I do hope you have to use one section of this chapter, however. It’s about taking care of a golden oldster. All pet owners hate seeing the signs of aging in themselves or their pets. Yet, as the cliché goes, getting old is a whole lot better than the alternative. So don’Tip let a little gray on your dog’s muzzle depress you. Your sassy senior can enjoy a high quality of life for many years, and this chapter helps you keep him in super shape.
Finally, I discuss the most painful fact of life: death. Losing a precious pet is heartbreaking enough without having to make sudden decisions, so I discuss options such as euthanasia and different methods of caring for the body. I also include some info on the stages of grief and healing.
Some problems go away on their own, but your Chi needs medical attention if any issue continues longer than 24 hours. If your Chihuahua has any of the following symptoms, watch him carefully:
To take your Chi’s temperature, use a rectal thermometer with a rounded end. Shake it down below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, smear it with petroleum jelly, and insert it carefully between 1 ƒ 1/2 inches. Talk soothingly while holding him firmly, in a standing position, for two minutes (don’t let him sit). Remove the thermometer and check the reading. Disinfect the thermometer before putting it away.
If your little Pepe has any of the following problems, call your vet immediately and explain the symptoms in detail. You’ll probably need a same-day appointment:
A real emergency is a situation so scary that your Chihuahua needs the attention of your vet or veterinary hospital immediately — no matter if it’s Sunday, New Year’s Eve, or three o’clock in the morning. The following lists outline the many emergency situations you may encounter; for more on handling these issues, see the following section.
Handling Serious Issues: First Aid and Transportation
Emergency situations demand the service of a veterinarian ASAP. In the meantime, handling your Chihuahua properly until he’s in the hands of a pro is important. Keeping calm is the hardest part. If a wave of panic doesn’t rush over you when you first see your sick or injured pet, you’re stronger than I am. But panic won’t help him, so take a deep breath and resolve to stay calm and think straight. Then get to work.
If your Chi has an emergency, call your veterinary clinic (or its emergency number) immediately and tell the receptionist (or whoever answers the phone) what happened. That way, the clinic can prepare for his arrival. Then give him first aid and transport him to the clinic. The following sections address this process with various emergency situations.
Unless the clinic gives you other instructions for transporting your Chihuahua, put him in his crate with a lot of clean, soft bedding, secure the crate in your vehicle so it won’t slide or roll, and drive to the clinic. Note: Be careful when handling a dog that’s in pain or panicking. He will bite.
If you suspect that your Chi has been poisoned by ingesting or inhaling poison, absorbing a toxic substance through the skin, or by injection (snake, scorpion, or spider bite), get professional help immediately. If you’re far from a vet, call the National Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 900-680-0000. The fee is charged over the phone.
Use a pressure bandage (not a tourniquet) to control heavy bleeding or blood spurting from any part of your dog’s body. It’s best if you have a helper so one person can keep the pressure bandage on your Chi while the other drives to the clinic.
If you have two people, follow these steps:
1. With clean hands, apply direct pressure to the wound by holding a gauze pad firmly against it for 30 seconds.
2. If bleeding continues, apply a second gauze pad on top of the first and continue applying pressure.
3. Wrap your Chi in a clean towel, and with one person carrying him and holding the gauze pad(s) in place, go to the veterinary clinic.
If you don’t have a helper, follow these steps:
1. Wrap a wide adhesive bandage around the wound and the gauze pad.
2. Put your Chi in his crate with a towel or blanket around him.
3. Secure the crate in your vehicle so it won’t slide or roll and head for the clinic.
If the clinic is many miles away and the adhesive bandage is around one of his legs, stop and check the foot below the bandage after half an hour. If it’s swollen or cold, loosen the bandage but leave the gauze pad in place.
Resist the urge to clean or wipe a wound while it’s still bleeding. Stopping the bleeding is your first priority, and cleaning the wound often makes it bleed even harder.
If your Chihuahua paws at his mouth, drools, seems unable to close his mouth, coughs, tries to vomit, strains for breath by stretching his head and neck, or appears frantic, he may be choking.
If he’s getting enough air to sustain himself, put him in his crate and take him to the clinic immediately. If he appears on the verge of passing out or if his tongue is turning blue, follow these steps:
1. Wedge something (the handle of a small screwdriver works well) between the top and bottom molars on one side of his mouth to keep it open.
2. Use a flashlight or put him under good lighting and look into his mouth and down his throat.
3. Pull his tongue straight (careful, he may try to bite) to see if the offending object is on top of it.
4. If you find the problem, remove it with your fingers or a pair of long-nosed pliers.
5. If all else fails (you can see the wedged object but your Chi can’t catch his breath), hold him upside down by his hind legs and shake him (or pat him on the back if you have a helper to hold him).
With luck, that will dislodge the object so he can breathe again. Visit the vet anyway. Your Chi just suffered a major trauma. (If you can’t see the object, follow the instruction in the next section.)
Can’t catch breath
If your Chihuahua is gasping for air, his tongue is turning blue, his breathing is loud and labored, or he’s not breathing at all, you don’t have a second to spare. If he’s getting enough air to sustain himself, transport him to the vet immediately in his crate. But if he isn’t breathing, start mouth-to-nose resuscitation right away. Here’s how:
1. First try the methods recommended in the preceding “Choking” section.
2. If he still isn’t breathing, lay him on his right side on a table. Close his mouth and tilt his head back.
3. Keeping his mouth closed, place your open mouth over his nose (you can do it through a handkerchief if you prefer) and breathe five or six shallow (short) breaths into it.
Of course you’re terrified, but try to control your breathing. Your dog is small, so he doesn’t have much lung capacity. If he starts breathing, you’ve saved his life. Now take him to the vet for observation.
4. If he still isn’t breathing, keep giving him mouth-to-nose resuscitation. Try to give him approximately 20 shallow breaths per minute.
Keep trying for a full ten minutes. When he starts breathing by himself, go to the clinic. If breathing doesn’t resume by then, he’s probably dead, but at least you know you did everything possible to help him.
When treating and transporting a dog with a broken leg (or any broken bone), your job is to get him to the clinic without making the injury any worse on the way. Steady the limb (without pulling on it) by wrapping absorbent cotton around the entire leg. Then use gauze bandage, held in place with adhesive, to keep the leg from moving during transport.
Symptoms of heatstroke include rapid or heavy breathing, a bright red mouth and tongue, thick saliva, unsteadiness (possibly falling over), diarrhea, vomiting, a hot and dry nose with legs and ears hot to the touch, and complete collapse — often combined with glassy eyes and gray lips.
Dogs don’t sweat. The only way they can regulate their body temperature is by panting.
To save your Chihuahua during a case of heatstroke, you must start cooling him immediately — even before you call the clinic:
1. Take him to a shady or air-conditioned place.
2. Soak a towel in cool (not ice) water, wring it out, and apply cold compresses to his belly and groin.
3. Lay the cool towel on his back and gently wet his head with it.
4. Let him drink a small amount of cool water at intervals — not all he wants at one time.
If he’s too weak to drink, wipe the inside of his mouth with the water.
5. Call the clinic, put the cold, wet towel in the bottom of his crate, and take him to the vet.
Although most emergencies are the result of bad luck rather than bad management, heatstroke is absolutely preventable. Don’t overexert your Chi on a muggy day or leave him alone inside your vehicle. The temperature inside a car or truck, even one parked in the shade, usually is 25 degrees hotter than outside the vehicle. Every year, hundreds of pets die from being left alone in parked vehicles for just a few minutes.
Reviewing Veterinary Issues Specific to Chihuahuas
Although Chihuahuas have fewer genetic defects than many breeds (maybe because so many breeders try hard to eliminate problems), no breed is perfect. In the following sections, I present some idiosyncrasies — a few serious issues but most not — that are sometimes seen in Chihuahuas and other Toy breeds.
Subluxation of the patella
Subluxation of the patella, or luxating patella, is a relatively common problem in small breeds and some large ones as well. In dog lingo, this defect is called “slipped stifles” or “loose kneecaps.” When it occurs, the kneecap (we’re talking about the rear legs) slips out of its groove — sometimes often and sometimes rarely, depending on the severity of the problem. If your dog is unlucky enough to have his kneecaps slip often, surgery may be the solution. A dog with a mild case can live a normal life, kind of like a person with a trick knee.
Hypoglycemia refers to low blood sugar and is a common problem in young Toy puppies. Most of them grow out of it before they’re old enough to leave the breeders, but for a few, it’s a danger throughout their lives.
Symptoms of low blood sugar include a staggering gait, glassy eyes, and sometimes limpness or rigidity. If the dog doesn’t receive immediate help when the symptoms show, he can suffer seizures, unconsciousness, and, finally, death. Treatment involves putting some sugar in your dog’s mouth, calling your veterinarian, and heading for the clinic.
When you know that your dog has a tendency to develop hypoglycemia, you can prevent future attacks by changing his feeding schedule. Give small amounts of food several times a day and avoid sugary treats (check the ingredients before buying dog treats). Too much sugar in his food can put your Chi on a rollercoaster ride of sugar highs and lows instead of keeping his blood sugar nice and level. (For more on diet, head to Chapter What’s on the Chi Menu?.)
Collapsing trachea is a problem for Toy dogs of many breeds — mostly in dogs older than 5 years, but occasionally a puppy has it from birth. The symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, and exhaustion. To understand the condition, think of the trachea as a straw made of cartilage that carries air from the neck to the chest. When the cartilage collapses, breathing becomes difficult — kind of like sipping soda through a flattened straw.
Your vet can treat the condition with medication, but if you smoke, your Chi’s prognosis may be poor. Secondhand smoke is a proven contributing factor to the problem, and smoke tends to settle low, where a little dog’s nose is.
Heart murmurs are relatively uncommon in Chihuahuas. Thankfully, even those that have one usually have the functional type. As in people, that means they can be as active and athletic as they want and live long, normal lives. If your Chihuahua is unlucky enough to develop a severe murmur, your vet will detect it during his annual exam. Further tests, such as an ultrasound and an EKG, may be recommended, and your vet will discuss treatment options with you.
The Chihuahua’s molera (or fontanel) is considered a breed characteristic and not a condition or defect. Most Chihuahuas (80 to 90 percent) have a molera — a soft spot on the top of the head similar to a human baby’s soft spot. But unlike babies, most Chihuahuas don’t outgrow it. It usually shrinks as the dog matures and ends up between nickel- and dime-sized. Your Chi’s molera won’t be a problem as long as you’re gentle when petting or handling his head.
In rare cases, the molera remains quite large and can be a sign of a serious problem called hydrocephalus. The good news (for the worrier, I suppose) is that hydrocephalus has several other signs besides a larger-than-usual molera.
A dog with hydrocephalus (also called “water on the brain”) may have an unusually large head for his size caused by swelling. Other signs of this fatal condition are frequent falling, seizures, a lot of white showing in the eyes, an unsteady gait, and east-west eyes (the opposite of crossed eyes). A dog with this condition is in pain and won’t live long, so euthanasia is the humane solution (euthanasia is the medical term for a humane, vet-assisted death).
Going under anesthesia
The possibility that your dog may someday need anesthesia is one main reason why you need to choose a veterinarian who’s accomplished in treating Toy dogs (see Chapter Visiting the Vet
). Although deaths from anesthesia are rare and are usually the result of an allergic reaction, the use of a sedative is potentially dangerous. Your vet uses anesthesia only when necessary (before surgery, for example).
Prevention is the best course of action. Be sure to read about how to clean your Chihuahua’s teeth (see Chapter Grooming the Body Beautiful
) so that cleaning them under anesthesia won’t be necessary. And when your dog has
to go under anesthesia (during spaying or neutering, for example), ask your vet if any necessary dental work (such as pulling impacted baby teeth) can be done at the same time.
Be sure your vet uses one of the modern gas anesthetics. They’re much safer than the old-fashioned intravenous products. The most modern gas is Sevoflurane.
Watching those eyes
An eye injury certainly isn’t a “condition,” but because Chihuahuas have big eyes and live close to the floor, they’re prone to eye injuries. Put several drops of saline solution in your dog’s eye if an injury seems minor. That’s often all it takes to flush out a foreign object that was accidentally kicked up by someone’s shoe. If that doesn’t relieve the problem or if the injury appears more serious, take your Chi to the vet right away.
Keeping Your Senior Sassy
Oh no! Your Pepe is getting gray hairs. Even though he’s healthy, rambunctious, and still in his prime, seeing the first signs of aging is scary. But it doesn’t have to be. Keeping your oldster healthy and happy isn’t hard at all. If you’re lucky enough to share your life with a golden oldie, you can help him stay feisty by keeping his infirmities in mind.
If you prefer homeopathic medicine for yourself, you may want to find out if it will help your Chihuahua. Excellent information is available at www.hpathy.com/veterinary/index.asp. Acupuncture also has been known to relieve many disorders — especially arthritis. You can read all about it at www.acupuncture.com/animals/dog.htm.
Aid for your aging dog
Dogs age much like humans do. Even if your Chi has led a worryfree life, one of the first signs that he’s becoming a senior is sprouting gray (white) hairs (see Figure 15-1). They appear first on his face, encircling his eyes and giving his muzzle a grizzled look. Don’t let them spook you. Chances are your Chihuahua will have gray hairs for several years before feeling the first creaky joint of old age.
Other signs of aging include dental problems, including the loss of teeth. Eventually, your Chi may no longer be able to crunch his kibble (dry food). One solution is to soften it by soaking it in warm water for several minutes and mixing it with canned meat. If he develops kidney trouble (or other organic or allergic problems), your veterinarian can prescribe an easily chewed food made especially to ease such difficulties.
While recovering from an accident or illness or when suffering the dental problems that may come with old age, your Chihuahua may welcome baby food. You can find boxes of rice cereal and jars of strained meats in the baby-food section of the supermarket. A combination of rice cereal and strained meat (warmed slightly) may entice your dog to eat when nothing else works.
Older dogs often are less tolerant of cold than even puppies are, so be sure that
- Your senior Chi has a warm sweater for outings.
- You keep him away from drafts.
- You put an extra baby blanket in his bed.
And speaking of his bed, he may start spending more time in it, preferring an afternoon nap to a brisk walk. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “use it or lose it,” and that advice applies to dogs as well as people. An older Chi still needs his exercise, although you shouldn’t expect him to take part in strenuous activities. Make your walks together leisurely rather than lively, and when playing indoor exercise games (see Chapters Establishing Good Behavior and Manners
and Training Your Chi for Canine Events, Tricks, and for Show
), don’t be surprised if he shuffles rather than speeds through the house!
No matter what speed your Chi chooses, playing helps him stay mentally sharp and keeps his muscles oiled, too. Not only that, but exercise helps him avoid obesity — a serious health problem in older dogs.
Aching joints and other signs of aging
Arthritis often attacks older dogs, and although nothing cures it, your veterinarian may be able to provide relief. Some ancient Chihuahuas may not have severe enough cases to require medicine, but they may need a little more help at home. If your Chi can’t jump on and off the sofa anymore, lift him up and down. Same with walking the stairs. And if he can’t reach his traditional easy chair he sits in when he’s home alone, make sure that he has a place to nap and stay warm while you’re away. Either build (or buy) a ramp so he can reach his favorite spot or place a doggie bed by it for comfort.
If your Chi were an older human, he would need bifocals and a hearing aid. The problem is, this equipment isn’t made for dogs. So if your Chi always came when you called him but he suddenly starts to ignore you, chances are he has a hearing (not a behavior) problem. And if he was on the same elimination schedule for a dozen years and then starts waking you up at 4 a.m. to take him outside, he’s not just looking for attention.
Your Chi may become a crotchety old codger, too, detesting even minor changes and become unwilling to make new friends (perhaps because of failing senses or twinges of arthritis). Report sudden changes in routine and disposition to your vet. Many problems can be relieved. Others can’t, and some of them probably bother you more than they bother your Chi. After all, dogs don’t agonize over the signs of aging like people do. As long as your Pepe still enjoys life and isn’t suffering severe pain, he’ll be happy as long as you love him.
The branch of medicine called geriatrics treats problems peculiar to aging; gerontology is the study of aging in people or their pets.
Coping with the Death of a Pet
Owners often know in advance when death is threatening their pets, but sometimes dogs die without warning, leaving owners saddened and shocked. Complicating the process are the decisions you may have to make concerning euthanasia and a final resting place. Understanding your options in advance may make things a little easier. I hope this section will help you with your planning and grief.
Is euthanasia ever the best ending?
Euthanasia is the most humane ending if your Chihuahua is in severe and constant pain with no hope of recovery. It consists of a lethal dose of a strong anesthetic, humanely administered by your vet. The injection puts your dog to sleep instantly and stops his heart. Only you can decide when the time is right, but it won’t be as hard as you think. Trust your instincts and what your dog is showing you. These factors tell you when ending your dog’s misery is the most merciful thing you can do for him.
After you make that painful decision and make your final trip to the vet, the receptionist will ask if you want to leave your dog or stay with him during the procedure. Staying may be harder on you in the short run, but it’s best for most people in the long run. Take care of all the paperwork first so you won’t have to handle it through your tears. Then hold your Chi in your loving arms while the vet administers the injection. That way you’ll know for sure that your dog didn’t suffer, and he’ll die peacefully, nestled against your chest.
Do you ever get over it? Well, no. You’ll probably always miss your Pepe. But someday you’ll be able to talk about his antics without a tear in your eye or a catch in your throat. Instead, you’ll smile as you relate some of your favorite Pepe stories. And you’ll know that the good times you had together will never be gone. They’ll always remain in your mental bank of happy memories.
Handling your dog’s body
Many people choose to leave their departed pets’ bodies at the veterinary clinic. Usually the clinic notifies a service, which picks up the body and cremates it. Several dogs usually are cremated at the same time, and the cremains (ashes) are buried in the earth. Don’t be shy about asking your vet how he or she will dispose of the body. Some clinics have their own facilities for cremation, and others have different procedures.
Let him die while he’s living
One of the saddest sights I ever saw was an ancient Chihuahua named Sadie lying on her side in a puddle of urine, with her hind legs and tail soiled by feces. Sadie’s owner loved her too much to have her put down. When the owner had to spend a couple days in the hospital, she asked my friend to care for Sadie, warning her that the poor puppy (Sadie was 16) couldn’t stand up anymore and would have to be cleaned up and force fed. My friend asked me to come along on her first visit, and although we expected it to be bad, it was worse than we expected. We bathed and dried Sadie, cuddled her, pushed prescription pills down her throat, got some strained chicken down her throat the same way, gave her water from an eyedropper, and covered her with clean blankets. Through it all, Sadie’s expression remained blank. Her spirit was gone, leaving her miserable shell of a body behind. Please don’t love your dog so possessively that it makes you selfish. To paraphrase a Jimmy Buffet song, let him die while he’s living, not live when he’s dead.
Private cremation is another option. The ceremony may be handled at a pet cemetery, a private pet crematorium, or your veterinary clinic. You can keep your pet’s ashes in an urn, bury them, or scatter them in a place your pet loved.
Some people prefer to bury their dogs in their own yards. You can mark the spot with a beautiful perennial plant. This is an excellent option, provided that it’s legal in your area. If not, pet cemeteries offer burials, which can be as simple or as elegant as you choose (and can afford). Because not all pet cemeteries are created equal, look for one that’s neat, clean, and has been around for a long time.
Helping Yourself and Your Family Heal
Shock, disbelief, anger, alienation, denial, guilt, and depression are all stages of grief. Most people go through every one of them, although not always in that order. To help yourself through these painful stages, you need to
– Understand that mourning the loss of a beloved pet is natural. Your Chi wasn’t “just a dog.” He was your dog. You had a strong bond with him, and broken bonds cause broken hearts.
– Take time to mourn. Don’t tell yourself to “get over it” and then bury your grief so deep that it eats you up from the inside. No guidelines exist for working through the stages of grief. Some people need more time to mourn than others.
– Make a few changes in your habits and decor. Put your Chi’s bed, bowls, crate, and toys out of sight. Take his treats out of the cookie jar and his leash off the hat rack. Because walking him was probably one of the first things you did each morning, create a new morning routine.
– Talk about your feelings. Find an understanding ear — someone who also adored your Chi or who loves his or her own dog deeply — and discuss your feelings of loss. Many cities have support groups that help people through the pain of losing a pet. Ask your vet for a recommendation.
In the days that follow your Chi’s death, don’t be afraid to say that you miss him in front of your family. Encourage your kids to talk about their feelings, too. Look at pictures of him together and recount his hilarious escapades. Tell the kids (more than once) that he will always be part of them, because the good memories they have of him are theirs forever.
Sometimes sadness may sweep over you at work, and your co-workers may notice. If they ask you what’s wrong and you don’t want to talk about it, or you aren’t sure how they feel about pets, just tell them that you recently lost a good friend. After all, it’s the absolute truth.
– Read a book about pet loss.
– Give your other pets extra attention.
– Consider getting another dog. No, not a replacement. It’s impossible to replace your Chi because he was an individual and no other dog will be just like him. But you can love other dogs, as long as you don’t expect them to act like your Pepe. If you think you’ll have a problem with that, you can buy a different color Chihuahua or a different breed entirely. That will help you learn to love your new dog’s unique personality.
Also, be sure to tell your children that Pepe can’t be replaced, but that learning to love another dog is okay. In fact, some say the greatest honor you can give your dog is to love another of his kind.
If your Chihuahua’s death was preventable, forgive yourself but learn from the experience. Maybe you didn’t feel up to walking him one morning, so you turned him loose “just that one time” and he ran in front of a car. Or maybe you lost track of when his booster vaccination was due and he caught a deadly disease. If you contributed to his death, you’re probably beating yourself up with guilt. But that won’t bring him back. Instead, face what you did, learn from it, and go on. Give his death meaning by resolving never to make that mistake again. After all, no one is a perfect pet owner. Pet owners are just people who love their dogs but are occasionally prone to poor judgment.
Helping your spouse and your children cope with the loss of a pet can be soothing to you at the same time. One of the ways families come to terms with the finality of their situations (and then go on) is by combining their efforts and creating memorial ceremonies for their dead dogs. You can hold a ceremony regardless of whether you have remains to scatter or a body to bury, and you can perform the ceremony indoors if you don’t have a yard.
Explain the ceremony to your family as a celebration of your Chihuahua’s life and all the joy he brought to your family. Ask each family member to think of why they loved your dog or something funny that he did so they can tell it during the ceremony. (Youngsters who have a problem expressing themselves may want to begin a contribution with “Thanks, Pepe, for . . .”) Before the ceremony, the family may want to go out together and choose a plant (indoor or outdoor, depending on the situation) to grow in your Chi’s memory.
Never use a pet’s death to make a point to your children. Even if you had to nag little Julie when it was her turn to walk your Chi, resist forever any urge to say something like, “If you hadn’t made him wait so long to go potty, he may not have had kidney failure.” Grieving kids need compassion, not guilt.
by Jacqueline O’Neil