HOW TO HELP YOUR SENIOR DOG
My dog, Kompis, is only 12.5 years old, but is already blind and quite senile. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out how to help your senior dog. I’ve been capturing some of our struggles and joys in pictures and video so that I can share them with others who are also struggling, or may be in the future.
It helps to know there are others out there with the same issues. And, I hope by giving you some behavior tips, it will make the transition a bit easier.
In this first video I released, I show how Kompis regularly gets herself stuck in places around my house. These incidents were all from one day (and there were more that day that I didn’t film).
When dogs get senile, one of the first things they lose is the ability to back up. So, when they get stuck behind something, or in a corner, they think there’s no way out.
What I’ve been doing (and suggest others do as well) are 2 things:
1. trying to keep Kompis’ independence & spirits up and not let her feel helpless.
2. keeping her mind working as much as possible.
That means not lifting her up and moving her. This only further confuses blind dogs anyway! I help her solve her own predicaments as much as possible. That’s what you’ll see here.
The second thing I posted was showing there still is joy in our lives. I wanted to share how much she still enjoys seeing the people she loves. Her God-Dog-Parents came over last weekend, and I grabbed my phone after a bit so I could capture her little squeals of joy.
Watch how happy & excited & energetic she is!
When you have an older dog, you can still find things they enjoy. Some still get joy out of food, some find joy greeting other dogs, some like to visit their favorite park or beach, and some find comfort being with their favorite people.
Find your dog’s joy, and let them bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart. It’s a win-win.
So far, the main things I’ve learned that I’d like to pass on to you are:
1. You have to be incredibly patient.
If you thought having a puppy was tough, it was nothing. Now you have to deal with a dog who WAS trained and who never peed in the house or got in harm’s way, start to do it all over again. But now they might be blind and/or deaf. They also move incredibly slowly, so expect everything to take at least twice as long as it used to.
- If it took 3 mins for them to pee in the backyard, expect to wait up to 15 mins now.
- If your walk around the park took 5 mins, plan on 10-20 mins now.
- If they ate their food in 30 seconds, be prepared for it to take several minutes, while you help them find it, partially hand-feed, or even help them stand up the whole time.
- If they used to respond to a command the first time you said it, expect it to take 2 or 3 more attempts now, if they can hear or understand you at all.
2. It’s sad
Watching your dog age is very hard. It might happen quickly or gradually but, one day, you’ll wake up and realize you have a different dog. You’ll notice that they don’t want to play like they used to, they stop being as eager for food or treats, they forget the commands they knew so well, they slip & fall, they bump into things, and/or they get easily confused. They move more slowly, have trouble getting up, and they no longer greet you with the usual exuberant vigor that brought you so much joy at the end of the day. Sometimes, they forget who you are. It’s a difficult thing to go through. Be prepared to cry daily, unless you’re really, really tough.
3. It’s exhausting
Expect to be mentally and emotionally drained from dealing with all of this. Take care of yourself.
If your dog has sundowner’s syndrome like mine does, you can be woken up every hour or 2 all throughout the night. They no longer tolerate being crated – it makes them panic. They pace, they act agitated. It’s awful.
If you’re lucky enough that they don’t have this issue, they will still most likely need to go to the bathroom more often, so don’t expect them to hold it all night like they used to. Be prepared to get up earlier or in the middle of the night to allow them to relieve themselves.
Lastly, they wander – they walk off of beds & couches & cliffs. Even if they can see a little, their depth perception is off. Add in a bit of senility, and you have a dog who can never be left alone, and requires you constantly getting up and checking on them – or saving them from danger. So, basically, some of these dogs, including my Kompis, require 24 X 7 care. It’s more like having a 2 year old child than a dog at this point. You can’t leave a blind, confused dog alone. It would be cruel!
4. Deciding when to let them go is one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever make.
I’ve read dozens of articles on this, and even have experience doing this for my last dog as well as with other people’s pets. But you’re never prepared. Each case is so different. We don’t want them to suffer, but we don’t want to say goodbye too soon. I certainly do not want to put my dog down because she’s inconveniencing me. But I also don’t want her to injure herself and have to rush her to the ER to be hurriedly put down while she’s in pain (and, I promised her no more hospitals or vets!) So, I struggle and struggle. I take it day by day. You just have to wait until you “know” it’s the right time in your heart.
One tip I read often that resonated with me is that it’s better to say goodbye 1 day or even 1 week early than 1 minute too late.
I suggest finding a housecall vet… there are many good ones: Blue Sparrow Holistic, Vet on Wheels, & Lotus Vets are my personal favorites for vet care as well as for euthanasia. You can have it done in your home or even at your pup’s favorite park or beach. I definitely did not and do not want it done in my home (I want my memories there to be of them being alive and don’t want this memory etched in my mind in my home). Think about what makes you and, most importantly, your dog, happiest. Plan ahead.
That’s all for this round. Look for more senior dog tips over the next few weeks as I find the strength to post & share.
For some more great tips on helping your senior dog, check out this article from Redfin.