I never had a dog when I was growing up, and I thought I didn’t want one, especially years ago when I had a harried household of three young sons and a husband. However, the guys outnumbered me during the debate about accepting the “free” lab/chow puppy from my brother 15 Christmases ago.
My husband claims I am now a dog person; I just know I am fiercely loyal to our beloved Cookie. Our previously healthy dog has contracted several ailments as she ages (and let me say I can relate to her pains.) I’m realizing how similar the aging process is for people and dogs.
Like people there are variables involved in the aging process of dogs. Average-sized dogs are considered seniors at 7-years-old, very large dogs are seniors at age 5 and small dogs possibly not until 10. Here are some ways to have healthy and happy old dogs:
1. Basic care is important. Dr. Nancy Bader at the Jason-Little Road Animal Clinic in Arlington, says be diligent with the regular care. Clipping toe nails, brushing fur, basic hygiene, heartworm prevention, and flea/tick control can alert you to any changes in the dog. A change in the quantity of water being consumed can indicate a need to check for conditions such as diabetes, kidney, and liver diseases. Senior dogs are more sensitive to the weather; keep them cool in summer and warm in winter.
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2. Continue with regular exercise. Training and playing with your dog can lessen the deterioration of physical and even mental abilities, just not too strenuous. Dr. Larry Gumfory at the Westcreek Animal Clinic, points out that keeping your dog moving helps the dog and helps you with caring for the dog. A sedentary dog who cannot stand up easily or walk around outside for potty breaks is much more difficult to care for and not as happy.
3. Track the weight of your dog. That chubby dachshund waddling to the car may look adorable, but he is not healthy and will probably cost his owner a lot more money. According to Pet Talk with the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, 40 percent of older dogs are overweight, contributing to many health conditions and reduced quality of life. Gumfory usually advises switching to senior dog food as the dog ages. Seniors need more easily digested nutrition and different caloric needs. Extra pounds can lead to diabetes, osteoarthritis, and many other conditions.
4. Visit the veterinarian regularly. Since senior dogs are more susceptible to develop diseases and other troubles. Regular observation and blood tests may prevent or minimize problems. Merry Kroeger, a current Texas A&M veterinary medical school student, said A&M recommends a checkup every six months for seniors. Owners should mention any changes, even small things such as coughing more (possible heart disease) and excessive drinking (diabetes.)
5. Notice changes in behavior. Some things, such as sleeping more and running around less, are to be expected. Other changes, such licking fur constantly, can indicate a problem. Some dogs may turn cranky, according to Bader. A change that is often due to the presence of pain or loss of senses like hearing or sight.
6. Be aware of cognitive degeneration and disorientation. Is your dog getting senile? Last summer, Cookie started walking in circles around the coffee table, getting trapped behind the couch, pacing for hours in the middle of the night, and randomly barking at the bathroom door. Gumfory prescribed an Alzheimer’s medication. One strategy for evaluating your dog’s mental condition is to analyze with the DISH acronym:
D – Disorientation
I – alteration in Interactions with family
S – Sleep-wake cycle and activity level changes
H – House soiling
7. Consider acupuncture. Acupuncture is one of several alternative treatments growing in popularity for the care of pets. Dr. Sara Beall, who is certified in veterinary acupuncture, has helped dogs and cats find relief for arthritis, anxiety, senility, pain, skin disorders, urinary incontinence, and cancer. Several treatments are usually necessary to achieve results, and more than one type of acupuncture may be beneficial – dry needles, aqua puncture, laser acupuncture, and electric stem. I was amazed when observing a treatment at how relaxed and refreshed the dog seemed. Some additional options include acupressure, laser treatments, and health supplements.
8. Look in your dog’s mouth. OK, I know peering at 42 teeth and smelling the breath isn’t fun, but periodontal diseases are common in dogs. Bacteria hiding around the teeth can be released into the blood stream, potentially leading to heart disease and other problems. Dental problems can effect the dog’s eating habits, such as not being able to chomp on dry dog food. Dental chew treats and regular brushing with a doggie tooth brush can help, but never use human tooth paste for the dog. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your dog needs a professional cleaning.
9. Measure your dog’s quality of life. Bader recommends a quality of life scale developed by Dr. Alice Villalobos called the HHHHHMM Scale. Each of the following parameters is rated 1(poor) – 10(best): hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, more good days than bad. A score of thirty-five or higher is deemed an acceptable quality of life. Don’t forget the quality of life for the pet owner should also be part of your evaluation.
10. Plan ahead for end of life procedure. When grieving over your dog, you don’t want to be burdened with choosing your next move. Several alternatives are available. Pet cemeteries offer a burial plot or cremation with costs varying from $50 to hundreds. Some veterinary clinics accept pets for a fee. Check your local city for pet guidelines and costs. For instance, Arlington allows specified backyard burials, but Fort Worth does not. Fort Worth curbside pickup can be arranged for no charge (call 817-392-3737 see www.fortworthtexas.gov/env/info/?id=30756), but Arlington charges $24.