Living with a senior dog is one of life’s greatest treasures. There is nothing more heartwarming than waking up next to a dog who knows everything about you – your routine, your ways, your thoughts. Yet it is also a bittersweet time, especially when you know that your trusted friend is quickly gaining on in years and may not have very long to live.
I have always considered this lockdown, which forced me to work from home, as a blessing in disguise. For all of its inconveniences, WFH has given me much more time with my dogs, especially my geriatric ones – a gift that allows me to enjoy their twilight years with them by my side 24/7.
Most vets say that the senior years begin at age 7, but in my experience, dogs only begin to slow down when they go past 10 years old.
In the past few months, I have come to the realization that many of my beloved dogs are no longer the youthful, hyperactive spitfires they used to be. They are much slower, plodding along behind their younger packmates, and spending more time sleeping. Their appetites may be good, but I no longer see the hankering for treats and the desire to steal anything and everything from the kitchen. Some of them are also beginning to show health issues that are associated with age.
The past few months, my mixed breed Chocnut has been struggling to go up the stairs. At nearly 12, he struggles with arthritis. This past week, his arthritis pains must have gotten worse. Each night, he would whine from the landing, seeking help so he can go up the stairs. He doesn’t really want us to carry him — frankly, none of us can probably manage to carry him given his weight – but simply wants to hear us give him encouraging words. He also wants us to make sure that there is no other dog that would emerge to block him. After he has whined a bit, he would eventually manage to clamber up the stairs, where I wait to tell him what a good boy he is.
Once upstairs, he would whine if there are dogs on his path. Somehow, he seems to have lost his navigation skills, and he could only cry and ask for help whenever he feels he is stuck – even if he can step aside and actually has a way out. A vet told me that senior dogs suffer from cognitive decline, the canine equivalent of dementia, and I surmise this is what Chocnut is going through.
My mixed breed Misty, who is in her teens, seemed to have found the font of eternal youth after she successfully battled cancer at age 7. Last week, she suddenly began to wobble and kept losing her balance. I made frantic calls to the vet, who initially thought she was having a seizure. Eventually, it was down to two possibilities – stroke or vestibular disease, also called old dog’s disease. I felt sad just listening to the name of her ailment.
Today, Misty has regained much of her strength and is eating anew, but continues to be unsteady on her left leg. Where once she traipsed around the house, suddenly, she could no longer go down the stairs, and is unable to climb our bed. Whenever I catch her gazing up the bed, I would try to carry her, but she struggles, as if the sensation of being carried is too much for her. And so, she settles on the floor by my bedside instead, allowing me to give her the pats she needs before she goes to sleep.
Also last week, my 11 year old mixed breed Panda suddenly peed some blood. My hale and hearty Panda, who is full of life and is the poster dog for good health, was suddenly straining as he peed. I felt defeated as I reached out to the vet. His was a simple case of UTI but it saddened me nonetheless. Although I knew my dogs were seniors, I had not foreseen the day that they would be showing age-related problems.
As I write this, my three geriatrics are on the floor of my bedroom, sleeping soundly. Panda’s feet are involuntarily moving, indicating that he is probably drifting off somewhere in dreamland, running after cats and hiding bones. His coat is lovely, his body muscular and strong. Chocnut is by my husband’s bedside, his head hidden under the bedside table. Misty is by my feet, seemingly comforted by the scent of my slippers that she is lying on. As I look at them, my heart is full.
With advances in veterinary care, I have the assurance that their ailments are manageable and I can help them get through these. Yet I also know that we may not have that much time left together, so all I can do is make sure that they feel nothing but comfort, security, and compassion in their twilight years –the least I can do for all the happiness and love they have brought to my life.