By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Your dog may breeze through years of senior citizenship without any significant health issues, but sooner or later, age catches up with even the most resilient of canine companions.
You may one day discover that your dog can’t see or hear anymore, or that he’s developed an irritable streak where he didn’t have one before. In many cases, the first really distressing issue to come up is incontinence — an old dog may dribble urine in his bed or in the house — and suddenly you have a problem.
Any time a new health issue develops, the best course of action is to have it checked out by your dog’s veterinarian. And there’s this good news: Many problems are treatable at any age, including cognitive dysfunction — doggy dementia — which can be eased for many dogs with medication.
Time, of course, will not be denied. But even for those things that cannot be aided by your veterinarian, you can take matters into your own hands and help your dog age gracefully and comfortably.
Remember, this is an animal who adores you, who lives for your approval and affection. As he begins to lose his health, he needs your assurance more than ever.
Some special situations you may deal with:
• Blind dogs: Maintain your blind dog’s environment with minimal change. Dogs actually adapt amazingly well when they lose their eyesight — as long as you don’t start rearranging the furniture. If your dog knows his way around your house and yard, and has a walking route that suits him, try to keep these things constant to prevent injuries and put him at ease.
• Deaf dogs: For a dog who lives in a soundless world, sudden contact can be unnerving. It can also be dangerous for the person who delivers the shock, since your dog may nip out of fear. Learn how to let your dog know you’re coming, and teach any children who have contact how to do so, too. Many dogs are hearing-impaired but not completely deaf, and for those a couple of simple hand claps are enough to get his attention. If your dog is completely deaf, step loudly as you approach him — your footfalls will cause a vibration that can be felt even if it’s not heard.
• Leaky dogs: If your dog has overnight incontinence, know that the situation probably upsets him even more than it upsets you. Take him out last thing before bedtime, and then provide a water-absorbent barrier in his bedding. You can use a puppy pad, cut-up pieces of a water-resistant mattress pad, or an upside-down, rubber-backed bath mat. Whatever you use will need to be washed or replaced daily, but the extra loads of laundry are a small price to pay to ensure your senior dog is comfortable.
Once again, be sure to work with your veterinarian on the challenges of age. Be especially keen on the combinations of prescription pain medications and so-called “neutraceuticals” — over-the-counter supplements like glucosamine and omega-3 oils — that can make life comfortable.
Slow down, be patient, be helpful. You’ll both feel better for the time you spend with your sweet older dog.
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