Monday, November 30, 2009

Old dogs. Maintenance = Love

A rescued pit/lab named Juno owned by a regular here (NYCKitten) passed on to peace last Friday after 14 years of service. Fourteen years! I only know them via cyberspace, but they played in my thoughts all weekend. I can only imagine how hard it was for both parties to say good-bye. Dogs just love physicality, and it's certain that Juno enjoyed every minute of hers thanks to her person's devotion and care.

This blog post is dedicated to Juno, whose passing helped inspire some extra love for our own two seniors, Simon (13+) and Sally (almost 12). Every morning that one of these two creatures noses me awake sets one small corner of the Universe right for the day. I can't bear the thought that a dog's natural lifespan is so short - fourteen years if you're damn lucky - but since we've been out-voted by Nature's plan, a lot of mine and Tim's energy has switched from keeping our feisty duo out of trouble to keeping them healthy and happy. We've learned so much from other dog owners; I thought I'd list out some of the tips we've picked up in hopes that it helps other soon-to-be-senior dogs grow old with grace...

Creature Comforts. It was a revelation to me that not all dogs know to seek out softer surfaces for their boney old joints. (Really?) I had to condition the stoic Simon to give up his favorite spot on the hard floor for a layer of cush, and only did so after realizing that his elbows were getting pressure sores from taking the brunt of a stiffer posture. Crap! Bed sores = Bad news.

Keep an eye on your dog's joints as his body changes and plan early to get him hooked on soft resting habits so you don't have to feel as guilty as I did once those sores go from red to raw. You can pay bucks for special padded brace thingys, but if you have it in your power: Prevent, prevent pressure sores. (He's healed now, but it was a lot of work!)

Keep it in motion. We all need to move our joints in order to, well, keep them moving. Regulate an arthritic dog's exercise so they don't overdue it and become discouraged by their pain...Two shorter walks a day for them is perfect. Extra stiff bones will appreciate a wake-up massage to warm up the tissues that tighten overnight. It's become a morning ritual for Simon to nudge up on the bed at sunrise and ask for his massage - and we both love waking up this way.

Plan for the inevitable loss of hearing by reinforcing eye-contact ("Watch me") early on and by incorporating a few important hand signs into your daily conversations with your dogs. I didn't realize how much influence signing for our fully-deaf boy Honky Tonk would have on our hearing dogs until they started going deaf too. What do you know? They already understood many of his signs!

Fight dis-ease, including cancers, by boosting that immune system. Start by reducing the number of vaccines you give your dog. Instead, fill his body with the best diet you can afford. A big group of BR people have their dogs on a raw meat diet. Yes, that means raw chicken bones, too. Raw feeders are pretty much obsessed with listing the benefits, so be careful before you get one of us started. We could talk all day about why it's the best thing we've ever done for our dogs, or how many of our foster dogs have gone from immuno-disasters to glowing examples of well muscled, shiney-haired health, but that gets obnoxious...

So, onto the next best diet tip... Grizzly Salmon Oil. Our dogs have been salmon oil junkies since our pit bull Sally was diagnosed with mast cell cancer nearly five years ago. It's an anti-inflammatory, so helps with joint issues while helping the body grow a soft, lush coat. We buy ours from KV Vet Supply for cheap with their 10-bucks-off coupons. Cod liver oil is an alternative to salmon oil, especially as we learn more about the contaminants that are showing up in fish. (WAH!) Most people already know about giving their dog glucosamine for curbing osteoarthritis. Start young, stay consistent. Trader Joe's sells it for dogs for nine bucks a bottle.

Bladder control. This is one of the best tips EVA, offered by the inimitable Susi Ming, who cares for seniors through the Bully Haven project. Powdered corn silk tablets (cheap, cheap!) are like a wizard's magic trick for strengthening leaky bladders. Two tabs sprinkled on each meal, and my dog's old once-leaky pisser is back to young-dog-mark-the-whole-neighborhood normal. I'm so relieved.

Yeah, we're told it works for people bladders too. Hallelujah - maybe our dogs can show us how we can get old with dry pants!

Despite every remedy, the best way we can hold off the inevitable whiplash of losing our pets is to enjoy the hec out of them every single day. Many thanks to Juno for the necessary reminder. Godspeed, little darlin.'

More info on Senior Dogs: srdog.com

28 comments:

Ken Foster said...

Yesterday I drove my senior snugglepuss, Brando, to his first acupuncture session. This is the dog who was with me in NYC for 9/11, then in Florida when I broke my clavicle, in Mississippi when I had to get a pacemaker and, of course, with me and the other dogs when Katrina came and chased us out of New Orleans. So yesterday, as we drove across the river to his appointment, I told him, "This is our next big adventure together."

Brando doesn't like Doctors, or boarding facilities, or anything that looks like either one of those things. So we eased him into it yesterday, one tiny step at a time. Eventually, he had a needle on top of his head, one behind the neck, another behind his ear and he could no longer fight getting massaged by two strangers. I was so proud of him.

We're also working with an underwater treadmill, which I thought he might really take time getting used to--but once again, he surprised me, climbing into the contraption on his own and going to town on it. Of course I took a video, which you can see at kenfoster.blogspot.com.

All of this takes a bit of juggling--of my schedule, of my budget, and, most of all, of the expectations of the other dogs in the house, who Brando has increasingly given over his resources to over the years. But it feels absolutely right to push him back up to the absolute top of the pack now, even if the other dogs give us bewildered looks of "um, where are you going?" as we head out the door without them.

who wouda thunk it?? said...

I just wrot post this weekend about my TWO 14 year olds!! what a coincidence! I would be honored if you would read about my "old Ladies"

Diane said...

This was a wonderful article! I've been very blessed with long lived pups, two Dobie's lived to the ripe old age of 16, a Rott/shepard mix to 15-1/2 and a sweet mini doxie to 17! If I had known of some of these things perhaps it would have been even longer. My current Pittie family is pretty young right now 3-6 years old but now is the time to begin some of these things. Thank you for sharing with us and by the way your Aged Babies are adorable!
Diane

Dianne said...

Thank you for this -- its beautiful. I too was thinking of Juno and her mom. It's been a hard year for me in terms of dog loss: two family dogs to old age (10 and 17 1/2!), a shelter dog to a car, Sweet Jasmine, and I don't want to think of how many were PTS for behavior issues. Someone said that dogs live such short lives to teach us we can fall in love all over again. I hope that's true.

Linda said...

Kudos, Donna, for those comments. My older guy, Jack, is battling lymphoma and chemotherapy and a lot of your comments are true for sick dogs, too.

I would add that I can't give Jack raw food while on chemo but I found a terrific alternative with great results. An integrative vet (combines eastern and western medicine) suggested Honest Kitchen dehydrated food, and both dogs LOVE LOVE LOVE it. In two weeks, their eyes are brighter, coats are lovely, and stools are picture perfect! I think it's a good alternative for those skeptical about raw food but wanting something better than canned or kibble.

BTW, Jack (not a pibble... sorry, but a realy great rescue dog) has his own website to tell his progress with lymphoma and chemo. We'd love to share it with anyone interested: www.leaningdog.com.

OLD DOGS RULE!

-Linda

Dianne said...

I watched Brando doing his hydrotherapy -- looked like fun. We have a little pibble girl at our shelter who is Brando's doppleganger. Thanks for all you do, ken. BTW, can anyone tell me how to speak dog in French? I think the dogs from Canada are French-Canadian.

Michelle Q said...

Thank you for this! My older pittie mix is about 15 (and awesome) and I will be doing some shopping for her. :)

-Michelle Q

jonzak said...

So great to catch your shout out to the seniors. Here's to Juno and her time here. My old boy, Demo has been with me for 14yrs and is creeping toward his 16th birthday in Feb. I don't know if he's going to make it, honestly, but I do know how much his bully spirit keeps him going -- and how much it's taught me about the zen-dog approach to moving forward the best one can. I do love that old boy and his old doggieness.

On the supplement tip: I feed all my dogs a combination of high quality flax seed oil and yogurt (ratio of 1 tbs oil to 3 tbs yogurt) about once a day, 5 days a week and it makes a huge difference for the joints and coat -- and supposedly from actual research helps prevent cancer. Not sure how true that last bit is, but...

Also, with older dogs, watch out for "greens" supplements. Demo had been getting a joint supplement in his mid years (which was a good preventative for his older years IMO) that had spirulina in it that worked great, but once he got into his old age, eventually caused him to have to urinate a ton. Greens can be very diuretic, so they can cause symptoms that appear to be bladder or kidney related, but are actually not. Once he was taken off the greens supplement he leveled out.

Go old dogs!

Animals Away said...

Does love fish. My boxer comes running when ever I tear open a can of tuna fish. I like to put just a little of the juice on top of their wet food as a treat.

Anonymous said...

This is so timely for me. I lost my blue-eyed beauty, ten yr-old Tonka, to a vicious lymphosarcoma that gave no warning. It was just over a week ago. World-shattering. She had been the picture of health only days before she died in the university ICU.

My Ruadh is 11 and arthritic and I spent most of my time making sure he is comfy and his needs are met and exceeded. Right now, his grief is tangible and makes him seem even older than he is. He echoes my own. This moment it all about spoiling each other with quality time.

This post is a good reminder about cherishing ALL the time we get with our dogs and making it all special.

(and yes, grizzly oil ROCKS)

Lynn said...

In my world here in rural southeast Louisiana, I always feel so alone in how I think of my dogs and how I take care of them. I'm so glad I have your blog (with all the great commenters). My efforts so far have been futile in trying to change things at Animal Control or even with neighbors and "friends". This past summer I saw two large dogs in a parked car with the windows only cracked. So happened a town cop was parked outside the grocery store door so I walked over and said "there are two dogs in that car over there". His reply? "So?"
Around here they shoot old dogs, covering their head first if the dog is lucky. Of course, there really aren't that many old dogs.....

Sandy James said...

14 years is a really long time! Thanks for the article! I definitely want to keep my puppy as long as possible!

Bonnie said...

Chicken Feet are a great source of Glucosamine, and the make my favorite pitty do his happy dance. Raw diet has been a god send. No more hot spots, benadryll and expensive lotions. There's a reason people who have tried it tend to rave to the point of annoying those around them.

NYCKitten said...

Words can't express my gratitude for your post to Juno. I am stunned and so very, very touched. Thank you Donna and Tim and all the good folk on this board.

It's been a tough few days - her mind was so alert but her body had faded long ago. I had her euthanized in my apartment by her original vet. In true Juno style, this feisty old broad tried to bite the vet!!! Can you imagine?! We all had a good laugh...Juno was going to fight till the end, I knew she'd never leave me unless I forced her. I wrapped my arms around her and felt a huge exhale - Juno was gone, her body at peace.

For so long I had forgotten what Juno looked like walking normal - she had ruptured discs and walked crooked for years - now I can only picture her running...running her heart out.

It was A LOT of work caring for her these last few years but I did right by her and feel good about it. There is definitely something satisfying about fulfilling my end of the deal...as all of those who have senior dogs know.

I'll miss her forever...and these days are a bit of a fog. But it's the random kindnesses, like this wonderful post, that make each day easier.

Thank you so much Donna and Tim for recognizing my glorious Juno... a fighter till the end. =)

Thank you and much love to all from NYC,
Juno's Mom

pitbull friend said...

I believe what y'all say about your dogs doing really well on a raw diet, but mine have done really well on a vegan diet for about 8 years now: a nearly-17-year-old malamute, a 14-year-old golden/collie, and a 12-year-old akita?GSD? mix who had her spleen out for cancer 1 1/2 yrs ago. (My pibble boy is the baby of the bunch at about 7-8 years old, a vigorous baby yet.) I've also had a bunch of fosters on it & all have done very nicely. It could mean all kinds of things - the general care they get, not getting crappy meat byproducts - who knows? I believe in killing as few animals as possible, including for food. But this may also be a good option for some folks because it's cheaper (good quality vegan kibble supplemented with produce & grains) and more convenient than a lot of other healthy possibilities for dogs, just FYI.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Donna for very valuable information. I'd like to add a couple more things that helped our 15 year old Border Collie Shelly's cancer. Sam-E from good old Costco per my vet's dosage helped her so much. Weekly baths with Nizerol Shampoo kept her skin comfortable and reduced itching. Raised feeding bowls help our arthritic and spine challenged seniors too. 15 years was not enough. 17 1/2 years !!!!! that's incredible.

CaitlinsDad said...

Donna,
That's some incredible info, thanks very much. Would it be ok to borrow it and post at our shelter??

Bob

NorCalRose & Riddick said...

We recently adopted a 9 week old pibble pup that we named Juno. I hope to romp through the grass with her for as many years as the Juno in your post. You had some good ideas here that will help us do just that.

Anonymous said...

I love this! As many others mentioned - we too lost our first Am Staff/Aussie mix to brain cancer at 10 yrs old. You bet our two pups now get the best diet we can do for them. I did learn a couple of things at a holistic pet care class - salmon oil or cod liver oil excellent, shitake mushrooms chopped up in their food (organic not cheap), and no dairy but goats milk products are fine. Moose and Panda love goats milk yogurt and cheese. We do all we can to keep them around as long as we can - and it helps keep my diet on the good side!

Chelsea said...

These are some of the sweetest pictures I've ever seen.

My dog is not quite three, but I'm always on the lookout for things that will better her health now, and therefore extend her life later. As the owner of parrots, my dog's life expectancy seems especially, cruelly short. It's horrible to know that the family we have now--three birds, two humans, pibble--will continue on for decades, but minus one crucial member.

My heart goes out to Juno's family.

Cathy said...

My 14 year old lady is at the vet's right now having some rotten teeth pulled out of her head. Someone said to me recently "Why would you pay all that money to have her teeth fixed when she probably doesn't have more than a year or two left anyways?"

Because I owe it to her! Because she has been my best friend since I was a lonely sixth grader with an abusive father. Because she has loved me every day whether I was acting lovable or not. I look forward to her mouth being pain-free, she deserves it.

Donna said...

I love it that Juno went down kicking, NYCKitten. lol. Good for her, and good that you were able to have the vet come to your home.

The collective body of wisdom from commenters is so impressive. Please keep your suggestions coming.

One thing to note pitbullfriend ... Dogs that have cancer - mast cell cancer especially - should avoid carbs as they tend to 'feed' carb-hungry tumors. The high protein diet we find with clean, lovely meat has been essential in keeping our dog's tumors from 'getting angry.' (We don't do surgery unless one of her (many) tumors goes into a fast growth spurt.)

I would start to worry about the mercury that comes with every can of tuna and maybe switch out the boxer's taste treat with a hit of salmon oil. Just a thought.

Everyone has such good ideas. I love knowing how many cyberfriends we have with old dogs. Blessed beasts!

Dee said...

Great piece. My dogs are 8 and I want them to live as long as possible. I am considering switching them to raw food and I have a question. Do you use veggies as well? I have heard some people say no, and some people say yes. It seems that they would need veggies for fiber...

pitbull friend said...

Thanks for the tip, Donna. Did not know that about mast cell tumors. My girl doesn't have that - she has an unusual lymphoma & I'm thrilled that she is past the life expectancy with that already - but good to know. And the corn silk is a must-try!

We're getting better & better at keeping these sweeties going comfortably - hooray for the Internet, too!(And pibble belly pics! Smooches to Sally.)

Anonymous said...

Fabulous information and new ideas. Bunny's only almost-4 years old but has had chronic stomach issues since adoption 3 years ago. I've been home-cooking her meals, with raw meat every other day, plus lots of fruits, vegies, nuts, flax seed, and some supplements. I will try corn silk also -- great idea.

Everyone probably already knows about this: puree of pumpkin (NOT pie mix) is great to settle an unhappy pittie belly.

I've also switched her to a holistic vet this year and couldn't be happier.

Thanks for the great info, and my warmest wishes to Juno's Mom for peace and lots of good memories.

s&b/mty

Anonymous said...

old dogs/companions........i have had a few - Cindy 18 1/2 years, Heidi 17 years, Rags - 16 years.....old dogs are like old people, they have lots of good stories and give us many good memories.

Linda said...

I would also add a word of caution that was given to me by two holistic vets and people with lots of doggie nutrition expertise. If your dog is on chemo (as mine is) or has a compromised immune system, raw food isn't advised. A healthy immune system can handle any naturally occuring bacteria in the raw diet, but a suppressed or weakened immune system might not. That's why our holistic/integrative vets suggested the dehydrated food with benefits of raw but without the risk of bacterial problems. Alternatively, I was told you can lightly heat the raw food to kill any bacteria.

Before my boy, Jack, went on chemo we were in the process of switching to raw and he loved it! He loves the dehydrated food just as much and is doing great on it.

Oxo said...

This has got to be one of the best posts ever. Thank you, Donna, for sharing your knowledge and the depth of your experience with us. I simply love the photos of Simon and Sally. They are beautiful. I too spent time over the Thanksgiving break thinking about NYCKitten and her good dog Juno. This post is surely a fitting tribute for a glorious life well-lived. Siobhan in NYC