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Dogs Aging Gracefully

Solo 5-20-13
Solo 5-20-13

Aging has been on my mind lately.  My own, but especially that of dogs.  Several of my friends have lost their old, and not so old, dogs in the past few months.  As my own dog is almost 13 and dealing with several small health issues, I decided I needed help evaluating the care I was giving him.  He had a vet check-up, full blood work, and a visit to his DOM.  I also rented the Winding Down video by Dr. Karen Becker from BowWowFlix. This DVD was a treasure trove of useful information!  I was familiar with many aspects since I've been on a natural healthcare journey for years, but it was a good reminder of some things I had forgotten.  While specifically aimed at owners of geriatric animals, the wealth of information provided will help you make better choices while your pet is still young and help keep them healthy far into their senior years.  Here are a few highlights for you:

  • For optimum health dogs need a varied diet of fresh, whole foods.  While a species appropriate raw meat and bones diet is optimal for our dogs (and cats), even a prepared diet can be improved with the addition of raw foods.
  • They need regular access to clean air and pure water.  If there are smokers in your home, an air purifier will reduce your pet's exposure to second hand smoke.  Filtered or purified water is available in many forms for us and for our pets.
  • We need to reduce their exposure to toxins, chemicals, preservatives,  and other obstacles to good health.  Make informed choices about all vaccinations and the use of flea and heartworm products.
  • Our animals "break" at the weakest link.  So things that happen in their youth can give us an inkling of their weak spots - accident, injury, surgery, chronic infections, sensitive digestion, pulling on leash, jumping off furniture, chronic reactivity can all lead to weakening of the body in some way.  The more we recognize this, the sooner we can take steps to mitigate the damage with supplements, preventive care, and training.
  • Regular check-ups and a good relationship with your veterinarian are vital to your pet's health.
  • There are MANY complementary modalities that can also benefit your pet's health.  Acupuncture/acupressure, chiropractic, TTouch, massage, Healing Touch for Animals, flower essences, herbs, nutraceuticals, etc.
  • Most older animals can benefit from the addition of digestive enzymes, probiotics, anti-inflammatory supplements and acid reducers.  I chose the N-Zymes system for Solo.
  • Despite all that we may be able to do for our pets, we must also be respectful of their spirit and desires.  That may mean NOT adding another supplement, treatment, or surgery and accepting that they have a voice in deciding the length and quality of their life.
  • Dr. Becker suggests creating an "autumn file" for our animals - information that will help us when we reach the "fork in the road" with them.  If we pre-plan and make some decisions while they are well, it will save us feeling overwhelmed during a time of crisis.

You can get a copy of the Winding Down DVD for only $20. I went to order a copy for my library and found that they have a special offer available now - buy any book and get a free DVD.  So I ordered Dr. Becker's Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats and requested the Winding Down DVD.


He will be 13 on the 4th of July.  That's phenomenal for a Doberman!  The current average is, sadly, 8-10 and I lost 2 of my previous Dobes at about 8.  Solo is my first "old dog".  That has brought some added challenges but also many gifts.  He's incredibly sweet and funny now.  He sleeps more.  He has more lumps and bumps than you can count.  Some past issues with his liver and digestion continue to give him trouble at times - which leads to sleepless nights for both of us.  He has arthritis in his front feet and he is slowly losing muscle mass and strength.  Despite a life of raw foods, his teeth are wearing out.

The Winding Down DVD reminded me that much of this is "normal aging" and some of it is simply the by-product of his life.  He has always been an intense dog.  He over-reacts, worries, has trouble relaxing, and throws himself into his activities with abandon.  This kind of lifestyle takes its toll over time.  I've worked hard to moderate his intensity and have made great strides.  But that hasn't changed his basic nature.  So I accept him for who he is and we compromise on many things.

Puppies require a certain vigilance and lots of extra care and attention.  So it is at the other end of their life as well.  Fortunately for us, all that extra work is balanced with an emotional closeness and intensity that can't be duplicated.  If your pet is still in the spring or summer of their life, take some time to review your care plan.  Are you doing what you can to create a lifetime of health?  If, like mine, your pet is in their autumn stage, is there anything more you can do to provide them with, as Dr. Becker emphasizes, "comfort and relief"?  I'm doing my best.

How to Give Your Dog Pills

We all want our dogs to be forever healthy.  But things happen and sometimes we need to give our dogs pills.  While many dogs will just eat them with their food or wrapped in a treat, that is not always and option, especially for dogs that are suspicious and find a way to spit out the pills.  Here are some tips on how to teach your dog to accept pills and reduce the stress for all concerned.Lesson 1: Teach your dog or pup to catch a tossed treat.In many cases, unless the pill tastes bad, a treat catching dog can be tossed a pill... treat, treat, pill, treat, treat... and they never know they had a pill. You can start with dropping piece of popcorn. It falls slow enough for them to focus and adjust to catch it. Toss it up in the air first to give the dog more time. Once they master the mouth-eye coordination for that, try some soft lobs. My dogs have always done better catching the "line drive" throw over the lob, so give that a try too. It's all about timing ;-)

Lesson 2: The "drop the pill down the throat" technique. This is the one that gives people trouble, but it doesn't have to. If you MUST get the pill in the dog, this is the way to do it. No chance of it getting caught in their jowls or being spit out.

Start with forming your hand into a "U" shape and placing it gently over your dog's muzzle for just a moment. Many dogs don't care for this at first, so don't worry if they shake your hand off or move away. It helps to tell them exactly what you want to do first and reward their cooperation well. This is one instance where I really like the Bridge & Target method because the bridging helps the dog stay calm and focused. If you are right handed, have your dog sit in front of you facing to the right and slide your left hand over the muzzle.

Great. When your dog can be calm and relaxed for the hand over muzzle for 5 seconds, proceed to use your left thumb and index or middle finger to gently lift the dog's lips. Your hand just slides the lips up to expose the gums. There is a space just behind the canine teeth (the "fangs") where your finger will rest. Practice this step several times until your dog is comfortable having you raise his lips.

With your left hand over the muzzle, lips lifted and finger and thumb in the space behind the canine teeth, use your right hand to gently open the lower jaw. This works best if their nose is lifted slightly (you'll want to be able to see down their throat). Place the thumb of your right hand on the little teeth in the front and apply just a little pressure. Your are asking your pup to open his mouth. Do just a little at a time and reward all cooperation. Work to be able to open the mouth and look in for 5 seconds while the pup remains sitting.

So far, so good. Now you have a dog that will willingly let you look in their mouth and you keep rewarding this cooperation with treats. Now comes the hard part for you! Place a small treat in your right hand before your attempt to open your pup's mouth. This treat is going to be the "pill" you give your pup. Now open his mouth and drop the treat as far back in his throat as you can. Then close the lower jaw and stroke the underside of his throat until he swallows. Yeah! Reward with a few more treats. Often, that's all you need to do... drop in the pill, swallow, treats.

Lesson 3: The  advanced "push the pill down the throat" technique. Practice this step too just in case.  Rather than dropping the treat in the back of the throat, move your whole hand into the mouth space and place the treat at the back of the throat. Press your finger gently on the tongue near the back to trigger the swallowing. This way you know for sure the pill has gone down and there's no chance of them chewing it or spitting it out. Reward with treats and play.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but trust me, if your pup gets sick and need medicine, you will be glad your did this work. Solo took several supplements each day following his attack of pancreatitis. Most went in his food dish, where he gobbled them up. But some had to be given on an empty stomach. He knows the cue "get your pill" and will sit calmly on his own while I administer the pills. He doesn't fight it at all. Without having done this work it would take at least two people to force a pill down him and that would be incredibly stressful for us all. A little work as a puppy made this simple handling no big deal for him and he truly believes that everything I give him is a cookie.  :-)