Managing your Aging Dog's Quality of Life

Senior hound dog lounging on the lawn with a friend
I'm standing at the counter of the North County Animal Shelter in San Diego paying for my dog's license when I hear a nearby cry. It's a puppy in one of the intake cages for new residents of the shelter. She's crying because standing right behind me is the boy who brought her in.

"Can I leave this for her," he says trying to avoid eye contact with his former pet. "She likes it." "It" is a rubber duck. The volunteer smiles and says that she'll make sure she gets it.

The dog, a young lab, less than 6 months old, is yelping away trying to paw it's way out of the cage. I offer to take the toy to the dog and the volunteer says it's OK and thanks me. She doesn't want the toy. She doesn't care to be pet. She wants to go home. Her home.

I ask the volunteer why the boy needed to leave the dog and she tells me that the dog is a return. She got a urinary tract infection and they couldn't pay for treatment.

Over a third of the cases that I've seen when researching material for where a dog was surrendered because of the owner's financial hardship. What the story above tells us is that this isn't a unique phenomenon to older dogs, however as a senior dog owner, you should recognize that just as we humans require extra care as we age, so do our canine companions.


Get out there with that old dog this spring

The birds are chirping, the baby rabbits are making their way out for the first time, and that old dog of mine is getting up a bit earlier warmed by the morning sun falling on his bed.

There's no better time to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer when the weather is getting warmer and drier.

Even light exercise will help your senior dog maintain their muscle tone, which in turn takes pressure of their ligaments and joints, which are supporting their old bones, allowing them to get around more... (You get the picture.) Your dog will let you know how far is far enough when walking, but if you have any doubts, check in with your veterinarian.

Concerned about arthritis?  Check out this post we did recently with Dr. Deb, DVM on working with your pooch through the achy times.

Now get out there and enjoy yourselves!

How to Properly Determine the Age of your Shelter Dog

You really want me to eat THAT?
Good for you, you've decided that you're going to get an older dog.

When you're talking to folks that are adopting dogs, you're going to get a wide variety of answers on their age based upon the adopters feelings and experience.

I've heard rescue organizations claim that a dog was younger than it probably was by several years in order to get the dog adopted to someone averse to taking on older pets. I've also heard them estimate higher to get the sympathy vote.

I've had the most luck in getting a more accurate age on dogs I've adopted or worked on adopting, by talking with folks with some veterinary experience. I've consistently heard a several age indicators, time and again:

  • Grey muzzle - The most easily identifiable indication of old age is the grey or silver muzzle that some dogs take on as they age. You might also find that at more advanced ages, the entire dog starts turning progressively more white.
  • Tooth wear - You've heard the old saying about looking a gift horse in the mouth. If you're interested in learning how old your dog really is, check out their choppers. I once adopted a dog that I was told was six, however after a visit to the vet and examination of his teeth, he was probably closer to ten given the extensive wear that they had seen. Several year later his (the dog's, not the vet's) teeth had worn down even further from regular use to the point that I had to get him softer treats.
  • Aches and pains - There are some dogs that are genetically predisposed to being more achy earlier in life, however a good indication that your dog's puppy days are behind her is that she's getting along a little slower, exhibit tremors after walking, or run with the infamous "bunny hop" (i.e., running with both rear legs together for better support.)
Your pooch's mileage may vary with any of these, and in general larger dogs age faster than smaller dogs, but knowing what to look for will help you better prepare for making your dog comfortable through its golden years.

Related Links

How to calculate your dog's age
Calculate Dog Age in Dog Years 

More from the 17th Annual Ugliest Dog Contest

As I mentioned in my last post, dogs and humans alike had a great time at the Ugliest Dog Contest this year. The "Best Costume" and "Looks the Most Like Their Dog" Contests were among my favorites.

Friend of, Teddy, chauffeured by our pal and recent interviewee, Larry Abgarian, had a lot of great comments thrown in his direction during the show (Teddy, not Larry) and had a fantastic time.

Teddy up on stage getting his hair fixed by Larry

Related Links
The 17th Annual Ugly Dog Contest

The Good, The Old, and the Ugly - The 17th Annual Ugly Dog Contest

Dog of all shapes, sizes, and breeds were out this weekend at the 17th Annual Ugly Dog Contest held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego, California. The festivities included a variety of contests, including: Best Looking Male, Best Looking Female, Best Trick, Looks Most Like Owner, Best Costume, and of course, The Most Ugly Dog.

Everyone had a great time and it was great to see the crowd out with their dogs either participating in the contests or cheering on their peers.


Hold the onions: The toxic effects of a common food on your pooch

If I'm eating a hamburger, it has onions.  There's no debate.

Red onions. Sweet vindalias sauteed in a little butter until they get that nice caramel color. It doesn't matter to me.

Unfortunately for Rusty, what's good for me, is not so good for him.

According to Dr. Jonathan Kreissler, DVM, raw, uncooked onions have chemicals in them that can cause "oxidative damage" to the red blood cells of our canine companions.  According to Dr. Mike Richards, DVM, it probably doesn't matter whether they are cooked or not.  Dogs should just not be indulging in onions.

As the chemicals in onions attack your dog's red blood cells they begin to alter them causing your dog to exhibit signs of fatigue (panting, getting tired quickly for no apparent reason), vomiting, diarrhea, vomiting, blood in the urine, and yellowing of eyes/skin/gums. Essentially it's inducing a form of anemia. This effect can take place immediately if enough onions are consumed or even over a period of time if your canine pal is just snacking on a little here and there.

The best thing that you can do for treatment is get your dog to the vet. They may induce vomiting, although most of the sources that I've researched suggest that transfusions are required. That's pretty scary, so keep an eye on that hamburger or salad when you turn to talk with your family or change that channel on the TV. While it might taste good, the effects of onions are your pooch can be severe.

Related links:

Photo By flavorrelish
Some Rights Reserved

Caring through the aches and pains: Managing your dog's arthritis

That old dog of yours may eventually get to the point in her life when it appears she's slowing down and taking time to enjoy the little things in life like an extra long nap, staring off into space, or waking up panting after apparently dreaming about chasing squirrels in her younger days.

Those symptoms might be nothing, but they could also be the first indications that your dog is experiencing pain. As I've had dogs who have gone through this, only to be diagnosed with arthritis, I wanted to get get the thoughts of an expert in the field to help we, as pet owners, do something to mitigate the effects.

Dr. Deborah Breitstein DVM (Dr. Deb) has been driven to be a veterinarian since she was eight years old when a vet saved the life of her cat after a car accident. Even through all of the pets and their humans that she has helped, she continues to train in advanced veterinary techniques every year, so I'm excited that she took some time out of her schedule to share some of her knowledge with us.

SP: What are some of the early indicators that your aging dog may have arthritis?
DD: Early indications of arthritis: problems going up or down stairs, jumping into a car/truck or onto furniture, problems bending neck down to retrieve treats or even eat food. 

Note: Dr. Deb has summarized all of the different ways to determine How to Tell If Your Dog is in Pain in a PDF file on her website.

SP: Are there different types of arthritis or are there other conditions which might lead you to believe that you're once spry dog has lost a step or two?

Pinning your favorite old dogs for others to see

Looking for a graphically engaging way of sharing your favorite pictures and websites?

Look no further than Pinterest! recently joined posting the following two pin-up boards:

  • Old Dogs of the Web - All of our favorite old dogs in one pin-up board. This board includes some of the best happy tails and dogs looking for a home that you'll find this side of The Matrix.
  • Woof - Funny pictures of dogs of all ages.

Like, this will be updated on a regular basis, so stop back often and feel free to re-pin, comment on, or like the pins that you like best.