Navigating life with an older dog, five lessons I've learned
When your dog moves into their mature phase of life, or senior stage, it's important to be prepared. Since I started managing my dog's golden years three years ago, I've learned a lot and I want to pass those experiences on. She is my first old dog and we've had to handle a few common changes in behavior and a few not so common events.
I hope my lessons help you create a happier and fearless time with your buddy. It can be easy to fall into the trap of worrying over them and this final stage of your life together. I'm here to say that it's okay to worry as long as you try to focus on the positive as well. I know my dog can tell when I'm not letting my anticipatory grief get the best of me.
I've shared a few of my experiences with Cleo in earlier posts, but here are my five best tips for navigating life with your older dog.
5. BE ALERT TO ALLERGIES. As you dog gets older, sometimes they can develop allergic reactions to foods or their environment. It can be the result of simple long term exposure to something, like wheat or a local pollen. It happens to people as well. We learned after months of our dog suffering, that she had several food allergies and had a few seasonal inhalant allergies.
4. BEDS AND BEDDING. As our dog got older, she had a harder time with her mobility. Climbing onto a fluffy bed made her legs wobble. After awhile, she didn't like it and began to only lay beside her bed, with her head propped on it, or she spooned it. We donated that bed, and found this one. The timing was perfect because Cleo was also losing her vision.
With the high sidewalls, once she sniffs her way to her bed, she can climb in and feel safely nestled for a good nap.
3. PAY ATTENTION TO VISION AND/OR HEARING LOSS. We pay close attention to our dog's behavior for signs of hearing loss, in addition to any worsening of her eyesight. So far, her hearing seems fine. Since her vision however is almost gone, we are grateful that she can hear our voices. We guide her from room to room with our voices and light clapping. We don't move furniture anymore either. We've created new games to increase her vocabulary. She also has benefited from a lowering of the bar for getting a treat. Now when she successfully navigates a corridor without bumping into a wall or corner, she prances around at the end, because she knows that tasty morsel is coming.
2. EXERCISE. To keep our dog fit, and we've cut back on the size of her portions and length of walks. We've increased the frequency of shorter walks and dole out a smaller snack. Being the food-motivated dog she is, Cleo focuses on the delivery system not the quantity of food. So far it is working, and we've successfully managed her diabetes for a year now. She's also maintained a healthy weight and coat. Any muscle atrophy is usually noticed after sleeping a long time, and first thing in morning or at night. Anyone over 50 years can relate to this need to stretch more, and our dog is no exception.
1. REGULAR VET CHECK-UPS AND COMMUNICATION. The most important thing you can do is have a solid support system for your buddy. Feeling confident that your dog is healthy and that your veterinary network is aware of your dog's current physical state is key. It is your choice to focus on holistic and alternative care or traditional medicine, but whatever you choose, just make sure everyone is up-to-date. Once your dog becomes elderly, the aging process seems to accelerate with little changes occuring more frequently than even a year ago. This is why spending time with your best friend and furry family member is so important. Your awareness is the secret to their happy life. We have a few vets who are part of Team Cleo, and now I am adding phone numbers of hospice veterinarians, veterinarians who make house calls, and 24-hour pet emergency hospitals to my cell phone's speed dial.
If you have any suggestions that I missed, or experiences that might help others during this stage, I'd love to read them in the comments.