Category Archives: Senior Dogs

Last month, we had to make the toughest decision a pet owner makes for our Sammy.  This post is about how we made the decision that it was time.

The last year has consisted of many ups and downs for Sammy. Her sight and hearing had diminished, her anxiety had increased, and she has had a hard time keeping weight on. But, she had still always been up for a walk, a game of ball, or a car ride. She still loved life despite the hardships that old age had caused.

A week or so before we had to say goodbye, she took a turn for the worse. But it wasn’t in any of the ways people said it would happen. I’ve been expecting this for months now, and have been trying to understand what to look for. Every book out there that discusses pet euthanasia focuses on very observable, physical problems. Many stories I have read online describe a horrible last few days of vomiting, diarrhea or a dog who cannot stand up. Or a dog whose mind is so far gone that they are aggressive. Or a dog who no longer wants to play, walk, or eat.

Sammy never experienced any of these things. And so I feel I need to share her story because she cannot be the only dog who left the world the way she did. And I want to let other pet owners know that you might never see these physical outcomes when it is time for you pet to leave this world.

Over the last year, Sammy has had more and more trouble sleeping through the night. This is common for older pets (and people!). She often got thirsty at 3 AM or needed to go potty. These were easy needs to meet and, like a newborn baby, you could tell you found what she needed because she stopped barking and was able to calm down and go back to sleep. Even though I was often getting up several times a night with her and I was often so so tired, I felt happy to have the honor of taking care of my old girl.

In the last few months though, there started to be nights where it seemed impossible to figure out what she needed. She would wake up and bark endlessly despite offers of water, food, potty breaks, petting, playing, night lights, complete darkness, thundershirts, sweaters, heated beds, elevated beds, extra meds, and so on. After several hours of barking she would sometimes calm down and go to sleep. These nights were brutal for me because I often got just a few hours of good sleep and even when Sam slept through the night I was always worried about her and never slept that well. But they were few and far between – maybe this happened twice a month. We would go to the vet for her regular acupuncture appointments and they seemed to help – she would be her normal self again for a few weeks before we started over. And remember, during all of this time she still loved to play, walk, and cuddle. She could get through a whole day with no incontinence most of the time and was mobile enough that she could do almost everything on her own (except our slippery inside steps – we’ve been carrying her for two years now after some scary slipping incidents).

But the night-time barking episodes became more frequent. We reached a point where she couldn’t sleep at all in our bedroom so Justin and I took turns sleeping on the couch with her downstairs. And then we reached a point where she stopped sleeping at night. She would bark almost all night long. She would sleep a few hours in the early morning and then I would try to keep her awake the rest of the day. I took her everywhere with me, I walked her extra, played with her extra trying to be sure she would be tired at night. Sometimes she would sleep for a few hours but she was always awake from about midnight until 4 or 5 AM.

Sammy never seemed relaxed – even though she still got plenty of joy from her daily activities. She was already on several anxiety meds and has been for 2 years or so. I have been reading about doggy dementia as much as possible and she never showed many of the signs – no walking in circles, no getting stuck behind furniture, no confusion about who me or Justin were. She often would get stuck on a rug, barking because she was afraid of the wooden floor. But this is something that has been going on for years and we’ve been able to work through it by purchasing tons of rugs!

One week, we encountered 4 nights in a row of her night-time barking episodes. Justin and I were both zombies from lack of sleep. Our anxiety was extremely high because we felt we couldn’t console or comfort her. The other pets in the house were just trying to stay out of the way, but were clearly stressed by the whole situation. Our cat, Cecil, would spend all night going from the couch with me to the bed with Justin and back – he hated the change in our routine. Dan spent most of his time in the front living room, avoiding Sammy’s space in the den. Our other cat, Ida, became glued to our laps, looking for comfort. We basically stopped eating dinner at home so that Justin and I could have an hour each day to talk with each other without Sammy barking in the background.

We had reached our capacity and came to the very difficult decision that it was time for Sammy. The quality of life for our whole household was not good. The amount of stress and anxiety that all of use were experiencing was not healthy. And despite Sammy’s eagerness to engage in life, she just couldn’t ever relax! Everyone had told me that I would know when it was time. I have to say, I never did know for sure. Sammy never reached the point where she couldn’t stand up. She never had terrible incontinence or endless vomiting. She never stopped getting excited to go for a walk. But Justin and I decided together that we didn’t want to wait for that to happen. If we could prevent Sammy from experiencing any of that, it was a gift we wanted to give her.

And so, we made the appointment with our beloved vet to let Sammy go.

Again, I want to share this in the hopes that it will provide courage to other pet owners who might be in this situation. For us, we reached a point where we could not provide Sammy with the care or quality of life that we wanted to. We reached a point of emotional fatigue. Caring for an elderly pet is stressful, and it is okay if that is a contributing factor in your decision to put your pet to sleep. For some reason in our society, it is harder to let go due to the mental health decline we experienced than it is when there is physical decline. But for Sammy, her mental health decline was probably just as stressful and unpleasant as a physical limitation.

She was the kind of dog that never stopped doing what she thought she should be doing unless you made her stop. When we lived in Texas and went to the dog park I would throw the Frisbee once or twice and then make her rest because it was HOT! She would take the Frisbee to every other person in the park to keep playing fetch. I would have to go get her and leash her to get her to leave. That was her attitude toward life – keep working until she was made to stop. She never quit doing anything on her own. And I believe that her enthusiasm for fetch and walks and car rides in those last weeks of her life was exactly the same thing. She wanted to keep doing it because she felt that she was supposed to. And she would never have stopped on her own. We had to help her by letting her go.

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Sammy’s Big 15th B-Day

Tuesday was Sammy’s 15th birthday!  Can you believe it?Sammy - 15th Birthday

She is doing pretty well, but definitely has her off days.  She sometimes is stiff, slips on the wood floors, barks for no real reason, and occasionally has accidents in the house.  BUT she also still loves to play fetch, go for long walks, cuddle at bedtime, and sleep at my feet all day long.

Here are some pictures from our birthday outing to the park:

Birthday Selfie

Birthday Kisses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best. Stick. Ever.Got it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And our recent trip to the beach:

Lovin' the Beach

And here she is in her usual sleeping spot:

Sammy Sound Asleep

 

Happy 15th Birthday Sammy!

Laura

Sammy’s Big Milestone

This weekend was a big milestone for Sammy. It has been 1 year since the weekend we thought she wouldn’t make it.

Last year, on Thanksgiving weekend, Sammy had a terrible episode of Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome.

It looked like she had had a stroke. She jumped up, panicked and ran around the room, then stumbled over and would not get up again.

Of course, it was a Sunday evening so we had to decide; take her to the emergency vet or try to get through the night. She didn’t seem to be in pain but rather just confused.

So, we waited and took her in to her regular vet first thing Monday. They said she either had a stroke  or brain tumor OR Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome. We could either assume it was a stroke/brain tumor and there was really not much we could do. Or we could wait to see if it was Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome. If it was, she would recover on her own.

She had all of the symptoms of Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome –

  • Couldn’t stand up
  • Had her head tilted at almost 180 degrees to the side
  • Her eyes racing back and forth (this is called nystagmus)
  • Was vomiting and had diarrhea
  • Then she wouldn’t eat

That was the big one – that she wouldn’t eat. She is a lean dog and I was very worried she would quickly lose the strength to heal.

But she was drinking lots of water, if you held it for her. And she didn’t seem to be in pain.

So we decided to wait and see how she would do. We took her home. We put her on a slew of medications, including probiotics, antibiotics, anti-nausea, two different pain medicines, herbal supplements to boost her digestive system, and later added an anti-acid because she still wasn’t eating.

She didn’t eat anything for a week. Not even a tiny taste of peanut butter. We tried everything. But she did continue to drink water. We had to carry her from her bed to the grass and back for potty breaks and I had to use a harness to help her stand up long enough to go potty.

We were starting to wonder if we had made the right decision or if she was going through something terrible that she didn’t need to. We had to go out of town for the weekend and contemplated skipping the trip. But then she ate a spoonful of peanut butter. Our dear friends took care of her for the weekend and she ate an entire jar of peanut butter. They hand fed her one bite of peanut butter at a time, probably constantly, all weekend!

By the time we got back she could sort of get up on her own and even walk a little bit. She fell over a lot though. She still had an extreme head tilt and her eyes were still racing a little bit. But she could sort of track toys and they would stop racing sometimes.

Sammy at the beginning of her battle with Vestibular Syndrome

Sammy at the beginning of her battle with Vestibular Syndrome

Sammy after about 3 weeks of Vestibular Syndrome - She wants to play!

Sammy after about 3 weeks of Vestibular Syndrome – She wants to play!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She gradually got stronger and we changed her diet from peanut butter to ground beef and rice or baby food. She did 3 rounds of acupuncture, 1 week a part (The results of this were amazing to me – she could move so much better afterwards, was so relaxed during it, and seemed to just smile after). By Christmas, she could get outside all by herself and would get up to come over for some attention sometimes even if she didn’t need a potty break. She was wagging her tail again.

She spent Christmas with my amazing in-laws. They cooked ground beef and rice for her three times a day and she started gaining back a little weight. By the end of her week-long stay with them, she would eat a little dog food mixed in.

But she still had quite the head tilt. We didn’t care. It didn’t bother her and we were just glad she was recovering so well.

Sammy at Christmas

Sammy before Christmas (Dec 15)

Sammy After Christmas (Jan 3)

Sammy After Christmas (Jan 3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did a final round of acupuncture and I began taking her for walks again every day. We started with flat routes and slowly worked in hills. We practiced her sits, downs, shake, and back up – trying to help her regain her strength and balance as much as possible.

By late spring, her head tilt was almost gone, but then her anxiety began. That is a whole other blog post but I truly believe it began because of her experience with vestibular syndrome.

Sam in May with a small head tilt

Sam in May with a small head tilt

Over the last 6 or 8 months she has continued to improve. We have her anxiety under control (mostly). She can play fetch and pretty much keep up with Dan. She can go on long walks again. She is a happy and pretty much healthy dog (for almost 15!).

We are so thankful and feel so lucky that our vet encouraged us to give Sammy a chance to recover. When we began to read about this syndrome online, we read a heartbreaking number or posts from people who thought their dog had a stroke and later realized it was probably just vestibular syndrome. But it was too late. They had already put their dog down, thinking they were in pain with no chance of recovery.

This post is long overdue, but I feel that every dog owner should be aware of vestibular syndrome. Know that is looks so scary, and it is a lot of work, but even a 14 year old dog can recover and return to a normal, happy life.

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Sammy on Thanksgiving this year – ready to play with lots to be thankful for!

If you would like more information about Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome, we found the article from “The Bark” to be most helpful:

http://www.thebark.com/content/idiopathic-or-old-dog-vestibular-disease

Old in Body, Young in Mind

This is my first time to participate in the Dog Agility Bloggers Event.  The topic today is “aging”.  My blog is young, but I thought this was the perfect chance to get involved as I have been thinking a lot about what is best for my aging dog lately.  Check out the other awesome posts at: http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/aging/

I am currently enjoying the companionship of my second “senior citizen” agility dog.  My sweet Sam is now 13 ½ and still loving life!  She was my first puppy and unlike my first dog, Libby, she was fast in the agility ring.  We had a wonderful time together in our competition days as I learned how manage her drive and speed, without slowing her down.  This is the dog I learned to do technical agility with – wraps and threadles and serpentines.  And she lives for it.

She still does.  Of course “agility” looks quite a bit different now.  At about 9 or 10, I realized that she needed to work on lower jumps and really could only practice for 15 minutes or so in a day. Now, we don’t even use a bar.  In fact she really never does more than one “jump” exercises and we don’t do any turning.  Just sending through the jump standard or calling her to me from a stay on the other side.  And after 5 minutes, she is exhausted!  But she loves to be included in the training and to practice “agility” and I love to work with her.  There is just something special about working with a dog you have been with for 13 years, a connection you can never have with a younger dog.

In fact, Libby followed the same pattern.  As she got older, I made obstacles easier and took away the complex handling, but I could never deny her a chance to practice agility.  Even when she was deaf, could hardly see, and had trouble standing for long periods of time; we practiced targeting.  Her expression lit up when we would do this.  Here is a video, just a few months before she passed at the age of 17.

As Sam has gotten older, she is slowing down.  She cannot jump well, she has trouble on the stairs, and she is terrified of hard wood floors.  So, we carry her up the stairs when needed, put rugs on the floor, and cuddle on the floor instead of the couch.  But she seems to have no idea that she is changing and I have made it a point to continue doing the activities she has always done; agility, other training, Frisbee, tug of war, walks, chasing her plastic bottles all across the room, and chewing or pouncing on her favorite bones.  All of these activities have changed to accommodate her physical needs.

I believe that this is one of the most important things you can do for an aging dog.  The mental exercise that our dogs get from their jobs is something that they can always enjoy and benefit from, even if we have to change the physical requirements or criteria to keep them safe and healthy.

 

Sam After Digging

Sam with a mouth full of dirt after digging in the countryside this summer.