Coping with Your Aging Dog: Is Slowing Down Really That Bad?
A Longer Lifespan has a Flip Side
Today our pets are living longer than ever before thanks to quality pet food and advances in veterinary medicine. This is great news for pet owners that want to enjoy as many years as possible with their beloved pet. But as with most good things, there’s a flip side. Along with a longer lifespan comes a host of physical and mental ailments that can strike an older dog, just as with humans. This isn’t such good news. So, how can we help to ease the transition to the golden years for our best friend? And, just as importantly, how can we help ourselves cope with the issues that accompany old age?
Even the Most Energetic Breeds Eventually Slow Down
Your dog is going to slow down, there’s no way around it. This is a situation my husband and I never expected to encounter. Our dog, Sadie, is a Jack Russell Terrier. Anyone who knows anything about JRTs know they have two speeds—fast and faster. It’s their nature. Bred in the 1800s as fox hunters, these tenacious little powerhouses will relentlessly chase their prey, never giving up until they have trapped the animal they are pursuing or are physically detained. In Sadie’s youth we had to cope with a dog that never stopped and ran us ragged. Even after a twenty-mile hike (she still loves to hike) she’d have fuel left for play. If she caught a whiff of a cat outside and we had carelessly left the door open, we’d be chasing her down the street. Such is life with a JRT. They are the quintessential “terrier” of the breed. But, I belabor the point.
Life With a Senior Dog
Sadie is now fifteen and a half years old, roughly equivalent to a person in their mid-eighties. Much to my surprise, and I must add, a touch of sadness, she has miraculously slowed down. We used to think she’d just keep going at top speed until one day she simply would fall over and that would be the end. But, that’s not what happened. Sadie used to bound up the stairs, skipping two or three steps at a time—now she stumbles over them. When her arthritis gets particularly fired up, we sometimes have to carry her. She used to jump three to four feet straight up in the air (bouncing like Tigger) to see what was on the dining table, much to the amusement of our dinner guests. Now she can only leap about a foot on a good day. Sadie sleeps most of the time. She farts and makes odd noises in her sleep, or else she’s so quiet we check to make sure she’s still breathing. This is life with our senior dog.
Changing Your Mindset
Walks with Sadie aren’t what they used to be either. Instead of covering several miles at a brisk pace during a walk, we now take a full thirty minutes to go less than a mile. At times we move at a fairly normal clip, but mostly it’s a series of starts and stops that could only be classified as a “slow mosey”. She can spend a full two or three minutes on one clump of grass or the side of a tree. Indeed, it’s a different world from when she was a youngster and, it doesn’t seem all that long ago.
But, I would argue, it’s not all bad. How do you cope with your aging dog? You must change your mindset. For example, before I changed my thinking, and subsequently, my approach to how I dealt with Sadie, it had become increasingly difficult to walk her. I joked that I was taking my dog for a “daily drag” instead of a walk. She simply wouldn’t move without being pulled down the street. I thought maybe her arthritis had become so painful that it was difficult for her to walk, so I decided to not put her (and myself) through the ordeal any longer. But, through my research, I learned that it’s important, even vital, for an arthritic dog to exercise. So, I changed how I approached the daily walks. I decided to let her pick the pace, no matter how excruciatingly slow that might be. I had to replace my preconceived notion of what a dog walk should be—exercise for both dog and human—and simply let it be what it was. Sadie was now in the driver’s seat, and the transformation was truly amazing. As soon as I stopped demanding we go a certain speed or distance she stopped being a “drag”.
Now, she holds her tail high (a sign she is confident and happy) when we go on our daily strolls. Instead of running away from me when she spots the harness and leash, she gets excited. I even switched to the flexi so she could wander farther and reach more. She’s truly a different dog—slower, for sure, but happier as well.
Take Time to Enjoy Life With Your Senior Dog
We never know how long we’ll have with our pets. They enter our lives and change us forever. Time is fleeting, always marching forward. What my experience with Sadie has taught me, is that slowing down maybe isn’t such a bad idea. Taking it easier and stopping to “smell the roses”, however clichéd, could be good for me too. Maybe that’s why we experience so much stress in our lives and we need our pets to help dispel it. My husband and I inadvertently rushed through fifteen fun-filled years with our little JRT. I don’t know what happened to the time, but I don’t intend to take another moment with her for granted, however long we have left.
It’s early spring and Sadie and I take our daily jaunt to the neighborhood park. The trees are newly budding, waking from their long winter’s slumber. Birds are singing, the grass is a vivid shade of green, and the daffodils and crocuses are blooming in lovely shades of yellow, orange and purple. The world feels fresh and new. Sadie stops to intently smell a spot where the grass has been tramped down a bit. I don’t pull her. Instead I allow her to indulge her senses while I look around, taking in the beauty surrounding me. I catch a whiff of something in the breeze…is that jasmine I smell?