Stella is not my first senior dog. Montana, my very first dog, was adopted while I was in college and I had her for about 12 years. She grew old with me, and in the end, despite two hip replacements to help with severe hip dysplasia, her body just couldn’t do it anymore.
There’s some ailments that seems to affect most senior dogs, once they’re of a certain age. Decreased mobility and dementia seem to be the ones that effect the most dogs, in my experience. Montana started to go into corners and stare at walls. She began panting and pacing a lot, usually not needing to go anywhere, just as if she was uncomfortable in her own skin. I tried special food, and even meds. And they helped to a certain degree, but in the end, she was an old dog, and I couldn’t change that.
While I did everything I could for Montana, I feel I have learned so much more about what senior dogs need through the years. And while I am happy Stella gets to benefit from this, it hurts my heart that Montana did not. Senior dogs need special care. More than just a dog food labeled “Senior.” A friend, lamenting about aging parents, said to me “once an adult, twice a child.” It took me a moment to understand what she meant, but then it rang so true. We start our lives depending on others, and unable to care for ourselves, and if we live long enough, most likely we will end our lives the same way. I think about this phrase a lot when I am caring for Stella and it’s led me to understand a few things that can really help senior pets.
Stick to a Routine
If you don’t do anything else, this will still help your senior dog immensely. Stella knows my routine better than I do. She knows that I open the blinds to the front window right before I take her for a walk. She would hear or see those blinds move, and she knew it was time to get up and get going. Nowadays, she can’t hear the blinds opening, and rarely wakes up while I am opening them, but I keep the routine the same regardless. Feeding time, walk time, nap time, everything, I try to keep it as regimented as possible. If she wants to sleep in, great, but if I don’t wake up when she wants to go out, she starts to pace and gets stressed. Knowing what to expect greatly reduces her stress, and I do my best to help with that.
Remember New Places Aren’t as Fun as They Used to Be
What young dog doesn’t bound out of the car and love to explore new smells? Siri is an absolute spaz the first night in a new place. And while Stella has travelled to hundreds of places with me, and she still loves a car ride, spending time in a new place when you can’t see or hear very well, can be very stressful. Especially for dogs suffering from dementia. Getting out of her familiar routine and having to adjust to a new place can create an anxious, pacing, dog. To try and help her, I always bring along her favorite bed. I try to put this bed away from all the activity going on so she has a quiet location she can claim as her own. If she were better about being crate trained, I would bring her crate along and just have her hang out in her crate in a new place. I’ve cut back on a lot of the places I house/pet sit as it’s too stressful for her, and instead try and only take her places with me that she knows well.
Take a Cue From Motel 6
And leave the light on for them. Stella used to get up and walk into things when she was trying to find her water bowl. After a night of this, I went out and purchased a night light. Now, Stella follows the light and has no problem finding her water bowl. In new places, I leave a stronger light on for her since she won’t be as familiar with where she is going. It seems to have made a huge difference in her anxiety level. I also think this is key for dogs with dementia, especially if the pacing and staring happens primarily at night.
They May Need to Go Out More Frequently
This one probably seems pretty obvious. But it took an accident in the house for the first time in 11 years for me to realize my senior dog Montana couldn’t hold her bladder for 6-7 hours anymore. With Stella, I try to get her our every 4-4.5 hours during the day, and she usually sleeps 7-8 hours at night without an issue. However, she’s quick to let me know that even if it’s snowing and 5am, she still needs to go out. I limit her evening water intake if possible, or try to get her drinking around 6-7 pm rather than 9-10pm.
They May Not Want to Go for a Walk
Stella loved nothing more than running and running and running some more when she was young. Even these days, she loves bombing around the barn, helping me bring June in from her paddock. But other times, she has zero desire to go for a walk. She wants to go potty and go back inside. And that’s ok. I let her dictate what she wants to do, rather than me sticking to a plan. I let her be the control freak, rather than me. Or, I try at least.
Getting Old is Hard for Them, Too
It’s hard for us to see our dogs age. The once crazy puppy who now spends 90% of its time sleeping can be a hard transition to experience. Stella has always been an independent dog who never needed my help. But that’s changed now. She needs my help going up the stairs. She needs my help to soften her kibble prior to eating it. She relies on me for so many things now. I know she doesn’t love it when I help her up the stirs. I know she would rather not need to be leashed when it is dark out because she can’t see her way. So, I try to honor who she was by still giving her as much independence as possible. If there are steps she can go up and down, I let her. I praise her like crazy for taking a few steps at a run. I pretend I’ve just walked into the house when she doesn’t wake up until I have been there for a good 5 minutes. I try to be my most patient self at all times because deep down, I know that taking a minute or two longer to get up isn’t happening because it’s what she wants, it’s happening because it’s all she can do.
So give your senior pup a kiss and enjoy every single moment you have with them. They sure deserve it!