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