Caring for Your Senior Bulldog

Love Dog
In This Chapter
  • Battling old age
  • Feeding sensibly for seniors
  • Revising the exercise schedule
  • Saying goodbye to your Bully

Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way that its animals are treated.” I think those are valuable words to live by. Think about how you may take care of your Bulldog as she grows up. Now think about the time, much farther down the road, when she becomes a senior dog. The methods of care are completely different.

How do you take care of your Bully when he becomes an elder of the dog world? Just like people, a senior dog can be active and happy, but adjustments may need to be made. This chapter covers all your needs for making your Bulldog’s senior years enjoyable.

Easing Your Bully into the Autumn Years

As your Bulldog ages, he may experience some of the same problems that aging humans face. When your dog reaches his seventh birthday, add a chemical blood screen test to his annual checkup. A geriatric profile done early may alert you and your veterinarian to a problem, and early detection means early treatment and a better chance to stop, or at least control, a problem.
An older dog may show signs of senility or cognitive dysfunction. Cognitive dysfunction is a degeneration of the brain and nervous system and is the equivalent of Alzheimer’s in people. Symptoms include
  • Withdrawing from interaction, and wanting less petting and attention
  • Not recognizing family members
  • Sleeping more during the day and less at night
  • Staring at walls or into space
  • Difficulty learning new commands, and ignoring known commands
  • Pacing or wandering aimlessly
  • Becoming lost in familiar places
  • Standing at the hinge side of the door
Talk to your veterinarian about drugs that can help your Bully be more aware and able to enjoy life more.

Dealing with hearing problems

Your Bulldog’s hearing may not be as acute as it once was. He may not hear you enter the house when you come home from work, or he may miss the rattle of his food bowl at dinner. The fact is that dogs of any breed can have deafness from a variety of causes:

Drug toxicity: The administration or application of a drug or chemical that either directly or indirectly destroys cochlear hair cells, resulting in hearing loss or even total deafness.

General anesthesia: May cause bilateral deafness from unknown causes. The body may push blood away from the cochlea during anesthesia to protect other critical organs, or pressure or jaw positioning may compress the arterial supply to the cochlea.

Noise trauma: Depending on the loudness, noise can produce temporary or permanent hearing loss. This type of hearing loss can be prevented in minor ways.

In response to loud sounds, tiny muscles in the middle ear contract to reduce sound transmission into the inner ear. However, percussive noise, such as occurs with gunfire and explosions, occurs too rapidly for the reflex to provide protection. The noise actually disrupts the hair cells and their support cells. If a ringing sensation occurs in your ears while you are with your Bulldog, damage is occurring in the ears of both you and your dog.

Otitis: Infections of the middle ear (otitis media) or inner ear (otitis interna). These infections can produce temporary or permanent deafness. After the infection ends, the otitis media may leave behind crud that blocks sound transmission to the inner ear. Your Bully’s body eventually clears the crud out, and hearing gradually improves. Otitis interna, if not quickly treated, produces permanent nerve deafness.

Presbycusis: Age-related hearing loss that is progressive and cannot be reversed. Your Bully’s hearing may in fact have been diminishing over time, but you may have been unaware because she compensated until she could no longer hear adequately to get by. The onset appears sudden, but the hearing loss has been progressive.

No matter what the cause of hearing loss in your senior Bully, make allowances for her diminished hearing. Don’t sneak up on her and startle her. Some suggestions for compensating for the loss include

– Stamping on the floor as you approach your dog; the vibrations alert her to your presence.

– Incorporate hand signals into your obedience commands (if you haven’t already done so). Hand signals help your Bulldog understand what you want her to do.

– Use a small flashlight, instead of a clicker, to act as a marker when teaching a new behavior. Use a flashlight that will light with a push of a button. Flashlights that require moving a switch will be too slow for training.

– Invest in a vibrator collar. You can use this to train your dog by making it vibrate when he does something right. Combine it with hand signals and treats. Or use it to mean “Someone is calling me.”

Remember

Always keep your dog on lead when you’re not in your fenced yard. Your deaf Bully won’t be able to hear cars or other dogs coming.

Your Bulldog may be old, but you can teach an old dog new tricks. (That adage just isn’t true.)

Keeping an eye on failing eyesight

Several diseases may cause blindness in a dog. If you suspect your Bulldog is having sight problems, take him to the vet to see what treatments are available. Some conditions are quite treatable, so it’s worth it to investigate them to help save your Bully’s eyesight. Here are the most common conditions:

– Dry eye, or Keratoconjunctivitis, is common in Bulldogs and is the result of inadequate tear production. It has the potential to blind, but it is easy to diagnose and responds favorably to treatment, which includes “artificial tears” and the drugs Cyclosporin and Tacrolimus.

– Corneal ulcers are caused by irritation to the eye, trauma to the eye, or inadequate tear production. Minor ulcers may heal without complication, but more serious ulcers can cause scarring of the cornea and can even lead to blindness. Signs of an ulcer including squinting, redness, discharge, and discoloration of the eye.

– A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. Cataracts give a cloudy, whitish-blue look to the eye. Your veterinarian will tell you whether your dog has a cataract or if the lens has a bluish look from normal aging, which does not affect vision.

– Glaucoma causes blindness when it produces elevated pressure within the eye. The amount of pressure will determine how quickly a dog will lose his sight. If the pressure change is caught early, medication can lower the pressure temporarily. Long term, only surgery can help, and even the surgery doesn’t always work.

– Progressive retinal atrophy is an inherited disease, but there is also a noninherited form called Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration. Both of these cause irreversible blindness and generally affects dogs between 6 and 8 years of age. Night vision goes first, and finally, the dog becomes totally blind.

Your Bully’s hearing may remain just fine, but if his eyesight fails, remember that he still has his nose and his old habits and patterns. If you have lived in the same house for several years, your Bully knows his way around. Make sure to keep his surroundings familiar to him:

-Keep the food and water bowls in the same place.

– Try not to wash the dog toys that have your Bully’s scent on them. (If the plush toys are filthy, you can make an exception.)

– Don’t rearrange the furniture.

– Don’t decide that this is the time to move his bed from one side of the room to the other.

– Keep the door to the basement shut so your Bully doesn’Tip accidentally tumble down the stairs.

– Use squeaky toys or balls with bells in them so your dog can find them.

– Add textures to the floor. Place a looped throw rug near the stairs or a sisal mat to mark the door to outside.

– Use scent as a marker. Put a drop of vanilla extract near food and water bowls. Spritz lavender essential oil at the top of stairs. Use another scent to mark a door.

Tip

Avoid lemon scent unless you want to keep your dog away, because most dogs don’t like the smell.

You can still take your Bully for walks on a lead along his regular route, but be alert for anything in your path, like a fallen branch or a child’s toy, that may cause your dog a problem.

Tip

Talk to your dog when you approach him, and remind others to do the same. Even the gentlest, most loving dog may snap if he’s frightened by an unexpected touch.

Treating arthritis

Dogs can get arthritis as they age, just as people can. A dose of aspirin may be all your dog needs to be comfortable, but sometimes he needs more. Rimadyl is the drug most often prescribed for arthritis and can give wonderful relief to your dog. But Rimadyl has its drawbacks. If your Bully has current liver problems, he should not take Rimadyl. Ask your veterinarian to run blood tests regularly to detect any liver problems as a result of the drug.
Keep your senior dog comfortable. Always keep your Bully cool, but now, in his older years, take a closer look at where he sleeps. Drafts may aggravate stiff muscles and arthritis, so your dog may feel the cold more. Give him the option of being able to warm up a bit. A bed made of layers gives your Bulldog the opportunity to shove aside bedding when he’s hot or to burrow under a towel or two if he’s cold.

Tip

Protect your Bully’s aged joints by adding some padding to his bed. If he’s always slept on three or four folded towels, put a foam pad on the bottom.

Adjusting the potty schedule

Sometimes older dogs may have a problem with incontinence, especially when they’re sleeping. If your dog is incontinent, make sure that the leaking is not a symptom of something more than just weakening muscles. A low-grade bladder infection may be the cause, in which case your veterinarian will prescribe an antibiotic. Your vet may run blood tests or take x-rays to rule out a tumor. If incontinence is a result of weakening muscles, your veterinarian can prescribe medications to stop or lessen the problem.
If your dog leaks urine in his sleep, make sure to:

– Add a plastic cover to the foam pad.

– Add a layer of fleece to the bedding. Liquids tend to go through fleece and keep your Bully dryer.

– Make sure that you wash your dog’s bedding whenever necessary to keep his resting place sanitary.

One way to help alleviate accidents is to make sure that your Bully goes outside regularly. A schedule of potty breaks three or four times a day when your dog was younger may not be enough now that he’s older. If you can, try to let your senior dog out every 4 hours. Everyone benefits from this increased schedule.

Keeping a beautiful smile

Continue to take good care of your dog’s teeth. If there’s an infection, an older dog may not be able to fight off the disease as easily as a younger dog. See Chapter Grooming Your Bulldog for information on Bulldog dental care.

Feeding a Sensible Senior Diet

As your Bulldog ages, he may slow physically. Even if he seems just as active, his metabolism may be slowing. As your Bully ages, his body may not be able to process the food he consumes efficiently. If you are feeding the regular quantity of food, pay attention to weight gain or loss. If either drastically occurs, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out any major health problems.

Remember

Talk to your veterinarian about the idea of senior food. Senior foods are formulated to provide fewer calories but still provide your dog the nutrients he needs.

Some veterinarians recommend specialty foods, such as Canine k/d by Hills Science Diet and Purina Veterinary Diets NF formula for the nutritional management of dogs with kidney disease because these foods are easier on the kidneys. A veterinarian may also recommend the addition of B vitamins, especially if your dog is urinating and drinking excessively. The B vitamins are known as energy vitamins because of their energy-creating traits. B vitamins are cofactors for a number of important biological processes:

– The breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose, which provides dogs energy

– The breakdown of fats and proteins, which aids the normal functioning of the nervous system; muscle tone in the stomach and intestinal tract; and healthy hair, skin, and eyes

– Maintaining a positive environment for neural regenerative efforts

– Water solubility so excess Vitamin B is eliminated in the urine

If you decide to leave your Bully on his regular food, you may choose to cut back the amount to bring his weight down or to maintain your Bully’s current weight. Your Bulldog may notice a significant cut in his food and wonder where the rest is.

Tip

Add canned pumpkin to your Bulldog’s food dish. He’ll love it, and the fiber makes him feel fuller without adding many calories. Just remember to use regular canned pumpkin and not canned pumpkin pie filling.

Exercising Your Older Bully

Bulldogs are not high on the list of canine athletes, but maybe you practice agility, show your dog, or compete in obedience. Your Bully may have a touch of arthritis setting in, and moving takes more effort. Pay attention to your dog’s reactions to various activities. If he seems stressed or gets tired faster than he used to, cut back.

You may need to slow down on agility with a senior dog, but you can continue to attend shows and competitions. Even these events can put a strain on your senior Bully, so look for signs of fatigue and stress in your dog. Just the stress of traveling to a show can take its toll on an older dog. People retire when they get older; it may be time to retire your Bulldog too.

Tip

Retirement shouldn’t mean the end of all physical activity, but taking a step back may mean that you need to shorten those times when your Bully is active. Here are some tips to keep your aging Bully happy:

Don’t skip dog shows. If your Bulldog loved to travel to dog shows and competitions, he may miss the traveling, even if he doesn’t have the stamina for a day at a show. Take him for shorter trips or to a show close to home. He can compete in smaller shows or just go to watch.

Continue to play games. If your dog has always enjoyed a game of fetch, don’t eliminate the game; just make it shorter.

Keep moving. Even if your dog has arthritis, moving is important. The movement keeps the muscles in shape and alleviates pain in the long run. If your daily walks have always been three times around the block, once around may now be all your Bully can comfortably manage. But at least you and your dog are still taking the time to walk together.

Experiment a little. If you have the time, and your normal routine used to be two walks a day, maybe you can now do three shorter walks each day.

Exercise doesn’t have a hard-and-fast rule. You need to understand your own dog and adjust to his needs.

Remember

Include your dog in as many activities as possible. Just because he slows down doesn’t mean he should be isolated. He may need your love and attention more than ever.

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

No matter how well you care for your aging Bully, a day comes when you have to say goodbye. We may wish that when the time comes for our dog to pass that he would just go quietly in his sleep to keep him from suffering even more, but unfortunately, that’s not usually the case.
Most dogs’ lives are ended by euthanasia — that is, the painless putting to death of your dog by your veterinarian. Deciding when that should happen is the hardest decision you’ll ever make as a dog owner. As hard as that decision is, euthanasia may also be the kindest thing you ever do for your dog. You have the power to end suffering and pain when there’s no longer any hope. The hard part is finding the line where no hope exists. You don’t want to wait too long but always wonder if it is too soon. It is a fine like to walk.

Handling grief

Grief is natural, and grieving over the loss of your Bully is natural too, so stay away from people who are likely to say, “It was only a dog.” Spend time with people who understand your loss and sympathize with you.
Grief is an individual emotion and is expressed many ways. Some people heal faster when they immediately get another dog; others need some time before they can welcome another canine pal. Some people stick with the same breed of dog; others want another dog but can’t bear the thought of having the same breed. Don’t let anyone talk you into anything you’re not ready for. You are the only one who knows what’s best for you.
Fortunately, in many communities support groups exist that can help you deal with the loss of a pet and the grief that accompanies that loss. Check with your local shelter or kennel club. Your YMCA or YWCA may offer sessions too. You may also talk to a clergyman or a counselor.
Sometimes, writing a letter to the deceased pet helps. The letter can be as short as “I loved you” or as long as needed. You may want to explain to your pet how you felt throughout his life or what it was like during the final stages of his illness. Whatever you write, the words help you deal with your loss.
Other avenues to memorialize your pet include ways to remember and celebrate your years together:
Memorials

Memorial marker. This marker can be as plain or as elaborate as you want. Even if you’ve had your pet cremated or buried elsewhere, a marker in the backyard can be a tribute to your dog.

Plant a tree or flowering shrub.Watching it grow helps you remember the life of your Bully.

Make a donation. A friend of mine has donated to the local humane society whenever I’ve lost a dog, and I like knowing that my friend cares. Most veterinary schools also accept memorial donations.

Check the Internet. You’ll find memorial sites where you can post your dog’s picture, along with information about him. A recommended site is The Senior Dogs Project at www.srdogs.com/Pages/loss.html.


Containers for ashes 

– Urns, boxes, and glass pendants. A variety of items exist to preserve your Bully’s ashes.

Synthetic gemstones. This jewelry item can be made from your pet’s ashes, and you can wear the item to remember your Bully every day.

Stored ashes. Depending on the regulations in your area, you may want your dog’s ashes buried with you. A friend of mine has left her dog’s ashes with a funeral home. When she dies, the ashes will be placed in her casket with her.

Other options include lockets with snips of your dog’s hair and the most expensive option of having your pet freeze-dried. In this process, the dog is posed in whatever position you have chosen and then is frozen, and the moisture is drawn out in a climate-controlled machine. This differs from taxidermy, in which the hide is stretched over an artificial form. For a Bulldog, the cost will run $3,000 to $5,000.

Technical Stuff

For euthanasia, most veterinarians use an overdose of the anesthetic pentobarbital. It is fast and painless.

Other dog owners may tell you that you know when it’s time to let your dog go — your dog “tells you” when it’s time. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t think you always know or that your dog always tells you, or, if he is telling you, that you always understand. Your Bully’s life is so short in comparison and we love our dogs so much that the final goodbye is not always easy to say.

Making preparations in case your Bulldog outlives you

A Bulldog’s life is so much shorter than a human’s that you may never even consider that your Bully could outlive you. Even if you have thought about dog care, you may just think that your family or friends will take care of your dog, but it’s best to make sure and to update your plans every year or two. Your best friend may have agreed to take your dog when she was single, but now that she’s married with two children, plus a job, the responsibility may not be as practical for her or her household as it once was. It’s not a bad idea to also have a backup plan.
Several years ago, I had a casual agreement with two other women that if anything happened to any one of us, the other two would take the dogs and either keep them or find good second homes for the dogs. Because we all had multiple dogs and homes and yards that would accommodate these animals, we thought the arrangement was perfect. Then one summer, we had a car accident, and all three of us were in the car.
We all survived but realized that our casual plan wasn’t enough. More recently, two of us have moved to smaller places and wouldn’t be able to keep extra dogs. My new plan includes a breeder friend who can easily take my two dogs, and I trust her to do what’s best for my dogs. As a backup, if an emergency occurred, I have another friend who would take my dogs. She has a different breed, but again, I trust her to do what’s best.
What’s best depends on the age of the Bulldog and his disposition. A young dog may go easily to another home, either directly or through a rescue agency. An older dog with health problems may not be so easy to deal with. If my older male can’t go back to his breeder to live out his life, I’d want him to be euthanized. No matter how much we like to think that our older dog will be adopted from a shelter, the cruel truth is that people want puppies. Take an older dog to a shelter, and he’ll spend his last days in a shelter run and not in a loving home.
Think about the cost of caring for your dog. Make provisions in your will so that the friend who gladly takes your dog has the resources to care for your dog as he ages. Sometimes, our dog is such a part of our life that we forget just how much work is involved. Make a list of all the special information that pertains to your Bully:
  • Allergies.
  • Feeding time, including quantity and brand of food.
  • Habits. If your Bulldog always curls up with you when you nap, write it down.
  • Information about the dog’s general health.
  • Likes and dislikes.
  • Medications, including vitamins and supplements.
  • Rapport with other dogs, cats, or children. If your dog wants to kill the neighbor’s cat, you should include that in your list.
  • Veterinarian’s phone number.
This list also comes in handy during temporary emergencies or as a guide for pet sitters, and if you write everything down when you’re calm and have the time, you won’t forget something important in the case of an emergency. See Chapter Nine Great Resources for Bulldog Owners for more information on resources for caring for your Bully when you can’t.
Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s condition, and pay attention to physical signs and to your dog’s quality of life. If you start to notice the following warning signs, the time has come to give your Bully the last gift you can give:
  • If he no longer enjoys his food
  • If he’s in constant pain
  • If the bad days outweigh the good
  • If he doesn’t always recognize his friends
  • If there’s no way to reverse any of the above
Talk to your veterinarian ahead of time about the procedures of euthanasia. Your veterinarian may give you the option to stay with your dog in his last moments. This decision is personal, and don’t let anyone tell you that one way is better than another. Some people simply can’t bear to be with their dog at the time of death. Others are by their Bully’s side until the final breath. I had a friend who loved and cared for her dogs for generation after generation, but she just couldn’t be there at the end. I stay with my dogs, offering whatever comfort I can. If illness hasn’t robbed my dog of his appetite, I feed him hot dogs just before the needle finds the vein. I am comforted to have, as a last memory, the image of my dog gulping down the delicious treats.
Ask about how they dispose of the body. Many veterinarians offer individual cremation and return the ashes to you if you want. Some offices have their own crematory; other locations send the bodies away. If you decide to bury your dog yourself, check your local health regulations to make sure that you can legally bury your Bully under his favorite tree.
In the end, where and how your dog is buried is less important than what you shared while the dog was alive.

“. . . For if the dog be well remembered, if sometimes she leaps through your dreams actual as in life, eyes kindling, laughing, begging, it matters not where that dog sleeps. On a hill where the wind is unrebuked and the trees are roaring, or beside a stream she knew in puppyhood, or somewhere in the flatness of a pastureland where most exhilarating cattle graze. It is one to a dog, and all one to you, and nothing is gained and nothing lost — if memory lives. But there is one best place to bury a dog.

“If you bury her in this spot, she will come to you when you call — come to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death, and down the well-remembered path and to your side again. And though you may call a dozen living dogs to heel, they shall not growl at her nor resent her coming, for she belongs there.

“People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bend by her footfall, who hear no whimper, people who have never really had a dog. Smile at them, for you shall know something that is hidden from them.

“The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of her master. . . .”

Ben Hur Lampman in The Oregonian, 1925
by Susan M.Ewing

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