I originally entitled this Senior Dog Love. If that isn’t self-explanatory I *love* Senior Dogs.
That handsome gentleman pictured above, that’s Chuck Chuck. We adopted Chuck from Old Dog Haven when he was 10 years old. Chuck hadn’t had a particularly great life. He ended up in the slammer after he was found tied to a parking meter. For three years though, Chuckles in all his mostly-deaf, stiff jointed glory, lived it up with us. He wore jackets and ran (like a rocking horse) at the dog park. He barked for his dinner and took up way too much of the bed. He wasn’t with us long enough. We still miss him.
Chuck was just one in a mini-slew of canine senior citizens we’ve met rather late in their lives. Old dogs, not in great health, looking for a retirement home. We chose to give that to them, knowing what we were getting ourselves into. Signing up for some heartbreak, sooner rather than later. We have never regretted those decisions.
Now though, the tables have turned. Of my main pack of dogs, 5 of 6 are 9 years or older. Senior dogs now make up the majority of the household. This causes me concern.
But, if I’ve learned anything from Chuck (and Moses and Louie), it’s that the life of an old dog can be pretty great. Not in the same chase-the-ball-all-day kind of way as their younger counter parts. More in a we-are-happy-to-read-books-with you-as-long-as-its-warm manner. In some ways, I enjoy their company even more than I ever have before. We are in uncharted, not quite as demanding on me territory.
Or maybe just demanding in a different way. Old dogs pose a different set of challenges when it comes to day to day care. We’ve tweaked our care regime just a little to be more diligent about a few things and make some different decisions than we would have when the gang was younger and spryer.
Be Observant. With dogs of all ages, but especially seniors, the first line of defense is just to pay attention. Look for changes in their eyes, in mobility, in eating habits, in potty needs. I take these things a little extra seriously now that they are older. Pay special attention to lumps and bumps. Are they growing? Are they hard or soft? Attached or loose? Work with your vet to keep a record of any knots or nodules, so everyone know what is and isn’t normal. We don’t run to the vet for every little thing, but because I have a good relationship with my vet, we will occasionally chat on the phone about whether something is or is not a visit worthy.
Regular Blood Work. Most dogs require a general panel at least once in their life. If you’ve been lucky enough to miss it, good for you. Now do it anyway. Get a baseline while they are still healthy. That gives you a frame of reference to compare future values to. I’m much more prone to get a yearly blood draw for my dogs as they age. I want to keep on top of kidney, thyroid, and liver values before they are a dire straights emergency. Blood work is expensive. Major organ failure is more expensive and often fatal.
Skip the Senior Food. How the pet food industry decided that senior dogs need less calories and protein, I will never understand. That’s the difference in most “Senior Formulas”, which you will pay a premium for. The logic being that older dogs are less active and that the protein is harder on their aged kidneys. We certainly don’t want old dogs (or any dog) being fat, but just like us, older dogs digest their food less efficiently. They could actually require more calories and protein to get the same level of benefit from it. Keep your dogs lean on the high quality diet they are already eating.
Glucosamine. I’ve sung the wonders of early glucosamine administration before. If your dog is old and not already on a joint supplement, do it now. Four legs makes them twice as likely to experience joint pain and issues as we are. I’ve yet to meet an old dog that hadn’t slowed down from mobility issue. Two of my dogs already have concerns. The goal is to avoid prescription pain pills for as long as possible. NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) like Rimadyl and Duramax work wonders, however long term use can wreak havoc on the liver. Maybe someday you will need them. With the use of glucomasine and/or chondrotin, hopefully that someday will be a long time from now.
Vaccinations. I’m not going to tell anyone not to vaccinate their dogs. I will tell you that around here, age comes with certain privileges. One of those is, after a life time of vaccinations, I no longer think it is necessary for their immune systems. This is one of those areas (like nutrition) where I strongly advocate doing your own research. Don’t take what your vet says as gospel. I wont be signing my 10 or 12 year old dogs up for the same shot regimes they’ve had their entire lives.
Sweaters. This time of year, we keep this house pretty ‘cool’. Actually, we are avid “freeze your buns” challenge participants. Old dogs and their old bones are none too appreciative of lower temperatures. Dogs that may not have taken too kindly to my dress up tendencies earlier in their years, are suddenly a lot more agreeable. All my old dogs have worn sweaters, especially the smaller dogs. They like it. I like it. It’s an old dog win-win. Keep them cute and comfortable.
We do all of this, and we try not to fret. Unlike Chuck and his predecessors, my dogs have always lived a pretty posh existence. This gives them a big leg up as seniors. Consequently, they aren’t as slow as their years would indicate. Now is the time when all that good food, weight management and exercise will pay off. My almost 12 year old’s are often confused with 6 year olds, which makes my heart sing, and gives me lots of hope that this year won’t be THE YEAR, if you know what I mean.
But if it is, we can do that too. Even if it was over a decade ago, as opposed to just a few years, it’s still what we signed up for. Chuck Chuck and Moses and Louie showed us the way.