Tag Archives: dog care

Picture of an old dog carrying a toy toward a box

Adventures with an old dog

Every day can be an adventure when you have an old dog. Tango, Fran’s 14.5-year-old Brussels Griffon, has us on a bit of a roller coaster lately. 

It’s not that we mind cleaning up when he doesn’t quite make it outside. Or the loads of laundry on the days nothing stays down. The distressing part is that he’s not comfortable, can’t seem to get warm, and on some days, doesn’t want to play his special games

Making choices

Picture of an old dog carrying a toy toward a box

All this came on rather suddenly, so Fran’s working with his veterinarian to figure out how to make him happy and comfortable again. We’ve known the vet for many years, and when she took a look at him, asked Fran if they had to have “the talk.” It’s not the same talk parents have with their pre-teens. It’s the tough choices talk.

And we’re there. At Tango’s age and state of decay (arthritis, vision and hearing loss, etc.) we’re not going to subject him to invasive or painful diagnostic tests. If we did, and discovered something, we also wouldn’t subject him to invasive or painful treatment. So there would be no point.

Comfortable is the goal

So we’re treating the symptoms for now. Hoping our vet’s familiarity with Tango, knowledge, and experience, will keep Tango comfortable most days. As long as the good days outnumber the not-so-good ones, we’ll keep going.

Ironically, with Tango, the one diagnosis we thought was a sure bet, kidney disease/failure, isn’t. His kidney function is just dandy. It’s ironic because he’s been eating prescription kidney diet food most of his life. He had crystals when we was about two, so he’s been on a special diet ever since. He’ll be thrilled now that he can have whatever food he likes. He’s happy beyond belief to get unlimited Chicken Heart Treats. Even the vet says we don’t have to care about crystals any more.

Free to indulge

In a way, it’s going to be a good time with Tango, however long it is. When you don’t have to worry about long-term consequences, you can indulge him. He’ll get the extra squirt of whipped cream or spoon of ice cream. And we’ll turn up the heated throw an extra notch, just for Tango.

We’ve had dogs for lots of years and we’ve had all kinds of end-of-life experiences with them. People, especially first-time dog owners, will ask when you know it’s time. In our experience, your dog will let you know when they’re done. By the same token, they’ll also do their best to stay with you if that’s what you need. Dogs’ love for their people is unconditional throughout their lives.

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Dog time budget – how much do they need?

Dogs are amazingly accepting beings. They’ll be happy with whatever time you can spare for them. But in reality, what’s a realistic dog time budget? How much of your day is devoted to your dog?

Essential needs

Picture of three hourglasses with pictures of dog faces in each to illustrate dog time budget

There are the everyday essentials that all dog owners deal with: feeding and potty breaks. Depending on what you feed your dog, it can be as simple as scooping kibble in a bowl, or as complex as cooking “cheesy eggs” as we know a couple people do. Most people seem to feed their dogs twice a day, so let’s call it 15 minutes a day.

The potty breaks can range from letting dogs out in a fenced yard, to long walks that double as opportunities for exercise. Not to mention how frequently those breaks need to happen. If you have a puppy or a senior dog, there are more of them. On average, say four times a day, about 10 minutes each. 40 minutes total.

Then there are things that may not be daily, depending on your dog. We know some people bathe their dogs every couple of weeks. Others, rarely. But some type of grooming is necessary every week – tooth-brushing, fur brushing, nail trimming, ear cleaning, face-washing (especially if you have a dog with a beard!), dispensing medication (including heartworm prevention and, for most, flea/tick prevention. For the sake of argument, let’s call it about an hour a week.

Now for the fun stuff

Those are all things that dog owners have to do. Then there are all the things that made you want a dog in the first place; the play, the companionship, the relationship, the unconditional love, the fun of having a dog.

The play part is important for both of you. As Playwright George Bernard Shaw said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Having a dog reminds us to have some fun every single day. Whether you find joy in seeing how much your dog can achieve through training games, or smile when you watch your dog gleefully chasing a ball, dogs bring happiness every day. Just 15 minutes a day can make every day better. For that time, you don’t have to think about anything but having some fun with your dog. The budget for play is two hours a week.

The most precious part of having a dog may be the time that’s spent together off-budget. You’re just hanging out with your dog next to you. We love relaxing in the evening, watching TV with our dogs napping near us. Some prefer the couch. Others the dog beds on the floor. And it always makes us smile and look up to hear little dreaming “woofs!”

Knowing somebody else is home is comforting. You’re never alone when you have a dog. Nobody thinks you’re crazy if you talk to your dog. You have a great excuse for a bit of disorganization when you have a dog. 

Total it up

If we added up the figures right, we come up with about 9.5 hours a week spent on having a dog. A little more than a work day. Is a dog worth the time? Absolutely! Do you have the time? That’s something only you can answer.

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How to get consent in dog care

Quite a few years ago we were privileged to have a “behind the scenes” tour of the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Lion House. A dog friend of ours was a zookeeper and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for animal lovers like us.

We were amazed to be within inches of gorgeous lions, tigers, and bobcats in their off-exhibit area where all of the animal husbandry behaviors were performed. Lately, we’ve seen more examples of animals, both large and small, wild and domestic, being trained to consent in their own care.

The example we’re most familiar with is dolphins. One of our favorite places on the planet is the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida. DRC is actively involved in the “research” part of its name, creatively studying dolphin cognition with training games. One of their most intriguing studies involved recognition of identical objects. We were thrilled to actually participate in one of the training games. Another amazing opportunity.

How does it apply to dogs?

Among the most important training games played at DRC are those practicing animal husbandry. If a pregnant dolphin doesn’t want to stay still for an ultrasound, she can just swim away. Dolphins not trained to let someone draw blood from tail flukes? It’s not going to happen. When an older dolphin needs a nebulizer to get his medication, he needs to understand that the weird object perched on his head is okay. e can just float there while it’s happening.

Recently there’s been growth in the “Fear Free” movement in veterinary care. We’ve seen expansion in the idea of getting dogs (and cats) to consent to treatment and grooming procedures. This can range from getting eyes, ears, and teeth examined, to vaccinations, and nail trimming.

Those of us with small dogs can “make” our dogs comply. But it’s certainly a goal to make it easier on everyone, both people and dogs. We know that the pandemic has made veterinary appointments difficult to come by. And it’s particularly hard on our pets when we can’t accompany them. But there are things you can do to help your dog.

Getting consent in dog care

Boston Terrier shows consent to dog care by calmly allowing nails to be trimmed

A terrific local trainer has the people in her classes bring shirts and socks to class for the dogs to wear. Aside from adorable, it’s a painless way to teach dogs to put their heads into something, and allow their paws to be touched. To a dog, there’s probably not a big difference between putting his head into a shirt, or a “cone of shame.” If your dog breaks a nail, as Golly did a couple of times, they’ll be more likely to leave the bandaging alone if they’re used to something being on their paws.

Similarly, we can all make a game out of touching the dog’s muzzle to look at their teeth. Or shining a flashlight into their ears. These are little things you can do to help your dog understand that nothing bad will happen with grooming or exams. 

Make it treat time

People are using “lick mats” spread with a soft treat like peanut butter to occupy their dogs during bathing. It’s a great idea – turning something that could be stressful into treat time. One trainer teaches her dog to put its chin on a Post-it Note. That won’t work in the tub, but she did use it on the back of a chair while she administered a vaccine.

Dogs are smart, adaptable beings. If they know what’s happening, chances are they’ll trust people that no harm will come. One of our most important lessons to our training students is “never lie to your dog.” Don’t try to trick them. Never fool them. Teach them to know what’s coming and, chances are, they’ll be fine with it.

An ounce of prevention to save your dog’s teeth

Taking care of your dog’s teeth isn’t fun. It’s not convenient. And you could, possibly, get nipped. It’s also one of the most important things you can do for your dog’s health.

A friend of ours found this out the hard way. Last week her dog had periodontal surgery. He lost about 10 teeth, and is on massive antibiotics to stop the bone loss due to bacterial disease. Left untreated, the gum disease could have led to massive systemic infection, and damage to his heart. Her dog is four years old.

Caring for dog teeth

Fortunately, caring for your dog’s teeth is easy. Veterinarians recommend brushing twice a day, but for many/most of us, that’s just not going to happen. We make sure to brush our dog’s teeth once a week – it happens more often if we notice something going on. Human toothpaste isn’t recommended – get a good one designed for dogs, like our own GG Naturals Dog Toothpaste. Just dab some on a piece of gauze or washcloth and rub your dog’s teeth. Done on a regular basis, your dog may not love it, but he/she will get used to it.

Simple acts can save your dog's teeth

We’re lucky that our dogs all seem to have a mouth chemistry that doesn’t contribute to dental disease. Our friend wasn’t lucky at all. She didn’t expect any problems since none of her other dogs have had the issue. And dogs are notorious for not showing signs of disease until it’s advanced too far to reverse.

Signs of trouble

According to Web MD, the signs of periodontal disease in dogs include:

  • Problems picking up food
  • Bleeding or red gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Blood in the water bowl or on chew toys
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • “Talking” or making noises when a dog eats or yawns
  • Bumps or lumps in the mouth
  • Bloody or ropey saliva
  • Not wanting the head touched (head shyness)
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge (advanced gum disease in the upper teeth can destroy the bone between the nasal and oral cavity)

We don’t even want to think about what the dental surgery cost our friend. Not to mention the worry and recovery time. Her dog’s entire future is changed – his favorite hard chew toys are now off-limits. She only noticed an issue when one of her dog’s teeth seemed loose. The disease had already progressed too far to save the teeth.

Benefits of caring for dog’s teeth

To be completely honest, we’re not so much obsessed with our dogs having pretty teeth as we are terrified of any of them undergoing anesthesia. We’ve only heard of one veterinarian in our area who does dog teeth-cleaning without putting the dog under anesthesia. And, while we trust our veterinarian, we do have flat-faced dogs who have more difficulty with anesthesia. Since there’s a simple thing we can do to put it off as long as possible, or avoid it entirely, we’re going to do it. Tango is our oldest dog at 11. So far, so good. Like many Toy breed dogs (he’s a Brussels Griffon), Tango never had a full complement of teeth. But he still has all of them, and has never had to have a professional cleaning.

Start where you are

Even just rubbing your dog’s teeth and gums with a washcloth will help. While you’re waiting for your Dog Toothpaste to arrive – start. Small steps can make a big difference and it may save worry, money, and your dog’s teeth.