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Caring for an old dog

Is there any difference when caring for an old dog? We haven’t been lucky enough to have a senior dog in the house for a long time. With luck, we’re about to embark on that journey.

Tango is officially our old dog

This month Tango, Fran’s Brussels Griffon boy, will turn 12 years old. We’re not going to say he’ll “celebrate” it. That’s not because Tango doesn’t enjoy a good party. It’s because on the day of his birthday, we’ll probably have forgotten about it. 

We’re just not good at remembering actual dates. So April is going to be Tango month! If we do something special for him every day, we’ll be sure to catch the actual date at some point.

What’s different for an old dog?

Aging changes dogs in similar ways to people. They’re a little slower, may need more sleep, joints can be a little achy, metabolism can slow. And, just like with people, there are things we can do to keep them in the best possible physical condition.

One of the most important ways we can help our dogs is to keep up with their oral health. If you notice your dog eats less eagerly, or if he/she has bad breath, it may be an indicator of a tooth or gum problem. Like many small and toy dogs, Tango never had all that many teeth. But regular brushing has let him keep the ones he does have in good shape. He also makes a practice of playing “bitey face” with Simon, so we have to make sure his defensive lineup is working! 

Since an older dog should get more regular checkups at the veterinarian, be sure your vet checks your dog’s mouth and teeth. And, if you haven’t already, start routine dental care. All you need to do is rub with a soft cloth and gentle dog toothpaste.

Keep them moving!

Tango is an extremely flexible dog. The way he flops, you could swear the dog has no bones. It also means he has an adorable loose-legged gait (and his ears flop adorably when he runs). But we discovered that his flexibility didn’t mean he was toned or in good shape. His limb and core strength was deteriorating. 

Part of caring for an old dog is to make sure he’s in as good condition as possible. To build back his muscle tone, we started a series of balance exercises on an inflatable disc. Because we’re hard-core dog-sport nerds, it was something we already had on hand. You don’t need one. A couch cushion large enough for your dog to stand on will work just fine. 

At first, just stand up/sit down was all Tango could handle. Just a few repetitions, each move rewarded with a treat, was enough to tire him out. Now he’s added turning in a circle one way then the other, going in a circle with just his back legs on the cushion and fronts on the floor, and the opposite with front legs on the cushion and back legs on the floor.

It’s made a tremendous difference in his leg and core strength. And it takes less than five minutes a day. And, probably because of the treats, Tango loves it. If you are worried about your older dog gaining weight, you can use his/her food as the rewards and have your dog exercise for breakfast!

Mind/body connection

In addition to the physical, it’s just as important to keep an older dog’s mind engaged and bright. It’s a complete falsehood that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Older dogs love learning new things, and may even be better at it than their younger counterparts. Their bond with you is more developed and their trust in you complete. 

If you haven’t signed up for our training site newsletter, you’ve missed Tango learning to “bowl” over the last couple of months. The dog training game sessions are only two minutes long, so it’s always fast and fun. And involves more treats! Tango so adores these games that he’s completely ignoring Fran’s command to “stay” or “wait” – he can’t help himself. His Rally Obedience Excellent title means nothing – he’s so eager to play!

Still those unavoidable signals

As much as we try, we know we can’t keep time at bay. It’s harder to wake Tango up, he’s sleeping deeper. He doesn’t see particularly well anymore – bright sunshine is particularly difficult. It breaks your heart a little when your dog can’t seem to find you in his own backyard. He’s also gaining weight more easily – we can completely identify with that part of getting older.

The best thing we can all do when caring for an old dog is pay attention. Notice what’s changing. The one thing that never changes is how much unconditional love our dogs give.

Preparing for your dog’s death

Four of our friends are blessed to have old dogs. They celebrate each day and acknowledge their good fortune. And we can tell each is trying to prepare for her old dog’s death.

Death isn’t a pretty word. We don’t use it a lot and there are tons of euphemisms so we don’t have to. It’s shocking and stark. Exactly how it feels, no matter how much preparation you do.

Celebrating the oldies

Our friends with the old dogs are all over the country, have different breeds, and, as far as we know, only a couple know each other. What they have in common is dealing with the creakiness and vet bills for old dogs. And none of them would change a thing.

The healthiest of the group is also the oldest. This dog just celebrated his 17th birthday. Yes, you read that right. 17th. And, aside from being a little slower, a little creakier, he’s trucking along just fine.

Another friend’s dog is 14. This dog is a rescue, adopted at about one year old. She’s been a lifeline for our friend, who has been through some tremendous life changes since she got her dog. And the dog recently started suffering some seizures. They’re working to keep it under control, but there are good days and not-so-good ones.

Our third friend’s dog is about 12+ years old – we know we recently wished her a “Happy Birthday,” but we don’t remember which one it was. She scared her “mom” recently by having a stroke, but she seems to be, slowly, recovering. This dog has made a practice of scaring her mom. She’s the miracle dog of the bunch.

The fourth friend’s dog just turned 12 this week. And it was his birthday that got us thinking about this stuff. His mom didn’t think he’d make it this far. He’s suffering from Addison’s Disease as well as a list of other ailments. 

Signalling their thoughts

Our friends have all made comments that let us know they’re trying to prepare themselves for their dog’s death. Saying things like “as long as she’s happy.” Or “he still loves his walks, they’re just shorter.” And posting videos of treats lovingly hand-fed and a dear old dog munching happily.

The thing is, and they all probably know this, there’s no way we’re ever ready. Personally, we’ve been lucky enough to have dogs who lived to ripe old ages. And we’ve been gut-punched losing younger dogs suddenly. It’s always a shock. The house is always empty – even other dogs and people are still there.

One of our friends has been sort of expecting her dog to die for a while. Her dog was never the healthiest, and many conversations have been gloomy. We know she’s been trying to achieve a state of mind to accept what’s going to come, but it’s not possible.

Shoving it aside

Death is a reality of all lives. Some of us focus on it more than others. And some of us (our personal tendency) is to push the thought aside, as best we can, for as long as we can. We figure that it’s time enough to deal with grief when it happens. And in the meantime, we’ll cuddle, and play, and train, and enjoy the company of dogs. We don’t know how much time we’ll be granted with our dogs, so we let them know we love them every day.

Keep old dogs feeling young

Fran’s Brussels Griffon Tango recently celebrated his 11th birthday. For some reason, in our minds, passing a decade moved him from the “middle-aged” category to “old dog.”

Picture of a Brussels Griffon, Tango, now an old dog.

We know that small dogs (Tango weighs a smidge over 14 pounds) generally have a longer lifespan than big ones, but our history with dogs, unfortunately, hasn’t reflected that. Our longest-lived dog was our Boston Terrier Daemon, who lived to be 16. Golly and Roc made it to 13, but we’ve lost dogs as young as eight. It’s never long enough, but we admit to feeling cheated more than once.

Nowadays we’re more conscious of what it takes to keep our old dog feeling young. Even though he’s retired from all competition, Tango still gets play-training sessions every day. Fran is careful that he “warms up” before doing any of the tricks he knows. 

Creaky old dog

Over the winter we noticed that Tango was having some trouble moving – getting going was an issue for him and he wasn’t holding himself up. Although he’s never been good at holding himself together. You know how some dogs, when they’re held, hold themselves up so their people just have to give some support? Tango flops. It’s like he pretends he has no bones when you’re holding him. So Tango gets to do some simple, fun exercises to help him stay in shape.

We use an inflatable balance disc for the exercises- but anyone can easily use a couch cushion to try it out. It “works” his legs and core, the most important bits to make sure this fuzzy creature can keep moving. 

The first sit and stand. That’s it. We tell him to sit, he does it, he gets a treat. Stand. Treat. Sit-treat. Stand-treat. About five to 10 times. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but just doing it on an unstable surface like the inflatable disc or couch cushion makes it a workout for the dog’s core muscles. We were surprised that he seemed sore the day after we started. But we’ve seen a noticeable improvement in how fast he can get moving after a nap.  Just the smallest thing can make a difference.

We’ve added some other little exercises on the disc; circling it with all four feet on, front feet, back feet. That’s a good warm-up for Tango. And he loves it so much that, when it’s another dog’s turn, he complains about it from his crate. He thinks all the turns should belong to him!

New attitude

We’ve heard two schools of thought on introducing a puppy into a household with an old dog. One side says to leave the oldster to enjoy the peace and quiet. The other, which we dove into, says that puppies/young dogs keep them young.In all honesty, since Tango had let Fran know he was no longer interested in participating in dog sports, and really wanted no part of training classes, either, we thought he was setting himself up for a comfy retirement rocking on the porch. She even wrote a book about him: Tango: Transforming My Hellhound

Then Fran brought Boston Terrier puppy Simon home. And Tango loves him. Simon torments Tango endlessly, batting at his face, bouncing at him, nipping at his beard, even, at times, barrelling into him and knocking him over. We thought Tango would hate the little hooligan, who weighs four pounds more. 

Not so! Tango adores Simon. He seeks him out to sleep by him. He initiates the bouncing! We didn’t know Tango as a young puppy, since he was 11 months old when Fran got him. He’s never played with any of the other dogs. He never even seemed interested in the other dogs. Simon, he loves! Go figure.

Live long and prosper

All of the mental and physical exertion is, of course, in addition to seeing to his medical well-being. Fortunately, aside from occasional fold dermatitis and tendency to form crystals, Tango’s healthy as well as happy. At-home grooming regimen includes:

  • Brushing, which also lets us check for bumps and sensitivities
  • Tooth-brushing, which lets us check his teeth and gums
  • Fuzzy dog maintenance, trimming his “fuzzy slippers” until he can see a groomer again

Keeping our old dog young at heart is a privilege and a joy. His joie de vivre makes us happy every day. We hope your life is enriched with an old dog. And that all your dogs live to be creaky old complainers.

Dog mobility tips – Keep your dog moving in comfort

Getting old ain’t for sissies – either human or canine! Dog mobility issues can crop up at any time, due to age, injury, or illness. We want to do everything we can to alleviate pain and to make our dogs’ lives easier.

We’ve been fortunate in the past – none of our dogs really had major issues with getting around. Even our oldest dogs were able to maneuver with stairs or ramps to beds and couches. And, of course, one of the advantages we have with our small dogs is that we can carry them!

Age isn’t the only dog mobility issue

While none of our current dogs is “old” – just this summer Hope’s eight-year-old French Bulldog Teddy was diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy, the canine equivalent of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease). He’s losing coordination in his hind end. This progressive, incurable disease will inevitably rob him of mobility.

So we’re learning all kinds of “tricks of the trade” for keeping Teddy’s independent mobility. His feet start sliding out from under him on wood or tile floors. So the decor at the house now includes not-very-stylish but extremely practical yoga mats in the Teddy-trafficked areas. A great find – if you have “Five Below” stores around you – yoga mats are, in fact, $5!

The mats aren’t practical everywhere – some areas are just too tight, or there are doorways that won’t clear over the mats, or they need to come up so we can vacuum and wash floors.

Boots can help

We’ve also used Pawz dog boots for Ted. If you ever search for “dogs in boots” on YouTube, you’ll see countless hilarious examples of dogs trying to walk without putting their feet down. The “get this thing off me” expressions are priceless.

Pawz aren’t like that. Dogs tend not to hate them as much because they can still feel the ground under their feet. The natural rubber allows traction without “losing touch.” We just put them on Teddy’s back feet. They can’t stay on for hours on end, but if he’s “helping” with the housework, it’s a solution that works.

Stairs and ramps

We already mentioned stairs and ramps. Teddy’s lost the ability to go up a regular flight stairs now, so we carry him up and down. He is able to negotiate pet steps and ramps, so those have taken the place of coffee tables and nightstands at our house.

stroller for dog mobilityTeddy is still able to walk, although he tires easily and his back legs start to shake. We got a stroller for him so he’ll never be left behind. In all honesty, Teddy was never all that fond of going for walks, anyway. He was always more of a “sit on the couch and eat bonbons” personality than an athlete. Torque, Hope’s other Frenchie, is a goer and doer. So Torque goes and does, and Teddy watches from his stroller “throne.”

Dealing with pain and anxiety

One of the things we all worry about with our ill or old dogs is pain. None of us want our best friends to suffer! The “good” part of Teddy’s Degenerative Myelopathy is no pain is associated with the disease. Apparently it just kills off the nerves, from back to front, but doesn’t cause pain.

At first, Teddy seemed distressed, almost frightened, when his back legs didn’t do what he wanted them to do. He’s never been a particular anxious dog, but we could see the confusion in his expression. Because it wasn’t a constant state, we didn’t want to start him on anti-anxiety medication. Instead, we chose to start him on CBD oil. We’ve talked about our decision to carry it here in the shop and the testimonials we’ve gotten from dog owners convinced us it was the right thing to do. Now we can add our own voices to the testimonials. Teddy is still himself, and his legs still fail him at times, but he accepts his life as it is and gets back to chewing on his chews, or playing with his brother, or just carrying on with whatever business he has.

More common issues dog owners face, like arthritis or disc disease, may involve pain as well as difficulty in getting around. We all love our dogs and most of us are willing to try whatever we can to make their lives happy and comfortable. Dog mobility is part of that equation.

Keep in touch!

Every dog owner makes decisions based on what’s right for his own dog and family. For now, we’re coping with Teddy’s mobility issues just fine. If we can help you, with questions you may have, with products you may need, please get in touch. We’re here to help.