The Real Deal on Aging Dogs: Highs, lows, and everything in between

Fact: There is nothing better than an old dog.

My little old dog

Another fact: Aging can be tough, no matter the species.

My heart is bursting with the joy and gratitude and love I have for seeing Emmett into these Golden Years. Considering all we’ve been through with him–and the fact that we lost his brother at the unfair age of 9–I watch him frolic around in his 13th year and just burst. I plan to watch him frolic and enjoy many more years, so it’s up to me to make sure he stays safe, healthy, and happy.

That said, I’ve been tallying up the questions I’ve been getting as I’ve been writing about Emmett over the years, and as he’s gotten older I’ve gotten tons along the lines of “what do you use for…” or “how do you guys handle…” {{insert age-related illness or condition here}}. So, I thought I’d tackle as much as I could think of in one mondo blog post!

Here is everything you need to know about taking care of a geriatric dog! Well, everything I can think of today, anyway. If I miss something or leave a question unanswered, please leave it in the comments so I can be sure to address!

Two disclaimers before we get started:

  1. Some of these links are affiliate links. What that means is that if you click the link to make a purchase, this site gets a tiny commission. It doesn’t cost you anything and in many instances will save you some money with coupon codes and whatnot. However, please know that I’d never recommend something we don’t actually purchase and use for ourselves!
  2. Please know that I’m not a vet. I’m not a vet tech. I’m not a nutritionist, an acupuncturist, an anything even remotely useful… I’m a dog-obsessed journalist, so research and interviews are the name of my game. Take all this with a grain of salt and always, always, always consult a veterinarian. Everything I’m sharing is what’s worked for us.

I’ve broken this post into three sections: mobility, food and supplements, and treats! Yes, treats get their own section because, well, Emmett demands it. 🙂 Our starting line: Emmett is a 13-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier/hound mix. He had his first bout of cancer at age 9, with a nerve sheath tumor, and is now fighting his second cancer battle with hemangiosarcoma. He’s beaten all the odds for survival three-fold. He’s on Thyrosyn to treat hypothyroidism and Denamarin to support his liver. Most recently he’s been struggling with mobility and skin issues, and dental problems. Basically, he has everything that any old dog would ever get. All at once. But he’s so very happy! So, here’s what we’re doing to support those various problems:

Mobility Problems in Aging Dogs

Emmett gets acupuncture

Last week Emmett started acupuncture. He has arthritis in his spine, and he’s dealing with some muscle atrophy in his back legs. He’s on a course of pain medication, and we’ve added in an anti-inflammatory, along with prescribed exercise routines and the acupuncture. It’s too early to tell how it’s going to go–he’s only had one treatment so far–but it didn’t bother him in the least, and he was totally relaxed.

The big problem is that his back legs slip out from underneath of him. Enter: ToeGrips! Holy moly, these were a game-changer. I did a ton of online research and ultimately decided these were the solution. I ordered a couple packs from the website, and day 1, victory! I mean, he could get up easily, he slipped less, he balanced better. The only thing is that they kept flying off his toes! But Emmett gets these spurts of energy and dashes around, plays with Coop, etc., which sent them flying. As luck would have it, I was thrilled to meet Dr. Buzby in person at BlogPaws. She gave me a couple more packs and–drumroll–super glue! It totally worked, and now we have to reapply them far less frequently. I can’t recommend them enough. Truly, if we could only do one thing to help him maintain stability, ToeGrips would be it.

We also have him on a joint supplement called DGP. He was on another brand for years that worked well, but he needed the stronger stuff starting about a year ago. Lucas started on DGP before his amputation, so we knew it worked… and worked well! So, we stopped the other that Emmett was on and shifted him to DGP. Haven’t looked back! (BTW, I order it from Only Natural Pet because we set up auto delivery for every eight weeks of all the supplements for all the herd because you get 10% off each item plus free shipping… With Em’s stuff, Coop’s supplements, and Newt’s vitamins, it’s a HUGE savings for us.)

Next up: We were lucky enough to chat with the folks from GingerLead at BlogPaws. Oh, how I wish I had known about this for Lukey. Anyway, it’s our next step with mobility and once we’ve tried it, I’ll come back and share the results (with YIPPEE and giveaway!).

Food and Supplements for Senior Dogs

I think over the years, the question I’ve been asked the very most is: What do you feed your dog? Emmett has always eaten kibble. I’m a firm believe in a rotation diet, and he gets a variety of options from Wellness (honestly, they’re all good), Petcurean, and Merrick. The one we feed the very most is Wellness, but I like to alternate just to hit all the bases.

For the first time in his life, Emmett is a smidge on the skinny side. That plus his extremely dry skin (super common in aging dogs) means huge heaps of coconut oil! He loves it, and since he takes so many pills, it helps gloop them all together atop his kibble so he gets ’em all down in one go. Cooper and Newt get coconut oil, too, and Newtie won’t eat the kind that actually tastes like coconut oil (sigh). Instead of having her spit it out all over the kitchen floor, I just buy the organic refined coconut oil at Target.

In addition to the DGP mentioned above, Emmett also gets a senior supplement with breakfast and dinner. It’s a powder from Only Natural Pet designed for seniors. It’s called Senior Ultimate Daily Vitamins, and it’s hugely on sale for a summer clearance thing right now. I order it with our recurring shipment, and he goes through a little more than one jar in a month so not too bad. Also, thanks to the reminder from our friend Forest Poodles, Emmett is also on a daily probiotic, which we also order from Only Natural Pet in our recurring shipment to get the discount (this is a LOT of pills…). He and Cooper share one jar that lasts about a month.

We also get him wet food on occasion as a special topper/treat, but his teeth are getting super worn the older he gets–and he lost one recently!!!–so I’m trialing different canned foods with the thought that some day he might be eating a mostly-wet diet. That remains to be seen, but you know me… I like to be prepared.

We DO keep him on both monthly heartworm and flea/tick preventative. We’re in the woods a lot. Emmett loves to get outside and hike (we found ADA accessible trails that are smooth and slow, perfect for him), and the risks of an additional illness on top of his cancer and ongoing chemo maintenance program just isn’t worth it to us. That said, I’ve been told by many, many people that they would never give their dog preventatives, and that’s just fine. Work with your vet to figure out what’s best for you, which is what we did and continue to do.

Treats

By “treats” I don’t just mean of the food variety, but that’s a big part of it. Emmett gets to enjoy lots of special things he loves. Obviously it depends on your dog’s personality to figure out what those treats are. Emmett loves nothing more than meeting people. The more the merrier, and bonus points if they’re children! So, he runs errands with us. We do all our home shopping at Lowe’s because they’re SUPER dog friendly. He loves it there. We also take him to the two pet stores we shop at, PetSmart and Pet People. Sometimes he shoplifts, but whaddya gonna do? (I always pay for whatever he grabs!)

We also take him through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru and get him a pup cup. He loves the treat, but it’s less of a fun adventure, though, since there’s not really outside seating to meet new friends.

Emmett loves Dunkin' Donuts

 

If the weather’s nice, we take him to Starbucks to sit out on the patio. He enjoys a puppy latte while greeting the adoring fans that inevitably flock to him!

Even though it’s always a teense more effort taking him with us on errands, it’s totally worth it. Honestly, at 13, Emmett gets to do what Emmett wants! I want him to have the happiest days every day! It’s easy with him, though, because he thinks going to the vet is fun… but still!

OK, if you got to the end of this post, YOU deserve a treat. I truly hope I’ve been able to adequately address all the questions that have come in about keeping a senior dog happy and healthy. If I missed anything or if you want me to dig deeper into any topics, please let me know in the comments!

For those of you with seniors, what adjustments have you made? How do you maintain a daily routine? Any special steps or accommodations? Would LOVE to learn more!

Dear Cooper

It baffles me to say this–my mind literally cannot grasp how this happened–but today, dear Cooper, you turn six.

It was, like, last year that you were this size, right?

Baby Cooper

But, nope. Somehow you’ve gone from this:

Teeny, tiny baby Cooper

To this:

Cooper in a party hat

LOOK AT YOUR GRAY WHISKERS, COOPER! Stop that right this instant!

You’ve been through a lot in these six years… you’ve moved three times, gotten a cat, gotten a foster puppy and a foster kitten, said goodbye to the fosters, said goodbye to your best friend in the entire world, given us a serious run for our money figuring out your allergies, terrifying us with your tremors, and you outsmarted us around every turn.

You and I, Coop, we have a bond. I’m sure it came from when I was sick and you dubbed yourself my protector. And it’s stuck. You follow me around and stare and stare and stare at me. You cuddle me and bark when you can’t find me. It’s endearing, but it’s also a symptom of your biggest personality trait: your intensity.

Cooper, you are intense. You are a serious fellow who is completely in tune with the people around  you. For better or worse, you read people with perfect clarity, and you react to whatever energy you sense. It makes you a little tightly wound, my dear, to be watching everyone around you that closely all the time. I never wrote about the day we lost Lucas–maybe the day will come when I’m able to, but it hasn’t come yet–but you were unbelievable that day. You knew. You behaved stoically until the very end, when you curled up with your biggest brother.

You just know.

You always have. You are utterly sensitive, which makes you incredibly anxious since you tend to assume the worst about what you don’t understand. (The polar opposite of Emmett who understands very little and assumes the best about everything!)

But, thankfully (in some regards, anyway) you’re brilliant and learn quickly. The house is getting painted this week, and the house painter, Salvador, has heard you barking at him through the window for days now. Well, until yesterday when I decided to play the “Look at Salvador, get a sweet potato chip” game. Within minutes you were just staring at Salvador out the window until I said “yes!” then you’d collect your chip and swivel your head right back to the window.

Whatever we can figure out to teach you, you learn. You also learn lots of things we don’t teach you and lots of things we didn’t really intend for you to learn, but your brilliance is just part of the overall package.

At six you are still so much of a young man, even though you’re starting to show a smidge of maturity here and there.

I'm a pretty cute Cooper

You still destroy every toy you can get your teeth around.

You love to chase the tennis ball in the backyard.

You’re warming up to swimming, particularly when there’s a squeaky ball involved.

You’ve learned to stick your face under the covers just so and crawl all the way under for a late-night snuggle.

You’re a running machine… you would go and go and go until you dropped, if we let you. But I still kinda hate running, so we’d never go that long anyway, but having you as my running partner has kept me motivated to stick with it even though, as I said, I pretty much still hate it.

You and Emmett have become practically inseparable, and Newt rounds out your little triumvirate. The three of you are always near one another, if not touching.

Newt, Coop, and Emmett do some snuggling

You are, in fact, the one Newt likes best out of all of us. You two wrestle and chase and play. She doesn’t bite you when you lick her face, which you do every single time you see her. She’s not quite as kind to the rest of us…

In the end, Cooper, we weren’t supposed to adopt you. You were our foster. We failed, but of course we won. You are an infuriating, frustrating, destructive, devious, live wire, and you are perfect.

We love you, little bean. Happy sixth birthday!

What to Do if Your Dog is Losing His Hearing

Oh My Dog! has been hacked!

No, not by Anonymous, but by a deaf dog named Edison! He has his own blog, Dog & His Boy. My name is Bernard Lima-Chavez and I’m the boy in that equation. I know my place; the dog is the star and I’m “his people”.

So why have Edison and I taken over Oh My Dog! today, you ask? Why have we locked Maggie in her office with stacks of word nerd articles about participles, possessive plurals and exciting grammatical trends to drool over?

We aren’t here today to maliciously gather information about you. No, we are here to educate you about deafness in senior dogs. This hack is a PSA, I promise.

We targeted Oh My Dog! because Maggie and I have become fast friends–and friends express love by hacking each other’s website, right?

(Okay, maybe she agreed to let us write a guest post for her, but I prefer the hacker narrative because it gives me some much needed street cred.)

I think that Maggie consented to this article because we have lots in common. Maggie and I are both bloggers who write about our pets. We both adore animals, and helping ones in need is hardwired into both our DNA. More importantly, between the two of us, Maggie and I have three dogs whose ears don’t work, at least not in any conventional sense of that word.

You see, I share my life with two deaf dogs, Edison and Foster, both of whom were born deaf to due to genetic misfires. I also have two hearing dogs, Darwin and Galileo.

Maggie has Emmett, a sweet, senior dog who just turned thirteen and, over the last year or two, has begun experiencing hearing loss due to advanced age, and then there’s Cooper, Emmett’s former thorn who has become Emmett’s Hearing Ear Dog.

Though our journeys to living with a deaf dog were very different, Maggie and I now travel very similar paths: using non-verbal ways to communicate with our beloved dogs, tending to the unique safety needs that deaf dogs have and sharing our experiences in hopes of helping you and your dog transition from a loud, noisy world to a silent one that offers lots of opportunities for some really deep, uninterrupted naps.

When your dog is losing his hearing

How I Got Here

When I adopted Edison, a ten-week old, twenty pound pit bull mix, I knew he was deaf, I knew he would grow to be a big boy and I also knew that I knew nothing about deaf dogs. Zilch zero nada.

There were many sound, logical arguments against bringing Edison home:

  • My husband and I already had two large dogs and five cats.
  • I had never, to my knowledge, met a deaf dog so I had no practical knowledge or experience to draw upon.
  • I didn’t know any sign language let alone how to begin teaching signs to a deaf puppy.
  • How do you yell, No!!! Don’t eat my shoes!, with your hands?
  • My husband had already threatened me with divorce if I brought home another dog.

(Speaking of my husband and to provide some context, I should note that in addition to “honoring and obeying”, my wedding vows included a promise not to bring home any more critters. That particular vow went unbroken for precisely 7 months. Yes, I honor my husband, even if I’m not so good at the obeying thing, and I’m no longer to be trusted with fostering anymore.)

In the end, none of these arguments came close to deterring me. You see, when I locked eyes with Edison in that crate on the front counter at our local humane society where I was working as veterinary technician, something magical and inexplicable happened: Edison and I both knew we belonged together. So I scooped him, strapped on a leash and collar and then plunged into a brand new world: sharing my life with a deaf dog…hopefully not as a single parent and divorcee!

What You Should Know About Hearing Loss and Senior Dogs

Dogs and humans have much more in common than most people think. Much like humans, as dogs age, they experience many of the same physiological changes as humans, including hearing loss, vision impairment, osteoarthritis and others.

Also like humans, when dogs begin to go deaf because of old age, it is usually a gradual process. This allows the dog to slowly adapt to incremental changes, reducing the likelihood that his hearing deficit is a traumatic or stressful experience. The honest truth? It is usually much harder for the pet parent than the dog! {{Maggie popping in here to say YES! It is! That’s a bit of what I wrote about when I got to contribute to Bernard’s amazing blog… which you can read HERE when you’re finished with this post!}}

I hear from pet parents all the time who feel guilty that they didn’t realize their dog was losing his hearing until the hearing loss was significant. They are struggling because they feel they failed their dog. They feel anxious because they have to learn a new way to communicate with their dog and they don’t know where to begin. Often times, these loving pet parents have been caught off-guard because they never even knew that dogs can be deaf.

These are all understandable and natural reactions. The good news is that living with a deaf dog isn’t harder, it’s different. By making a few simple changes to our lives and our routines, deaf dogs–and their pet parents–can live full, rich happy lives.

Dog & His Boy

Start Preparing Now

I always encourage pet parents of hearing dogs to begin teaching hand signs sooner than later. Though this may feel like a daunting task, it it really isn’t!

Most dog trainers will teach dogs and their pet parents hand signs to go along with basic obedience verbal commands. Once the dog knows the verbal cue, most pet parents stop using the hand sign. However, if you keep using these signs, you will have an established communication system in place if your beloved pooch ever begins to experience hearing loss. If you have consistently used the hand signs your trainer taught you, your hearing dog already knows some sign language that you can use to communicate with your deaf or hard of hearing dog.

If your dog doesn’t know any sign language, it is much easier to begin teaching hand signs while your dog can hear than if you wait until hearing loss occurs. If you start now, you have the benefit of being able to use a verbal cue your dog already knows while also giving a hand sign. This approach helps your dog assign meaning to the hand sign much faster.

Choose a few basic hand signs that are important to you, such as obedience commands, food, water, no, yes or potty. Every time you speak the words, also give the hand sign. Your dog will quickly learn the meaning of those hand signs and respond appropriately.

Some Tips on Living With A Deaf Dog

As I said before, living with a deaf dog isn’t harder, it’s different. Beyond communication, the differences really come to light in the context of safety. Because deaf dogs are often unaware of potential danger in their environment, deaf dog pet parents need to spend a little more time thinking about safety issues.

A few deaf dog safety tips to consider include:

  • Add the phrase “I’m Deaf” or “Deaf Dog” to your dog’s name tag. This makes it very clear to anyone that encounters him that he is deaf.
  • I live in Miami where both English and Spanish are commonly spoken. This is also an area where many people are not bilingual and only speak English or Spanish. My deaf dogs have a separate bilingual tag that says, “I’m Deaf/ Soy Sordo” that way most anyone who meets him will know immediately that he can’t hear. If you live in an area where many non-English speakers live, translate the phrase “I’m Deaf” into their native language.
  • Never let your deaf or hard of hearing dog off leash in an unfenced area. There are too many dangerous situations in this world for a loose dog, let alone a free-roaming dog who cannot hear.
  • Deaf dogs can’t hear a truck rumbling down the street, a stray dog running up fast or a neighbor’s child walking up from behind. Remember, a deaf dog hears with his eyes, and if he can’t see it, he doesn’t know it’s there. Stay aware of changes in the environment and communicate those to your deaf dog.
  • Frequently check fencing around your home to make sure that there are no escape routes.
  • Connect with other deaf dog pet parents! The community of deaf dog pet parents are warm, giving, helpful and supportive. They can answer your questions, offer tips and advice that worked of them and provide an insider’s perspective that is priceless.

If your dog is beginning to lose his hearing, I hope this quick introduction to deaf dogs is helpful! You can find lots more information on deaf dogs at Dog & His Boy. If you have any questions, please know I’m here to help and you can reach me at dogandhisboyblog@gmail.com.

And finally, pop on over to Instagram to follow along as Edison scopes out the best in Miami’s street art and graffiti! He’s simply a stunningly gorgeous dog, if I do say so myself!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Bernard, for sharing this wonderful post. I’m so grateful for all that you do for deaf dogs and for the pet-loving community. I’m even more grateful for the time you took to put together this post and allowing me to share it!