Charlotte Peltz Living with Your Dog "Observe Your Oldie" brought to you by Joy Beckner Artist/ Bronze Sculptor

Living with Your Dog

Observe Your Oldie

Does Digger tilt his head when you whistle, but no longer come running at the first toot? Does Donna not come running for dinner when the food dish rattles? Does Daryl sniff the air in an effort to find something that once he spotted from the distance? Or do you notice that Dickson has some trouble locating the doggy biscuit that you hide for a game he loves?

Well, all of these may be signs of aging and reduction in the senses. Even the sense of smell can lose some keenness. While the cloudy eye of the aging dog is obvious there are other signs we should learn to watch for. Hearing and vision losses mean that we must be even more careful during off leash romps in the country since the dog may wander off and not be able to easily find us. At the onset of hearing loss, some sounds seem to be easier to hear than others, and it is worth experimenting with whistles or bells, for example to see if they can get the dog's attention. The blurring of vision makes it important to be a moving target so that the dog can see you -- something stationary is more difficult for a dog to see even without vision impairment. Avoid changing the furniture around if your dog is losing his sight, because dogs can do amazingly well, even totally blind, if furniture is always in the same spot.

There are other things we must watch for also. Few people give adequate attention to their dog's teeth and that can and does result in infected teeth and gums, which in turn stresses the kidneys, liver and heart. Very small dogs often have the worst problems since their mouths are much more dramatically reduced in size than the teeth inside them, causing overcrowding and even better conditions for the growth of tartar and its accompanying infections. Annual cleaning is just not enough to avoid the serious stress that is inevitable from the chronic infection. Teeth may well have to be pulled in an effort to solve some of the worst problems. Keep your dog's teeth healthy with lots of suitable chew toys -- the best of which is a raw bone, at least, now and then.

Joint problems take their toll on our Golden Oldies just as on their owners, and it is important to carefully observe your dogs for any signs of pain when arising from a rest, trying to get to a favorite elevated spot in the garden, or even the sofa, if that is permitted at your house. Check for signs following a strenuous day of exercise. And -- speaking of exercise, just as with our bodies, a program of regular exercise is essential to keep our canine friends in good shape all their lives.

Thorough grooming regularly makes it possible to detect tumors and monitor their growth. Some breeds of dogs are particularly prone to cancer and other tumors, so know your breed and do a careful search when you groom and bathe.

While we cannot prevent the aging process, we can and should make it as pain-free as possible. There are anti-inflammatory drugs to ease joint pain and supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin as well as Ester C, a trademark for a special form of Vitamin C. Diet needs change for the aging dog, and it is now generally accepted that older dogs require better sources of protein as they age -- not less. Better! It may well be that the dog requires a special diet for problems associated with reduced efficiency of liver or kidneys.

Those aging bones really appreciate a soft spot to rest and care should be given to providing a proper bed for them. Be certain that the bed has a removable cover for easy cleaning. Cedar is often included in bed stuffing but it breaks down fast, gets very dusty and causes allergic reactions in some dogs. The bed should be large enough for the dog to get his whole body on, and cushy enough to prevent protruding elbows and such from poking through to a hard surface. As our nights get colder, be certain there are a fair number of choices available to avoid cold drafts.

Finally, be sure to make semi-annual visits to the vet so that changes can be monitored, and help made available as soon as it is needed for these oh-so-special friends of ours.
[Please see Charlotte's Recommended Reading.]

"One can measure the size and moral progress of a nation to how she treats her animals." Mahatma Gandhi.

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