How to Care for Your Ageing Dog

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Helping your beloved pet get older

It was Christmas Day 1999.

And it was love at first sight.

The feelings that overwhelmed me that morning caught me completely by surprise because I would not describe myself as a dog person. But from the first moment I laid eyes on Daisy – I was hopelessly in love.

We’ve been together for eleven and a half years now, and it has been pure bliss. But there is no denying the fact: the ole’ girl ain’t what she used to be.

My Daisy is a Beagle. She was the runt of the litter, which is why she was still with her birth family on that Christmas Day at my niece’s house. They were desperately looking for someone to take Daisy and give her a good home, so they were carrying her with them everywhere they went. This was not hard to do. Daisy would fit in your hand.. So my Christmas present that year was a tiny, Beagle puppy. My husband was flabergasted. This wasn't me.

Instinctively, Daisy pointed when alerted to danger, and to her inexperienced senses, everything was dangerous. Noticeably over the next few weeks she went on point less and less frequently as she became a member of our family and mistress of our house and yard.

All these years later, I can’t remember the last time I saw her assume the position of her breed. Not much worries her these days. A great deal worries me. So I went on point myself in search of all the information I might need to give my girl the best possible care during these, her golden years. The following is what I found.

As a young pup, messages in Daisy’s brain traveled along her nervous system at about 6,560 yards (6,000 m) per second. At her present age those messages have slowed down to about 1,420 yards (1,300 m) per second. Professor Jacob Mosier at Kansas State University reports blood vessels in the brain lose their elasticity and the lungs become less efficient. The brain doesn't receive as much oxygen and this affects memory and learning even causing tiny hemorrhages. As a result, older dogs can become irritable when disturbed.

Like their masters, elderly dogs can be both wiser but not just a little bit sillier than in their younger days. The reason for all of us: hormones. Professor Ben Hart at the University of California found the signs of old age in our pet include increasing disorientation, differences in social relationships with the family, lapses in housetraining, and variations in sleep and wake times. The age of seven seems to be the most common age for our dogs to show these signs of ageing depending on their breed and size.. Sleeping more during the daylight hours and less at night is a telling marker for older dogs.

At this age it's not just my imagination running away with me. Daisy's excitement at greeting me really is less. She doesn't follow me around as much or need my attention in order to be content. This stage can be confusing because it is often preceded by just the opposite behavior - never letting me out of her sight. Studies have shown a majority of dogs this age, 60 percent, involved themselves less with their family. And their routine behavior may seem odd or even silly, such as going to the wrong side of the door when they want to go out, getting stuck in a corner and not being able to readily find their way out, staring into space, or barking at apparently nothing. Professor Hart also discovered another curious phenomenon of aging. While neutered females become more aggressive, neutered males become less aggressive as the years go by. I haven't seen this in Daisy. My major complaint is that she lets the chipmunks in the yard climb all over her. A little aggressiveness would actually be appreciated.

So, I'm back to my initial question. What can I do for my Daisy to make this process easier for her? Here are some answers I found.

Training her to relax can control her stress response and, at least in theory, could prolong life. Specifically,if the production of the brain chemical called dopamine is maintained, a dog probably lives longer. How do you teach a dog to relax? Avoid intense situations like taking her out to a crowded park or activity where she'll encounter a large number of strangers, both the two and four legged kind. Keep to a regular routine for eating, exercising and sleeping so she knows what to expect in her daily activities and stay in a mellow state of mind.

Daisy may need fewer, smaller feeding times throughout the day. Maintaining a healthy weight is important, so feeding her a larger quantity is not recommended. But her appetitie might not be what it used to be, so letting her determine when she eats might help with her calorie intake while avoiding all the problems that are created by becoming heavier in her later years..

Offering a little extra cushioning for her sleeping place may also help relieve aches and pains for her joints. Regular walks will encourage her mobility, especially as arthritis sets in. Many vets say a baby asprin a day can't hurt. I need to be attentive to let her set her own pace on our walks though. A few short strolls during the day are better than one long one that might tire her out too much. Since she will be less tolerant now of extreme temperatures, I'll need to limit her time outdoors depending on the weather.

Also massaging her body as she is groomed is a source of relaxation for her. It does more than help loosen stiff joints. It improves the circulation of blood to all parts of her body, keeping her coat and skin from becoming too dry. Keeping her nails trimmed short, and laying down non-skid mats on uncarpeted floors can reduce the risk of falls.

Extensive studies of ageing dogs in the 1980s showed that, with mental stimulation, the brain grows in size. It does not produce more cells, but instead the cells already there grow more connections with other cells. With mental stimulation a single brain cell might develop lost connections with up to 2,000 other cells. I can slow Daisy's natural decay of memory by providing her with mental activities that involve - again- keeping a regular schedule so she anticipates her day and encouraging her to respond to gentle commands, both familiar and challenging, as long as they are within reasonable limits. An elderly dog can become lethargic without mental stimulation. Daisy is still going to love playing fetch and the like just as much as she did when she was a pup. She just might not want to play so often or for as long at a time.

Feeding Daisy a well-balanced diet is a basic requirement at this age. It needs to contain the increased levels of vitamins and antioxidants that older dogs need. Until recently, veterinary nutritionists thought it was wise to reduce the protein level in diets for older dogs in order to take the strain off the kidneys. Recent evidence suggests, as long as the kidneys are healthy, protein still does a dog a lot of good.. Older dogs are more prone to dehydration, so I need to be sure Daisy always has access to plenty of water, particularly as the summer days come along.

I can't assume any change in her behavior are just signs of growing older. Elderly dogs benefit from regular medical examinations, every six months or annually as your vet recommends.. Some health issues are inevitable. At a certain age, a little dribbling of urine is common, especially while Daisy is sleeping. I can place an old rubber-backed bathmat in her favorite sleeping area to catch the dribble. These mats are easily washable, keeping odor and dampness under control.

Daisy is showing a lot of graying around her muzzle and eyebrows, and her eyes are not as self-cleaning as they used to be. My vet recommended eye drops to return some moisture to her eyes. It's become part of our morning routine, and she doesn't put up any resistance to it. I think it must feel be a relief.

Looking back over this list, it seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a pet. But I live in the same house I've lived in for almost twenty years. My children are long gone with lives and children of their own. Daisy is still with me. There is nothing on this list I wouldn't do for a dear friend, and they don't even live in my house with me. Seems little enough to do for such a faithful companion.

I'm sure my husband will read this and ask, "Hey - when do I get my massage?"


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Comments 34 comments

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

This is good! Is "sleeping more during the day and less at night" a sign of old age for people too? Hehehe! I enjoyed your hub and I am sure it will be of great comfort to those that have a pet dog.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

How true! Thanks for the comments.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Thoughtful and generous Hub reminding all of us how we should care for our aging animals. Extremely useful information. Thank you for writing this. SHARING


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I appreciate your comments phdast7, but you are the animal lover who ought to be writing a hub like this. I'm someone who's come to the party pretty late on this subject.


Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

Great advice for how to care for an older dog. Lucky Daisy to find such a loving home.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Sherry: Welcome to my hubs. Thanks for your interest. You must be a dog lover too!


ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

Kathleen,

Both you and Daisy Rock! I love the older dogs myself and this article certainly makes caring for them easier. My guy is going on seven this year and I will be watching for the signs. It is very true...keep them going mentally and the physical will follow along!

Great Job!

Thomas


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

What a great hub! I hope you have Daisy with you for a long time yet!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

ThoughtSandwiches: All the best to you and your guy. Yeah, my girl is a sweetheart. People tell me not to get another Beagle when the time comes because I'll never find another Daisy. Don't want to think about it.

Audrey: From your mouth to God's ears. Thanks for commenting and welcome to my hubs.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I hope she thinks so! Thanks for the comments and taking the time to read.


daisynicolas profile image

daisynicolas 4 years ago from Alaska

Your hub helps to plan the special care when that time comes? Funny how many people name their dogs, Daisy.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Our dog came with her name, but you are right. I hear it a lot. The only dog I've ever had that I got to name was a black and white mut. I named him Oreo. My boys named a yellow lab pup Gimli from Lord of the Rings.


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

What a well researched and well written article! I had a dog that had to have euthanasia at age 15.I even wrote a Hub about it! This really sounds like her in her later years. I will carry this knowledge with me into my next aging dog experience. Thanks!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

rebecca: So sorry about your experience. A lot of us have had the same one. I've just seen so many changes in my Daisy, I thought the info might be useful. Thanks for the comments.


adjkp25 profile image

adjkp25 4 years ago from Northern California

We too have an aging dog. Our black lab is around eight and he has been getting gray around his muzzle and definitely lays around more than he used to. He is still active in the yard but he does get tired very quickly.

We have put soft things in his crate at night but he always pulls them apart.

Voted up and useful


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Sounds like a still-feisty dog. Hope he continues to do well. Thanks for commenting.


go-barbara-go profile image

go-barbara-go 4 years ago

The void that Yogi, my dog has left in my heart...keeps me from having another Yogi at present. This is very nostalgic for me, as I am reminded of Yogi's last days with me.

Thanks for sharing. Voted up!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

go-barbara-go: I know how you feel. No dog could take my Daisy's place but I've already decided I'll get another one when the time comes. Can't imagine life without someone who jumps up and runs to me whenever I come home. But it won't be Daisy. It won't be the same.


MelonieGilchrist profile image

MelonieGilchrist 3 years ago

This is all excellent information! I always wondered what to do when my Rosie starts to get older and with these tips hopefully I will have her longer then originally anticipated. Thank you so much for sharing.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

MelonieGilchrist: Hope Rosie brings you happiness for years to come! My Daisy has a houseguest this week - a great dane named Lucus! It's fun around here right now!


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

This is a great hub, Kathleen....Our dogs spend their lives loving us unconditionally. How can we do less than care for them, especially when age makes them need more care?

My own dog had her eighth birthday in January, and I'm sneaking up on my 70th, so I like to say we're growing old together...just two aging ladies set in our ways.

Voted Up+++ and shared

Jaye


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

"set in our ways" - you said it! Me and my Daisy too.


ImKarn23 profile image

ImKarn23 3 years ago

Hi..your hub-title grabbed me and dragged me in, and - i'm glad it did..

The love of my life - my soul-puppy - my 'Tiger' - is going to be 14 old this year. i sooo empathize with your comment about the dog having no worries, but you having MANY!

i massage her every morning and - she's come to expect it..lol..she stretches out as far as her body possibly could - and rolls on her back - when it's time! lol..

she's on melaxicom - or somethin' - for her arthritis..and it's WAY better than what she was on before..

i've written a poem in tribute to her.. i don't know what i'll do without her..

she'll have whatever she needs until the day she's in pain and tells me that enough is enough, mama...(and - just typing those words brings tears..)

i'm a believer that life is for the living - and she isn't my first rodeo, but, none the less - you know as well as i that it's never easy..

and with her - it will be even harder - i got her after we BOTH almost died..

thanks for this (and for listening..lol)..voting up and hub-sharing..


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

ImKarn23: Welcome to my hubs and glad I gotcha with the dog hub. Believe it or not, I don't consider myself a dog person. I don't love all dogs. But Daisy got me. I think you must know how I feel.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 years ago from California

Oh how I loved this hub! We own a 10 and 1/2 yr old shepherd mix and she is getting slower---has arthritis and still loves to go check out the pee-mail everyday! Thank you!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Audrey: Ask your vet about medicine for the arthritis. We started this, it's not expensive, and it has given Daisy her life back! Welcome to my hubs!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Saw this hub in my que and had a little cry. We lost our Daisy on Tuesday after 14 years of bliss. There will never be another Daisy for me.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

So sorry for your loss of Daisy. I didn't see this on my feed four months ago or would have told you then. I hope by now the days are getting somewhat easier, but know in my heart you will never forget her after the 14 years of bliss she gave you.

My own dear dog seems to be aging early due to the blindness that started a year ago. She starts most days and ends them (before bedtime) with a massage and tummy tickle, which she loves. Right now I'm searching for toys for blind dogs that will (hopefully) pull her out of the doldrums and make her want to play again. Whatever she does, however, I cherish every precious minute spent with her.

Jaye


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I'll bet your story is like mine. The kids want pets. Then they grow up and leave them behind. And the pet becomes your companion. Almost makes up for the empty nest. I'm sure your dog appreciates all you do for her. I think Daisy was deaf at the end, but we managed.

My daughter in law actually found me a new Beagle a few weeks ago. It's hard to turn down a gift. It's been a challenge getting my heart to catch up with my head. Not her fault she's not Daisy. But we're getting to know each other.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

Actually, I came to the party very, very late. I never had or wanted pets as a child. My mom had cats, but they bit and scratched me. I was also allergic to their dander, so I gave them a wide berth.

Later, when my own kids were growing up, I pretty much ignored their pets. Any time a new dog or hamster came to live at our house, it was the responsibility of the child who brought it, and we never deviated from that rule. When they left home, they either took current pets with them or rehomed them with another relative. It was well-known that 'mom doesn't want a pet.' I didn't know what I was missing, so it didn't bother me. (Later, I would come to regret what I'd missed all those years and wish I'd learned that lesson as a child.)

When my nest was empty, I submerged myself in my career and spent 60-hour weeks doing what I loved, traveling when needed--not the environment in which to have a pet, but I didn't, so--no problem.

Fast forward to 2005 when I had to retire early at age 61 after an accident. I had chronic pain and limited mobility, was stuck at home and very depressed. I will never know what possessed me to start looking online and reading about dog breeds and their characteristics, but I did. Maybe it was a miracle. I recalled a friend who had an adorable schnauzer, and suddenly...I just knew! I wanted a companion, and my choice was a mini schnauzer.

I wasted no time, either. Soon after making the decision, I'd found my baby girl, an 8-week old salt 'n pepper puppy. It was love at first sight, and I brought her home with me (stopping enroute at a PetSmart store to spend a lot of money and make one salesperson very happy). From the first day, I was enchanted, but also a bit OCD about caring for her. To say she saved my life sounds dramatic, but she definitely pulled me out of a deep depression. It certainly felt as though she saved me.

My family members were in shock. Mom with a dog? OUR MOM? Haha. It took them all a while to recover, but they finally realized I was truly enthralled with my furbaby. They learned how important she was/is to me, and almost every person in my large family as well as my friends came to love her as well. In fact, the son who lives near us now calls her by name most of the time, but sometimes I hear him say, "Lil' Sissy." And I smile...every time.

No matter what I do for her at this stage of her life, she's done so much more for me. First, there's all the joy she's given me just by being herself, with her wonderful personality, the numerous schnauzer 'voices' she used to 'talk' to me (even the grumble, mumble one) and a level of intelligence that amazed me. It was she who caused me to begin reading and learning about animal intelligence.

Then, there was her protectiveness. Schnauzers make great watch dogs. Also, I had a lot of surgeries, and after every one she lay on my bed comforting and protecting me as I recuperated. She taught me about unconditional love (and this was after my unsuccessful marriages and divorces). She was always so giving and asked for so little--food, a tummy tickle, and joyful play. When she was a youngster, she liked to 'zoom' around the house, a sight I miss even now. Wish I'd had the foresight to record her doing that, jumping from chair to sofa, running all around a room as fast as her legs would take her. Well, I can still see her doing it in my mind, and that makes me smile.

No matter what we face in the future as two aging 'little ol' ladies', I will do my best for her as long as I am able--which I hope is as long as she needs me.

I hope you will get to know and love your new Beagle girl, Kathleen. No, she's not Daisy, but she may fill a part of that void that Daisy left behind. At the very least, she will give you love and show you her own special personality. Before you know it, she may hold a place in your heart too. I hope so.

Jaye


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

As Daisy aged I thought about getting another dog so their lives would overlap, for lack of a better term. I wish I had. I think it would have made the transition easier. You might think about it after all you've been through in your journey to being a pet owner.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

That's a good idea, Kathleen, and I thought about doing just that a few years ago (even before some of her major health issues surfaced) and tried adopting a couple of rescue dogs at separate times. In both instances, I kept the adopted dog for a couple of months but then had to give her back to the rescue organization to be rehomed.

There were the same two reasons both times: (1) Puppy Girl does not like other dogs--any dogs,--only people, and this is in spite of her being around my granddaughter's dog daily for months when my dog was young because she lived with us temporarily. Also, my 'granddogs' visit occasionally, but she wants nothing to do with them.

I think her dislike of other dogs increased after she and I were both attacked by a large dog (a story that's too long to go into here)--leaving her with a type of canine PTSD. When we're at the vet's and someone brings in a large breed dog, the staff quickly moves us out of the waiting room to another room because my girl gets so upset.

(2) Both rescue dogs--one an adult, one an adolescent--were not housetrained and proved to be (by me, anyway) untrainable. I tried to housebreak each of them for two months using the preferred method, but finally gave up and did not have the energy or patience to cope with the constant cleanups. This is often an issue with rescue dogs, and anyone who adopts one should be prepared (and, preferably, younger and stronger than I am!)

At this stage of Puppy Girl's life, as well as the complication of my own physical limitations, I don't think I could care for her as well as I do (which I laughingly call nearly a full-time job) and also care for another pup, even a fully housetrained adult. I'm so focused on trying to keep her as healthy as possible and improve her quality of life that I doubt I'd have enough energy for two.

There's another aspect of the situation that makes a second dog impractical for me. I spend a large amount of my limited retirement income on Puppy Girl. I feed her high-quality homecooked food that's very low fat and free of her known allergens to prevent pancreatitis reoccurrence and allergic reactions. (I'm often told that she eats better than I do since my diet is mainly plant-based while hers requires organic protein.) Her medical bills for the past few years take huge chunks out of my bank account (she recently had surgery), so I can't afford the costs of another dog as well.

It's a great idea, Kathleen, and if I were younger, in great health and my financial state healthier as well, I'd try your suggestion. I know one thing now that I didn't know when I got my baby girl. Purebred schnauzers are prone to numerous health issues. If I got another dog, she would be, if not a mutt, a 'blend' of schnauzer and another breed, perhaps part mini schnauzer, part small mutt. (Not a designer dog.)

Thanks....Jaye


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Jaye: Those were the same reasons I didn't do it. It is amazing what kind of financial commitment you have to make these days to have a pet! I agree about "designer" dogs, but I like so many things about a Beagle, I waited for one this time. Daisy just dropped into my lap last time.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

I like Beagles, too. They are such good-looking dogs and seem to have easy-going temperaments. I hope the new Beagle in your life will grow on you and steal your heart.

Jaye

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