I never thought about it…at least not consciously. When Brickle and Digby came into our lives, they were young. And I could not let myself go down the path of imagining them older. I could not let myself go there. My previous dogs lived long lives, but let’s be honest. Time with our dogs, or anyone we love, is never long enough. Truly.
But if you are like me, you love your dogs beyond any else’s comprehension. I could never explain, or would I want to, the absolute love I have for my dogs. And yes, I would do anything for them. I would, and do, spend money I don’t have for the best food for them. I make sure they get enough exercise, even when I am sick. I put myself second, and maybe last, if they need me. But last week, as Brickle had a little bout of stomach issues because of the rain and his nervousness, and Digby was having some trouble with an eye infection, I thought a bit. Was I really taking care of them the way that I should? Was I doing everything in my power so that they lived as long as they could? Because truth be told, as they turned nine this year, what I had been ignoring all along hit me in the heart. I had senior dogs. I had older dogs. What was I going to do?
I heard one time that women have more than 70,000 thoughts per day. Well, combine that with being a dog parent, and I can guarantee that all of my thoughts would make anyone’s head spin. But the most frequent thought in my head the past few months is how much longer do we have left together? Should I count down the years? How is this healthy for anyone? It is not. And it is a big time waster of every precious minute. So, how can I take care of them in the best way that I know how, make sure that they are happy and yet recognize when I need to make changes?
So, I posed a question on our Facebook group page. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t alone. I asked, “If you have a senior dog, what are your biggest concerns?” Here were some of the answers.
“Mobility and pain.”
“My sweet 11 year old snoopy came to me with skin issues. I also worry about his teeth and his heart. I pretty much worry about everything. He is the apple of my eye.”
“End of life issues.”
“That my Fuzzy will die and leave me. She is almost 10.”
“Mobility is my biggest concern for soon to be 13 year old Snookie.”
“My biggest concern is mobility, as they are 100 lb dogs.”
“…Recently she seems to be having digestive issues and supposedly allergic troubles to so much stuff. I suspect allergies too but can’t afford expensive testing.”
“My Sunny is 11years old and I dread the day I lose her. The dog I had before her contracted Lymphoma at the age of 11 and died within a few months so I have been worried since her birthday.”
Everyone is different and every dog is different. I appreciated these answers and many others not only for the honesty in them, but for the admittance that we all worried. Simple. But for me, sometimes I feel like no one could understand how much I love my boys. I sometimes feel that I am crazy for loving them so much. But I also realize the responsibility that I have of putting my emotions aside and finding out what needs to be done, the tasks at hand, and make informed decisions. For Brickle and Digby, the changes lately are becoming more apparent. And I will discuss just the few that we are dealing with here in our family so maybe you won’t feel so alone too if you have a beloved senior pet.
- Mobility This might be the most frustrating part of getting older not only for dogs, but for people too. For us, hiking every day and keeping active has proven to not only be a great stress reliever, but I feel keeps everything going! However, a few months ago I noticed the difficult time that Digby had getting in our car. And then Brickle started having a harder time as well. I wondered if they were getting enough exercise, or not enough. Was I pushing them too hard? And guess what? I still don’t have the answers. So we learned to take it day by day. If we do a longer hike one day, we rest the next. I have started to listen to their body language, their demeanor and how much water they drink. I have began a regimen of different products and routines that we will discuss more next month. But I have adjusted their diet, started holistic supplements, and the results have been very encouraging. And isn’t that what we all need most of all as we are getting older…encouragement?
- Diet If you know our website, blog or missions at all, you know that we advocate fresh food for dogs. That is why we hold a live cooking class on Facebook every week. It is why we tell everyone to throw away their dog food bags, and I won’t ever stop! Although I am not a vet, and I certainly don’t know everything about nutrition, I have learned to trust my instincts, do my research, and be balanced in this regard. I love to eat, I truly enjoy food, and my dogs are no different. But for senior dogs, nutrition may change. Senior dog diets often should have lower calories, higher protein, lower sodium, and fewer carbohydrates. We personally alternate between a raw and cooked diet. I have learned to watch their appetites and adjust with our activity levels.
- Health Care This may be one of the most frustrating parts of caring for an older dog, at least for me. For all of the wonderful vets out there, there are many more that I feel don’t see our dogs as individuals, but numbers. Yes, it may not be very professional of me to say this, but I would rather tell the truth. And knowing when certain aspects of care are necessary or not, plus weighing costs involved when you don’t know if you trust your vet is so maddening. This has proven the case in our family. The last vet we visited in Bodega Bay, California made it clear to me that there were still great ones out there, but some of us never find that perfect vet. So what can we do? I truly believe that there is a balance between using our own heads, doing our own research, and trusting our hearts when it comes to care for our dogs. Yes, professional care is needed. But never let anyone, whether they are a vet or not make you feel bad for decisions you make. They are YOUR furkid. You know them best, you will take care of them best. And you can do it. You can. And you are not alone. Others are going down the same path with different feet.
So, as I asked at the beginning…am I too concerned about my senior dog? At this moment in time, this week, I will say that I have been. I have been analyzing every breath, every groan. Last week? I didn’t worry so much, but the fact is, nothing changed. I have began to realize that is is how I deal with them getting older that will probably make the most difference in their quality of life, beyond any treatment, any pill, any vet. We are the world to our pets, no matter how old they are. Cherish every day that you have with the ones that you love. And never doubt that you will make the best decisions that you can. No one else could make them for your dog as good as you.
-Rachael Johnson, Owner, 2 Traveling Dogs