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Kuranda Dog Beds - Rethinking dog beds
Kuranda Dog Beds
— November 27, 2012 —

How to take care of your old dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

We currently have a senior dog. This week, we discuss how to decide what’s best for the older dog in your life.

Gunnar is almost 12 years old. We got him when the police confiscated him as a puppy. He was about 8 weeks and had been living in an abandoned project building with some folks who were living there illegally. He was intended to be a foster dog for us, but after 4 weeks of fostering him, we failed miserably. Gunnar was ours to keep.

Fast forward about 11 years and Gunnar is still with us. He has been our constant companion and is almost never away from Amy or me. He has been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and is hypothyroid. He has liver issues and possibly some arthritis. Needless to say, we’re constantly worried about his health.

Counting Gunnar, we have dealt with three of our own dogs as they have gotten older and learned a lot about a senior dog’s medical needs. While we aren’t vets and don’t intend to give medical advice, there are a few things we think that everyone should know when it comes to caring for the senior dog.

If your dog is suddenly acting “old” there may be a medical reason for it. A year ago, Gunnar suddenly stopped being himself. He wasn’t as active and stopped eating. (Gunnar lives to eat. This was a significant sign that something was wrong.) Turns out that he was dealing with hepatitis, a possibly fatal condition if left untreated. With good vet care and holistic remedies, he recovered and has been with us for another year.

Older dogs are going to be a little slower, but a significant personality change can be a sign of serious medical issues. Personality changes can include wandering, lack or response to commands and not recognizing family members. Aggression can also occur in a dog that has not previously been aggressive. Things like thyroid disease, liver issues, stroke, or toxins can all cause mental status changes and only your vet can help determine the cause. In some cases, the simple fact that the dog is aging can cause CCD (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction), similar to senility or Alzheimer’s disease. Even this can be helped with medications, prolonging your dog’s quality of life.

As I mentioned, traditional vets are very important in caring for the senior dog but we have become believers in non-traditional care as well. We have learned that herbal remedies, acupuncture, cold-laser therapy, etc. can positively impact their quality of life.

When Gunnar was first diagnosed with hepatitis, we treated him with antibiotics and struggled to get his liver values down to the normal range. We saw the best lab test results and recovery with herbal supplements given by Dr. Mike, the herbalist at Wag Your Tail.

Otto, another one of our other senior dogs was 11 years old when we lost him. He suffered from wobbler’s disease and had severe arthritis in one of his elbows. The traditional vets recommended a fusion surgery, a highly invasive and expensive procedure. Through research, I learned about Gold Bead Implant Therapy, a permanent form of acupuncture. Otto benefited greatly from this, as well as traditional acupuncture and cold-laser therapy. I truly believe that these things added years to his life (as a side benefit it is significantly less expensive). The reason I bring this up is that most of the traditional vets we spoke with were unfamiliar with any of the non-traditional treatments. It can be very helpful to do some research on alternative treatments before giving up on a senior dog.

Ultimately the therapies and treatments stop working and our dogs just get too old or too sick to go on. When to say goodbye is a highly personal decision and I would never fault anyone for making the decision too early or too late. My personal belief is that dogs should enjoy dignity and self reliance. I always say that as long as he can eat and go for walks on his own, he’s good to go. If he can’t do those things without being carried, I know it’s time. I stay with my dogs until the end. They take their last breath with me and I will be the last thing they see. When I see posts about very senior dogs left at the pound, it infuriates me. As hard as it is to say goodbye, no dog deserves to feel abandoned in his senior years. This is the last kindness you can give to a dog that has been a loyal companion.

In the end, we all want to care for our pets the best we can. With a little research and an open mind, we can often give our dogs a longer and better quality of life. This quote about sums it up:

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender-your dog. You are his life, his love his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.&tdquo;