13th June 2019
There’s no easy way to cope when we watch our dogs suffer from the effects of old age before our eyes. At the same time caring for our older dog can also be a very satisfying thing to do in the appreciation that you have given them as full a life as you have been able to, as long they have been a part of yours. If you have ever had a dog live to the age of twelve years and onwards it can be very satisfying. In their old age, it can also be demanding and take some degree of management and caring obligation but I know very few people, if any, who would shy away from those commitments.
Dogs experience similar conditions we do ranging through deafness, arthritis, decreasing eyesight and blindness, and loss of mobility. However, some can remain in remarkable condition despite these challenges. I have been privileged to know some very elderly Labradors who will drag themselves up from the floor when there is a good retrieve to be had. In working dogs working lives can be short and it is prudent to observe when a dog should retire from active and demanding work or at least take a reduction in demand. Deafness can be difficult to cope with for owners and older dogs can sometimes develop orientation problems and lose direction easily.
Older dogs don’t usually need as much in the way of physical exercise but there is always a need for enrichment and enjoyable activities. I’ve personally noticed that they can need extra help when going out and into our vehicles by displaying subtle but apprehensive signs that show in their less eagerness to jump in. Teeth and gums can do with more attention, so it is good to look after their teeth from a younger age so that they are used to that extra attention when it matters later. Some of the items they may have been used to chewing on may prove quite sensitive for them as they age and show an increased preference in softer mouthpieces.
The eyes always tell us a lot. There have been many times I have headed out the door with my younger dog and left the old one at home to rest if I am intending going out for a while. Those eyes tell me the dog has the heart to go but hasn’t got the legs. It’s knowing when to slow things down for them that keeps stress levels lower from overexertion.
Enduring old age can be a trial-some affair and dogs need our company and security then as much as they have ever before. When the time comes to let your dog go it can be one of the most difficult times in life to face. My feeling is that I have been through thick and thin with my dogs and I will always be there for them at their end. The eyes tell me when to call that time for them, each of us is different. Life is also to be lived in older dogs and as long as those eyes have that spark in them and there is life in the old dog yet, I will continue to give myself completely so that they may live as full a life as possible and that they can add precious value to my own life and the other dogs in the family group.