Dealing with a dear old dog
Coming to grips with the years
My Brussels Griffon, Roc, is now 12 years old. He's considered a "senior citizen" among dogs, and his white chin, chest and little white spats punctuate his status. He used to be a glossy, blue-black, but those are memories and photographs, not reality.
I know I'm lucky he's still with me, even with a growing list of age-related issues: acid reflux (yes, dogs can get it, too), a heart condition, arthritis, and, recently, problems with his back that have permanently effected his walking.
While it's difficult to see the toll the years have brought, Roc is still my beloved companion, my first competition obedience dog, and my little buddy. A little over 10 lbs., Roc has never been a lap dog, but I never have to look for him - he's always close to me.
He must have been a beautiful baby
Paying attention is key
As our dogs age, it's more important than every to pay attention to their physical condition. Even though Roc's a short-haired dog (a smooth Brussels Griffon), I keep a regular grooming routine. Regular brushing not only keeps his fur in good shape, it also lets me get "hands on" all over him. If he reacts when I touch a certain spot, I can take a good look and see if there's an injury. I can also check out any lumps or bumps, make note of where they are and track any changes.
I also clean out his ears and brush his teeth regularly - more indicators of his general health. Attention to dental/mouth health is vital, it's an excellent indicator of a dog's well-being. Generally speaking, healthy dogs shouldn't have "doggy breath." If your dog does have bad breath, and routine cleaning doesn't solve the problem, a trip to the veterinarian may be in order.
Old dogs may not be convenient
Roc needs more of my time now, too.
Every other day we do a series of physical therapy exercises to keep his back end functioning. It's true for dogs and people: "A body in motion tends to stay in motion..."
It takes a little longer to prepare his food because of the medication and supplements he needs now to keep him comfortable.
And I have to remember that he isn't able to go up and down stairs anymore by himself - if I'm changing levels and I'm going to be there for a while, I have to carry him with me, or close a gate or door so he doesn't try to come along and, possibly, hurt himself.
I'm lucky that I'm able to carry him - Roc weighs just a bit over 10 lbs. For bigger dogs facing arthritis issues, there are mobility assistance harnesses and slings available from HandicappedPets.com
Roc through the yearsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Keep mind and body active
This video of Roc playing fetch was taken a just a few months ago - before the injury to his back. He no longer fetches quite as quickly, but he still loves to play.
And it's important that I give him the chance. I'm careful now to roll (not throw) his beloved tiny, squeaky Tennis Balls only in a carpeted area and not very hard, or very far. He doesn't know the difference - he only knows he's happy because his "mom" is playing with him and he's having a good time.
Roc's very favorite toy
How do you know when "it's time?"
I know that the time I have with Roc is limited. And I know that, more than likely, there will come a day when I have to make a decision about the best thing for my dog.
I've had to decide on euthanasia for dogs in my past. And I found this rule of thumb the best way to judge our readiness:
Think of your dog's three favorite things. When two of them are gone - it's time.
For now, all of Roc's favorite things (eating, playing, watching sports on tv) are still everyday joys. I'm thankful for that, even though there are days I get irritated by the demands he makes on my time. I'm nowhere near ready to end my journey with my little old dog.
Update: Roc's at rest
In September, 2014, Roc let me know that he was ready to rest.
Many years ago a friend quoted this saying to me, and it's comforted me ever since: "Euthanasia is the last, best gift we give our pets. We take their pain and make it our own."
© 2014 HopeS