogs tire more easily so don’t let him overexert himself. And remember, companionship is very important to your dog. Leisurely daily walks are a wonderful opportunity to enjoy each other’s company and provide that special attention that he needs.
Your dogs senses may deteriorate with age and you will need to make allowances for these changes. If your dog barks for no apparent reason or fails to obey your commands, he may be suffering from hearing loss. Your dog may also suffer vision problems. A hazy, bluish cast on your aging dog's eyes is normal and usually does not hinder the eyesight, however the whitish growth of cataracts can lead to blindness. Your vet can help you distinguish the difference. Should your dog lose his sight, remember that most dogs are able to adapt to blindness and live out their lives quite happily.
Dental care is very important since older dogs are more prone to gum disease and tartar buildup on their teeth. Check your dog's teeth and gums regularly. Gum disease can lead to tooth loss and may cause more serious problems if bacteria from infected gums enter the bloodstream. Sore gums or loose teeth can interfere with eating. Brush your dog's teeth with a special dog toothbrush, and give him oral hygiene snacks.
Urinary incontinence can be a problem in elderly dogs. Inappropriate urination may be caused by a hormone imbalance, most common in spayed females, or by other medical conditions. Excessive thirst and frequent or uncontrolled urination are often signs of kidney problems or diabetes. If any of these symptoms appear, consult your veterinarian.
Keep an eye on your dog’s weight. An older dog may become overweight because he is less active and therefore burning up fewer calories. Common conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes can all be influenced by obesity. If he's overweight, you can help him lose weight by either feeding less of his usual food or feeding a calorie-controlled senior diet. Try gradually increasing his exercise, too. If your dog is too thin, have him checked by your vet. Sudden weight loss could be a sign of an internal problem. As he ages, your dog’s senses of smell and taste can deteriorate which may contribute to a poor appetite. Try offering several small meals to entice him to eat. And be sure he has a quiet place where he can eat undisturbed.
Regular semi-annual checkups are a must for older dogs. Talk to your veterinarian about geriatric blood screenings for your dog and tell him about any changes you have noted in your dog’s health and behaviour.
This is a time of many changes for your dog. His senses may not be as sharp. He's not as active as he was. He may be unusually tired or experiencing pain because of the possible onset of disease. It is your responsibility to be aware of these changes, both physical and psychological. Do all that you can to make his life as comfortable as possible.
On a personal note, one of the most important things that I have learned over the years is to trust your gut feeling. If you think there is something wrong with your dog, pursue it until you get satisfaction. We know our dogs best. Sometimes, it's hard to define the changes you are seeing. Sometimes, you wonder if you are dreaming but I have found that when you feel something is wrong, it usually is. It may be that whatever is there is not treatable, but at least you have done all you can for your friend. If it comes to that, keep them with you as long as they are not suffering and cherish their company. But when the quality of life is gone, be brave.
You will know when their time has come. It is a heartbreaking decision but it must be made. And stay with your friend 'til the end. Don't just drop them off at the vets.
Be there for them as they have been for you. You won't regret it.
Finally, I’d like to share with you these words by J.D. Ellis:
From an Old Dog
Copyright © 2003 J.D. Ellis.
May be shared freely as long as credit is given to author and this tag is added to the article.
A Message from Max
My name is Max and I have a little something I'd like to whisper in your ear.
I know that you humans lead busy lives. Some have to work, some have children to raise. It always seems like you are running here and there, often much too fast, often never noticing the truly grand things in life.
Look down at me now, while you sit there at your computer. See they way My dark brown eyes look at yours? They are slightly cloudy now, that comes with age. The grey hairs are beginning to ring my soft muzzle.
You smile at me; I see love in your eyes. What do you see in mine? Do you see a spirit, a soul inside who loves you as no other could in the world? A spirit that would forgive all trespasses of prior wrong doing for just a simple moment of your time?
That is all I ask. To slow down, if even for a few minutes, to be with me. So many times you have been saddened by the words you read on that screen, of others of my kind, passing. Sometimes we die young and oh so quickly, sometimes so suddenly it wrenches your heart out of your throat. Sometimes we age so slowly before your eyes that you do not even seem to know, until the very end, when we look at you with grizzled muzzles and cataract clouded eyes. Still the love is always there, even when we take that long sleep, to run free in distant lands. I may not be here tomorrow; I may not be here next week. Someday you will shed the waters from your eyes that humans have when deep grief fills their souls, and you will be angry at yourself that you did not have just "One more day" with me. Because I love you so, your sorrow touches my spirit and grieves me.
We have now, together. So come, sit down here next to me on the floor. And look deep into my eyes. What do you see? If you look hard and deep enough we will talk, you and I, heart to heart.
Come to me not as "alpha" or as a "trainer" or even a "Mom or Dad", come to me as a living soul and stroke my fur and let us look deep into one another's eyes, and talk. I may tell you something about the fun of chasing a tennis ball, or I may tell you something profound about myself or even life in general.
You decided to have me in your life (I hope) because you wanted a soul to share just such things with. Someone very different from you, and here I am. I am a dog, and I am alive. I feel emotion, I feel physical senses, and I can revel in the differences of your spirits and souls. I do not think of you as a "Dog on two feet"---I know what you are. You are human, in all your quirkiness, and I love you still.
Now, come sit with me, on the floor. Enter my world, and let time slow down if even for only 15 minutes. Look deep in my eyes, and whisper to my ears. Speak with your heart, with your joy and I will know your true self. We may not have tomorrow, and life is oh so very short.
Max, (on behalf of all canines everywhere)
(J.D.Ellis 2001, email@example.com)