If you were to call either of my sisters, as you talked you would swear that there was a rambunctious child wreaking havoc on the place: “Get down from there!” “No! Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” “What do you want?!” Well, my baby sister is #!% years old, and my oldest sister will be *#! in a couple of weeks. At best, you could contribute all the commotion to great grand kids, but that is not the case. They each have a dog.
My oldest sister’s 11 year-old Yorkie is a spoiled brat. Lawnmowers are his nemesis. I don’t know how he makes it through the summer. Smoke, my baby sister’s Lab/Boxer mix, is also 11 years old. Storms get him all bent out of shape . He’s a lot more laid back than Zak, but still manages to get into his share of “devilment.”
They may act like kids, but Zak and Smoke, like their “mothers,” are in their twilight years. Figuring out a dog’s age in human years can get complicated. They age pretty quick the first couple of years of their life, and then slow down according to their size, but still age much faster than humans. Zak’s 11 years at his small size, equates to around 60 human years, and Smoke’s 11 years, seeing as how he’s a big ol’ fella, puts him around 72. Just as it is with us, with advanced age comes health issues. Senior dogs health problems are a lot like senior people’s health problems. Remarkably similar, in fact.
Dogs Are People Too
Okay, maybe not really, but tell that to either of my sisters. When it comes to loving them or caring for them, Zak and Smoke get the “full Monty.” I’m sure you can relate if you have a canine member in your family. In an article in Psychology Today, bioethicist Jessica Pierce, Ph.D., says that living with a dog is much the same as living with a human being. A bioethicist is someone who “studies the application of ethics to the field of medicine and healthcare.” So if bioethicists include dogs in their studies, this elevates their status (the dog’s, that is) considerably.
Pierce goes on to say that the relationship between dogs and humans can be “wonderful, loving and enriching, but it can also be emotionally complex, draining and stressful.” In the Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Marie Doan and Sirkke Sarenbo assert that the quality of your dog’s life is directly related to the quality of your life. In other words, “As goes the master, so goes the dog.” I just made that up.
The point is, your behavior directly impacts your dog’s health and behavior. For instance, if you are a “loner”, your dog is forced to be a “loner”, which means your dog will lack “adequate mental and social stimulation,” which can lead to problems such as separation anxiety, excitability, and fear. Another great example is, if you are obese as a result of bad eating habits, chances are your dog is probably overweight too.
The most common ailment we share with our canine family members is a visit from Arthur; arthur-itis, that is. As they age, many dogs develop arthritis just like we do, with the same consequences. The most common form of the disease befalling aging dogs is Osteoarthritis, which affects weight-bearing joints. This results in pain, stiffness, decreased range in motion, and it gets worse as time goes by. There is no cure for it, but treatment can slow the disease and ease the pain. We’ll talk medication a little later.
Kidney disease is also pretty high on the list of senior dogs health problems. Like arthritis, it cannot be cured, but there is medication available that can treat it and prolong the quality and quantity of your dog’s life. Signs of kidney disease in your dog include increased thirst and peeing, loss of appetite, vomiting and lack of energy. Other ailments shared by dog and man (generically speaking) are:
- growths and tumors – should be checked by vet to make sure they are not cancerous
Our senior canine family member can also develop a disease that is similar to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. The signs are subtle in the beginning but can get pretty bad, pretty quick. According to Jenna Stregowski, Registered Veterinary Technician, the symptoms include, but are not limited to: disorientation, confusion, pacing/wandering, not interacting with the family as much, restlessness, and going to the wrong side of an opening door. Many of these symptoms overlap with other illnesses, so check with your vet if you observe any of these signs.
Medications That Improve Quality of Life
It was not too long ago that if your dog got sick, he either got better or he died. Thankfully that is no longer the case. Today, there is medication to treat whatever ails your dog. Some of the most common ones are:
- pain relievers – used to alleviate chronic pain associated with arthritis and joint pain
- antibiotics – used to treat bacterial infections
- antiparasitics – for treating parasites
- antifungals – eliminates fungal infections
- steroids – can relieve symptoms associated with inflammation and cancer
Although some medications that we use can be used to treat similar conditions in our senior dog, it is important to check with your vet before administering them. “We have to remember the size of our dog compared to us,” says Dr. Cathy Meeks, Group Medical Director at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa Florida. “Even with the medications that are safe, the dosages are drastically different,” she added. These medications include:
- MiraLax – helps reduce constipation
- Pepto Bismol – used to treat diarrhea
- Benadryl – for allergies, motion sickness and travel anxiety
- Gas-X – treats gas
- Prednisone – for treating inflammation from arthritis
Before you run to the medicine cabinet to share your medication with your dog, check with the vet. These medications can do more harm than good depending on other health issues. Some human medications can be downright dangerous for your dog. It is always best to give your dog medication prescribed by the vet.
Regular Doctor Visits For Your Dog
Regular visits to the doctor are just as important for your dog as they are for you. Senior dogs with health problems won’t just get better, they need professional help. Just like you have a primary care physician, they need a primary care vet who is familiar with their condition and can provide continuity in their treatment for whatever ails them. Insurance is available to help cover the cost of vet bills. The cost of the insurance depends on the amount of coverage you want, your dog’s size and weight, and where you live, among other things. It can mean the difference between treating your dog’s health issues and euthanizing a beloved family member.
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship
You need your dog at least as much as your dog needs you. Psychologist Penny B. Donnefield says that having a dog will help you focus on “something other than your physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging.” Your canine companion will also help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase your physical activity, (just walking your dog gives you a great cardiovascular workout) and offer protection for seniors who live alone. And, as age and technology combine to isolate seniors from the rest of the world, dogs can be that bond with nature that we all long for.
It is definitely a two-way street. As a beloved family member, most seniors’ dogs live the “life of Riley.” According to the Washington University School of Law, it is not unusual for owners to leave sizable inheritances to their dogs. The internet is replete with stories of dogs who were left millions. Many seniors adopt shelter dogs who literally go from “wags to riches.” They get regular meals, vet care, and constant love and attention. It is sometimes difficult to determine who benefits the most, the dog or the senior. But one thing is sure: the relationship is reciprocal.
Growing Old Together
Some dogs will grow old in good health, but unfortunately, many will not. Just as it is with us, with age comes health issues. There is comfort in sharing the twilight years with one who has been so faithful for so long. The bond can eclipse that of a human companion. Since they age so much faster than us, we will probably outlive them, so it is up to us to make sure that they transition as peacefully as possible. We should afford them the same care in their senior years that we expect in ours. I leave you with my favorite dog quote:
“The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.” – Samuel Butler