Puppies and kittens are great fun and very entertaining. But there is something very special about the relationship you have with your senior dog.
After years of living together, the bonds have grown strong, and not unlike an old married couple, there is a comfort in each other’s very presence.
Health Problems Common
Older dogs, like people, may develop many health problems. They may be stiff with arthritis, or lame with other muscular or neurological problems.
Your dog may not be able to take daily runs with you any longer; your dog may longer chase imaginary prey. They may become deaf or blind, or at least have diminished hearing and sight.
Diseases such as hyperthyroidism, cancer and heart disease are often seen in dogs.
Animals may exhibit “cognitive dysfunction“, or senility. This is usually more apparent in dogs, who may seem to forget their training, walk into corners or behave erratically.
A thorough checkup is in order if your pet displays signs of confusion, as this can also be symptoms of disease.
Management the Key
All of these problems, and others, can be managed, even if not cured.
If during training you taught your dog hand signals as well as verbal commands, you can use these visual cues when the dog can no longer hear. You can still teach hand signals if your dog is already deaf, but it may take more time and creativity. If the dog is both deaf and blind, communication via touch or stomping the ground is still possible.
The training will give the dog something to do and exercise his brain, always a good thing.
Extra Diligence Needed
Because your senior dog can’t hear you if you call, they need more supervision when outdoors. Make sure they cannot run into the road or chase other animals. Keep them on a leash at all times when away from home.
If your pet is losing his sight, try not to rearrange the furniture at this time. Animals adjust very well to the loss of these senses, to the point where they are sometimes almost unnoticeable.
Loss of the ability to smell is also troublesome. It may cause a lack of interest in eating. If there is no other reason for the pet’s lack of appetite, try adding something particularly “smelly” to their food, such as tuna juice or fish oil.
Accessories May Help
If you have steps leading up to your home, or your 9-year old dog has trouble getting in and out of your vehicle, you may want to consider a ramp. You can build your own, or purchase a lightweight portable one.
Another option for steps is to widen them.
My husband built a 2-foot deep wooden step over the concrete one at our back door. Beckett wouldn’t use a ramp, so the larger step offered a good alternative. We humans preferred it to the ramp as well.
You can also buy or make steps to put in front of a couch or bed if you like your pets on the furniture with you. I made a simple step for Sunshine out of a box. Just fill it with something solid and cover it with a towel or rug (attached somehow) to offer some traction.
At some point these aids will not be enough, and it becomes preferable for the animal to simply stay on the floor. Beds made of orthopedic foam will offer more protection from the hard floor, but they are thick, and it may be difficult for the pet to get into them. A low pile of blankets or a sheepskin pad can keep them fairly comfortable and warm if need be.
At this point, your old dog may become incontinent as well. There are disposable pads made specifically for pets, however, I have found that the human products are more affordable. You can buy a washable mattress or sofa pad at a medical supply store. These can be cut and hemmed if you need something smaller.
Keep the Weight Down
I see so many overweight pets, and I know it is a result of their owners love. But just as for us, obesity in animals causes many health problems. And the more weight the dog has to carry around, the harder it is on their arthritic joints. Talk to your vet about the best weight and diet protocol for your animals.
If your senior dog is ill, she will benefit from some extra grooming. Brushing will remove loose hair and excess oil, but you may also need to use some scented or unscented wipes or “dry” shampoo from time to time. They will not only look and smell better, but feel better, too.
The last years of your pet’s life will require some adjustments and extra patience, just as their puppy did. The time you spend together is precious, and your presence and care will ease their way as they prepare to leave us behind.
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