We have a house of aging dogs. At 14, 12 ½, and 10 years old – and a 3 year old, the whippersnapper – our house is beginning to revolve around the oldsters. Having an older dog changes the way you budget, live, and well, love.
Dogs are living longer
Dogs are living longer now, thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, accessible veterinary care, and dog health insurance. Like people, as dogs age, they typically need more care. Young dogs are healthy for the most part and need to be seen by a veterinarian usually only for their yearly veterinary exam; generally they’re not suffering from anything other than excess energy and boundless enthusiasm (that you sometimes wish your veterinarian could prescribe a pill for!). Until their senior years, dogs don’t need the veterinarian until they start to develop age-related issues such as lumps and bumps, arthritis, back and neck pain, cancer, heart disease, liver and kidney disease, diabetes, weakness, and yes, even senility and dementia. Two of our older dogs are also starting to show some losses in both hearing and vision.
Because of those health changes, we, the caretaker, need to make some changes to help our dogs remain comfortable and happy for as long as possible. Some of the changes we’ve been making in our household over the past couple of years include budgeting more money for veterinary care. Two of our three seniors are on daily medication now (and will be for the rest of their life). That’s extra money out of our wallet each month, even though the costs of most of the medications are fairly low (so far). In addition to medications, we’re finding that we’re making trips to the veterinarian more frequently now, too. Thanks to advances in the field, we now have available to us tools such as supplements, acupuncture, laser treatment, and massage. These treatments can often improve your dog’s quality of life, range of motion, and activity level. These treatments, of course, come at an additional cost.
Another area we’ve noticed that we’ve made significant changes in is our dog’s comfort. When they were younger, they were happiest lying on the floor. They’d bypass a bed to flop out, frogleg style, on the hardwood floor. It’s not a matter of want any longer, now they need a bed. And not just any bed – the cushier the better for their old, sore bones. We’ve been replacing the thinner “crate pad” style beds with the more comfortable orthopedic style beds. There are still a few thinner beds lying around here and there, but more often than not, you’ll find our seniors snuggled down into a 8” thick bed snoozing happily away.
In addition to getting thicker beds, we’ve also gotten some ramps and stairs so the dogs can get into the car without pain or injury. Our dogs are too big to lift into and out of the car or the furniture, and because it’s difficult for them to jump into/onto and out of/off our cars and furniture, we’re always on the lookout for things that will help them get around more easily.
Thankfully we live in a one-story rancher so the dogs don’t have to navigate steps every day. For dogs with arthritis, vision problems, or back/neck issues, stairs can be nearly impossible as they age. If you have a multi-level house and an aging dog, consider building them a comfy, safe spot to sleep on the main floor (and help them gradually acclimate to it).
Exercise needs can change as your dog gets older, as well. There was a time when it took five full days of vacation (swimming 9a – 6p) before our dogs would take a break to catch a nap. Now, they’re sleeping more than they’re swimming. Instead of taking them on every hike and jaunt, we consider the activity level and plan to take (or leave) them accordingly. Most dogs don’t get enough exercise, whether they’re young dogs or seniors. Exercise is vital to your aging dog – check with your veterinarian to find out just how much and what kind of exercise is right for your dog. One of our seniors can handle about ½ mile walk, while another can go for 3.5 miles and still be ready for more. Adjust the exercise you give your pet to suit their particular needs – and health.
Cognitive and behavior changes
Dogs are living longer now and we’re starting to see dogs with dementia. Our most senior dog, Lily, is beginning to show signs of cognitive dysfunction. Cognitive dysfunction can look like disobedience: pooping or peeing inside, not listening, unwillingness to sit or lie down, and stubbornness. Your older dog probably isn’t being stubborn or spiteful, she’s aging plain and simple. Lily will occasionally poop without being aware that she’s going to the bathroom. She’s not being bad or spiteful, she’s getting old. We don’t even blink now when it happens: we clean it up and move on without a word.
There are some great resources for caretakers of aging dogs. Two that I love are The Gift of a Gray Muzzle by Kathy Sdao and Lori Stevens (available at ClickerTraining.com) and Remember Me?: Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction by Eileen Anderson.