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September is Senior Dog Wellness Month

PawsPortraits_072008_69_640-480“September is Senior Dog Wellness Month”. When I recently saw this headline in a veterinarian newsletter that I get, it really made me think. So many of the dogs that come to Villa La PAWS started when they were just puppies and over the last 10 years we’ve been a part of their puppy, adolescent, middle age years. Now we’re seeing them through their senior years.

Boy can I relate to them. Ten years ago, I started my journey into my senior years – at least that’s what everyone told me. My four-legged friends have a much faster life span than I do and it’s crunched into about 14 years – the average life span of a dog.

I have my own benchmark in my house – my dog Hank Jr., a Chihuahua mix. He is 16 years old, pretty much blind, and I haven’t figured out whether he is going deaf or just using selective hearing on me. So the small dog conversion to human years chart says he’s 80. Our cross over point was when he was 10 and I was 56. There is no chart conversion necessary for me, I’m 67. But I do have a few theories I’ve been formulating.

Here are my thoughts on senior wellness for dogs and the two-leggers like me…

Both of us may be a little slower at fetching, running and plain old rough housing. We also may have some problems with our hearing and seeing, not to mention just operating in a little slower gear overall.

But as one of Toby Keith’s song says, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” That pretty much sums it up for me and Hank Jr.

You have to understand that a senior dog still has that inner puppy in them that needs to be nourished and satisfied both mentally and physically. Every so often I see a young Hank Jr. emerge with a burst of energy and big, triumphant leap onto the couch. There he sits so proud and brimming with confidence for a moment. This is usually followed by looks down and then back up again at me, and then gesturing in a meek sort of way he seems to say, “hey mind picking me up and putting me down, that jump could really hurt me.” I know that I have an inner-child in me too because people are always telling me to act my age. I would, but my age changes in my mind all of the time depending on how courageous I feel or if I forget how long it takes to heal these days.

Maybe my senior dog friends can’t handle 6-8 hours of daycare anymore. Now it may be more like 1-2 hours followed by a couple of hours of rest, and then maybe another couple of hours later. They will tell you when they have had enough. But, I tell you, the interaction is still key. Even if they’re just kicking back, but still have people stop by to visit and to see how they are doing. Or regularly being let outdoors for a leisurely potty break with enough time to sniff and see if any of their other friends have been there earlier in the day. This, by the way, is like their alone time with a cup of coffee and newspaper.

Those scents are pieces of news only they can decipher. Who’s been here, what they were doing, what’s new, and just a general update on what’s going on in their life. That’s my belief anyways and I’m sticking to it.

If your beloved dog is going into those senior years, don’t retire them to an empty house by themselves. They take this as being punished and they surely don’t deserve this. Isolation is the worst kind of treatment for your senior dog that has dedicated his life to making you happy. It’s your turn. They need your help and advocacy in making their golden years the best they can be. Talk to your pet care provider and see if they can customize a special care program that will stimulate your senior dog both mentally and physically. This is all about elongating our best friend’s life but more importantly their quality of life.

I’m fortunate to have some mental acuteness left so I have left explicit instructions when I start to go down that proverbial hill. First and foremost, a wheelchair that has top speed of 70 mph with no seat belt, an ashtray and a beer can holder and a side car for Hank Jr.

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