One thing no scientist has been able to do is slow down the hands of time. Like us, as dogs grow older they can start to experience the effects of an aging body and mind. Steps may be harder to go up and down. Hearing isn’t as sharp as when your dog was younger, and he might have a harder time “holding it” in between trips outside. We can’t stop the aging process, but we can recognize and understand difficulties that cause some common behavior issues in senior dogs. Canines are adaptable, and they usually handle getting older better than most humans.
When it comes to a dog’s senses, hearing loss – partial or complete – is the most common loss. If your older dog doesn’t respond when you talk to him, it’s possible he can’t hear you. As canines age, high pitched sounds are harder to hear. Women generally have a higher pitched voice, and praise is given in a happy, higher pitched tone. It might be necessary to lower the tone to help your pet hear you.
Just because he’s watching you as you talk to him, doesn’t mean he hears you, and most dogs aren’t lip readers. Not coming when called or ignoring a command, even when he’s watching you, is a good indication of hearing loss.
If you used hand signals along with commands when you trained your dog, it’s a huge advantage when he gets older and loses his hearing. But if you didn’t, you can still teach him hand signals or use other ways to get his attention to help him understand what you want.
Use a flashlight or laser pointer to get his attention, but remember to never shine a laser light directly into his eyes to prevent damage to the eyes. You can turn on an outside light and flash it to send a signal when it’s time to come inside. Reward him with CANIDAE Pure Heaven treats so he can learn what the light means.
Never stop talking to your pet, even if he has complete hearing loss. His hearing may be gone, but he still enjoys the time you spend with him when talking to him.
I wrote an article a short time ago about living with an older dog. Our Bear is definitely showing her age, and many times her irritability makes it hard to do anything that helps her feel better. If you have an older dog, you may want to start making some changes around your home that will make life easier for them. I like to think of it like dealing with an elderly person who doesn’t want to admit there are things bothering them. Changes are made gradually and are designed to give them a choice without any attention drawn to the easier choices when they begin making them.
While your dog may have always flopped down for a nap wherever he felt like it, you can make it more comfy by placing therapeutic “egg carton foam mattress” dog beds in their favorite places. Bear has a hidey hole in the bathroom where she likes to lay away from the hustle and bustle of the house. She also has her spot next to our bed when she’s too stiff to go underneath it, and a spot beside the couch where she lays when she’s feeling sociable. Her cushioned beds in those places are new additions that make her favorite napping spots more comfortable, easier on her joints and warmer.
If your dog has trouble with the stairs, there are a few things you can do. Non-slip mats on the stairs will help your dog balance out unsteady steps without fear of slipping and falling. Moving food and water to a place where your dog spends most of her time can help cut down on the trips up and down the stairs. We have a terrible set of spiral stairs that are difficult for humans to navigate. Bear has always flown up and down them much faster than me, but now she tends to stumble and stops midway to rest. I worry constantly about her falling down the steps. My better half has declared that when Bear is unable to manage the steps he will build her a slide. My job is to make sure that does not happen – I don’t want her sliding to the basement, so I am making it more comfortable for her on the main level of the house. If everything she needs is upstairs, she won’t need to go down the steps.
The weather turns warm. Or humid. Wylie pants, laboring to draw a deep breath of cool air. It scares me the way his sides quiver when he inhales. At night, when it’s finally cooler, I often find him awake, lying down, but with his head up, his breathing rapid. There is nothing I can do that settles him or eases his shallow respirations. In the morning, if he is down, I rush to check – is he still breathing?
Wylie is an old dog, ambling slowly around the bend of 14 into 15. He was a wild puppy, one of those dogs who probably thought his name was, “no,” “stop,” “don’t,” or “enough.” We couldn’t wait for him to mature and settle down. But several years into the senior range, Wylie still chased cats, ate toilet paper and stole food from the counter. (Yes, we did take him to obedience, each of us…twice.)
One winter night he came inside, from barking and chasing a creature invisible to me. Suddenly he staggered, his back end sinking, legs lurching like a drunk’s. His eyes rolled to me, wide with panic, and down he went. No seizure, but Wylie was obviously ill. As I was about to take him to the emergency vet, he just as suddenly regained use of his legs. Within a few seconds he ran to the kitchen, wagging his tail and barking for dinner. Back to normal, back to wild.
That was three-and-a-half years ago. According to medical literature, Wylie should have been dead less than 12 months after the first appearance of his symptoms. There is no definitive diagnosis. Maybe he has atypical seizures, maybe degenerative myelopathy, or possibly laryngeal paralysis, also a degenerative neurological disease of the entire body despite its particular name.
Wylie’s personality changed with the collapse, and what used to intrigue him now stressed him to the point of danger. Although I would have gladly spent the money for specialty treatment, Wylie couldn’t be tested. The stress and discomfort of the tests necessary for a diagnosis could aggravate his symptoms, accelerating the disease. And even with an answer, there was – is – no cure.
Now my wild child sleeps his days away. Cats that used to scatter at his appearance, sniff his ears and step over his outstretched legs, legs that quiver and paddle as he dreams. But when dark falls, sleep slips into the shadows as Wylie worries through the nights, his stress magnified by hearing that has faded. Bewilderment is plain on his face as he agonizes over intruders he may miss if he rests.
Some days his symptoms are worse. He cannot arise without help. His feet turn in of their own accord, toes and nails drag, or he turns in circles and walks in diagonal lines on some unmappable path. Or he forgets how to get from the yard to the door that brings him back to food and his bed. The once proudly curled tail hangs unfurled, and he no longer lifts his leg to mark the world as his own.
And yet I keep this old dog near to my heart and bedside, even though he doesn’t smell so good anymore. Just as I worry that tomorrow will be the awful moment when I must decide to let him go painlessly, he revives himself and makes it through another day, not in discomfort or anxiety, but in that joyously simple state natural to dogs. He barks for breakfast, plays with his treat cube and runs, not so fast or gracefully, to see the deer pass through the woods.
So I breathe a sigh of relief and wait to see what tomorrow will bring. Will Wylie be there – lost? wild? staggering? happy? I’ve learned to love the new form of crazy, the new-old Wylie. One day, his bed and bowl, they’ll both be empty (and his bed will still smell like him). Today he’s here, breathing, and that’s enough.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.