Enjoying Your Senior Dachsie and Saying Goodbye

Love Dog

In This Chapter

  • Defining “senior”
  • Taking care of an older Dachsie
  • Watching for illness during the golden years
  • Coping with the loss of a pet

Whether your Dachsie has been your best friend for years or you’ve just adopted an older Dachshund, life with a senior Dachsie isn’t exactly like life with a puppy. Your senior won’t have quite the energy, the verve, or the capacity for destruction and mischief. On the other hand, life with a senior Dachsie isn’t as different as you may imagine. Some Dachsies act downright puppylike until the end!

Aging Dachshunds have many of the same challenges as other aging breeds — and a few unique challenges as well. You want your friend to enjoy maximum longevity, of course. Knowing what’s to come and taking a few precautionary measures now and later will help your Dachshund enjoy a long, healthy, happy life. This chapter is here to help. I also assist you in making the difficult euthanasia decision and coping with your loss after you say goodbye.

At What Age Is a Dachsie a Golden Oldie?

Different breeds become seniors at different ages, so just when should you consider your Dachshund a senior citizen? As you may know, dog longevity is largely based on size. Small dogs often live 14 to 16 years or longer, whereas the bigger breeds often live only half that long. Because Dachshunds are small, their longevity tends toward the high side (lucky for us owners); as long as yours is healthy, she will enjoy life to the fullest up until the very end.
But your Dachshund will begin to show signs of aging well before her final day. Dachshund owners would be wise to pay special attention to their pets’ health, behavior, and appetite starting somewhere around her 7th or 8th year. You can consider your 7-year-old Dachsie middle-aged, and your 8-year-old is just entering her golden years. This is the age when your Dachshund has fully matured and is heading into the second half of her life. You may not have to do anything different right away, but do pay attention. Your Dachshund’s chances of getting age-related diseases are now increasing.

Remember

Don’t be alarmed if your Dachshund starts to sprout gray hair around her 7th or 8th year. This is perfectly normal — it happens to the best of us — and is no indication of ill health.

Technical Stuff

The five most common diseases of aging in dogs are kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease — all conditions common to humans, too. Many aging dogs also develop arthritis and canine dementia, a neurological disease similar to Alzheimer’s. Ask your vet about the warning signs and symptoms for these age-related conditions so you can prepare and take action when appropriate.

Addressing a Senior Dachshund’s Care Needs

The good news is, when she has passed her 7th year of life, your Dachshund’s chance of developing canine intervertebral disc disease (CIDD) decreases (see Chapter Handling Dachshund Health Problems). The bad news is, her chance of developing other conditions — such as kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, and dementia — increases. Fortunately, many of these age-related conditions are treatable if caught in time.

Remember

Conditions like diabetes and liver and kidney disease often are, in the early stages, detectable only through a blood test. When your Dachshund starts showing symptoms, these diseases may be advanced and far less treatable.

Technical Stuff

Cataract is a general term often used to describe the lens of the eye gradually becoming opaque. It actually describes two separate conditions — one an age-related stiffening of the lens that causes a gradual loss of vision and a blue/white cloudiness deep in the eye.

This form usually begins around age 8 and becomes more prominent as the Dachshund gets older. It limits low-light vision but rarely leads to total blindness or the need for surgical lens replacement. True cataracts, however, are crystalline changes of the lens that happen rapidly with very obvious white alterations deep in the eye. This type can be associated with diabetes and can occur even in young dogs. It often leads to blindness but can be reversed with surgical lens replacement.
To help prevent age-related health problems, you can take some precautionary measures:

Take your Dachshund to the vet for a checkup every six months — or, at the very least, every year — after she turns 8 years old. Technically, you should take your pet to the vet once a year anyway, but many people don’t bother if their pets seem healthy. During the golden years, however, the regular vet visit is particularly critical for dogs. Only a vet can detect the diseases of aging that may not be readily apparent except through blood, urine, and heart tests. Be sure to report to your vet any changes in appetite, water consumption, bathroom habits, and behavior — all of which could signal health problems.

Tip

If you aren’t already doing so, begin a Dachshund diary in which you record all daily information about your Dachshund’s habits and behavior. Record what she ate, how much she drank, how much she exercised, what medications you gave her, and how she behaved. How was her mood? Later, when your vet asks you when certain changes first occurred, you’ll be able to answer with authority.

Be prepared for behavioral changes, and keep your Dachshund’s routine as regular as possible. Older dogs tend to become less flexible and more resentful about changes in routine, because changes can be confusing. Feed, walk, and take your Dachshund out at the same times each day. If your Dachshund’s vision or hearing declines, be sure to keep furniture and her food and water bowls in the same places so she doesn’t get disoriented.

Remember

If you have an older longhaired or wirehaired Dachshund, don’t yank at mats or strip hair too vigorously. Too much poking and pulling can irritate your older dog. But don’t eliminate grooming, either. Keep up the daily routine but be aware that your Dachshund may be more sensitive. A gentle touch, please! She’ll be comforted by the routine and your familiar touch. Frequent touching also will keep your pet prepared for more frequent vet visits and may alert you to skin or other changes.

What happens to your senior at the vet?

During a typical geriatric veterinary visit, your vet tests your Dachshund’s kidney and liver function, blood sugar level, hematacrit, and protein level. Your Dachshund may receive an electrocardiogram, and the vet will check for changes in weight; look for lumps, bumps, and skin problems; ask you about your Dachshund’s appetite and behavior; and take some blood.

If your Dachshund shows no signs of slowing down, don’t curb her exercise. If, on the other hand, she tires more easily or seems to be in pain when exercising, check with your vet and cut back on the length of your daily walks. But don’t cut them out altogether unless your vet advises you to do so. Older dogs need exercise to stay healthy and in good spirits.

Looking at the senior diet

When you browse the dog-food aisles of your local pet store or supermarket, you probably notice dog foods targeted for senior dogs. Does your aging Dachshund need a change in diet? As long as her health is fine, your Dachshund can continue on her regular diet for her entire life. In fact, switching your Dachshund’s diet away from the food she thrives on can actually be detrimental.
Some senior formulas are low in protein, but older dogs with healthy kidneys need protein in order to maintain muscle mass. Only dogs with kidney problems need to limit their protein intake; don’t limit it in your Dachshund’s diet just because she has reached middle age. If your vet tells you to limit your Dachshund’s protein intake due to a specific health problem and recommends a senior diet, fine. Otherwise, forget it.
Senior diets also are lower in calories and fat, which makes sense because older dogs often are less active than younger dogs, and because Dachshunds in particular are prone to obesity. An obese, aging dog has a greater chance of developing certain problems. But you don’t need to switch to a senior diet to decrease your Dachshund’s caloric intake if she has decreased her level of exercise. Simply feed her a little less or cut down on the treats.

Remember

Treats often are a real problem for older dogs because of how many owners give them. A treat may be only 30 calories, but if your Dachsie gets 10 a day, that’s 300 extra calories she takes in a day.

The bottom line when it comes to diet is that your healthy senior Dachsie is no different from the 4-year-old Dachsie down the street. Keep all things about your aging Dachshund’s life the same unless your vet instructs you to do otherwise.

Remembering that old shouldn’t equal lazy

An aging Dachshund may not be able to get around quite as quickly or spryly as she once did, but that doesn’t mean she won’t, or shouldn’t, try. Old dogs need to keep moving. If they don’t, they will experience diminished muscle tone. Moderate exercise helps keep arthritis symptoms in check and helps a Dachsie keep her weight down.

Warning!

Arthritis is common in older dogs, and if your Dachshund has experienced fenestration of her spinal column during disc surgery (see Chapter Handling Dachshund Health Problems), she may, upon aging, suffer some arthritis in her spine. Some Dachshunds also develop arthritis in their hips, shoulders, and/or leg joints. See your vet if your Dachshund appears to be in pain.

And note that although exercise shouldn’t be so vigorous that it causes your Dachshund discomfort, exercise is essential to keep arthritis symptoms at bay. In the advanced stages, your Dachshund may need to cease strenuous activity. Always follow your vet’s guidance.
Your older Dachshund may not show a single sign of slowing down. Age isn’t a disease. If your 10-year-old Dachsie races from room to room when you say “Walk?” and still scuttles eagerly through the park sniffing for squirrels, let her go for it! Dogs have a pretty good sense, in general, of how much movement they need and how much they can handle. Unless your dog has become lazy (because you haven’t kept her on a regular exercise schedule), her instincts should be sharp you can usually trust them. When it comes to exercise, age alone should have no bearing on how much your Dachshund can do.

Recognizing When Problems Aren’t Just “Old Age”

It’s easy to assume that if your senior dog is slowing down, becoming confused, or even occasionally yelping in pain, she’s simply experiencing symptoms due to old age. Aging, however, isn’t a disease. If your Dachshund displays any of the following signs or symptoms, contact your vet right away, because it isn’Tip just old age if your pet

Acts confused. This could be a sign of dementia — something dogs can develop just like people. Canine dementia is treatable.

Yelps in pain. This could be a sign of arthritis, disc disease, an injury, or any number of other maladies.

Loses her appetite or drastically increases her appetite for more than a day or two. Appetite changes could signal hypothyroidism (see Chapter Handling Dachshund Health Problems), liver disease, kidney disease, depression (itself a symptom of possible illness), or something else.

Suddenly increases her intake of water. Diabetes or kidney disease could be the culprit. Trouble urinating or excessive urination is a related warning sign. Increased water intake can also be a signal of other health problems that your vet can identify.

Quickly gains or loses weight. Weight gain or loss — especially if you can’t trace it directly to food intake — is a warning sign. Hypo- or hyperthyroidism could be the culprit, but weight changes can be a signal of many other problems, too.

Is excessively irritable. If your once-placid Dachshund is suddenly growling, nipping, biting, snarling, or bearing her teeth, she could be suffering from pain, confusion, dementia, or a combination of ailments.

Losing and Mourning Your Friend

No one with a beloved dog likes to think about the fact that dogs live much shorter lives than humans. Most of the time, humans will outlive their Dachshunds, and that means having to lose a friend.
Losing a pet is a hard passage, especially in our society where pets have become increasingly meaningful in our lives. Pet owners go to such lengths to make their pets happy and healthy. When we lose them, it’s heartbreaking.
In the following sections, I help you prepare for that time you and your Dachshund will someday face together.

Long live the dachshund

Amos and Archie, the Dachshunds that belonged to painter and pop-culture icon Andy Warhol, both outlived him. When Warhol died, a friend took the Dachshunds and cared for them until they died at the ripe old ages of 19 and 20.

Making the euthanasia decision

Perhaps the most difficult part of losing a pet is making the decision to euthanize. If your Dachshund is in severe pain and can’t be treated or is otherwise suffering, your vet may recommend euthanasia. Euthanasia typically involves administering a dose of a barbiturate, which is a drug commonly used as an anesthetic. The dose is sufficient to allow the heart and the breathing to come to a gradual, peaceful stop.
Veterinary medicine has advanced to the point where much of a pet’s suffering can be relieved. Some people choose to let their Dachshunds die naturally at home while treating pain and other symptoms. But in some cases, quality of life has diminished to the point that a pet owner believes his or her Dachshund really is ready to go. But how do you know for sure?
The decision is a tough one, and it’s all yours. Your vet can make a recommendation, but only you can decide. That puts an awful lot of power in your hands, and sometimes the only way to make the decision is to listen to what your Dachshund is telling and showing you — and to your heart.

Remember

If you do decide that euthanasia is the best, or only, option, don’t feel guilty. Sure, you’ll feel a little guilty. Who wouldn’t? This is a momentous decision. But remember that your Dachshund trusts you to do what’s best for her. Sometimes, you have to love them more to let them go.

If your Dachshund requires an extensive, costly medical treatment that you simply can’t afford, and you think your only option is euthanasia, consider contacting a local or national Dachshund rescue group (see Chapter Rescue Me! Adopting a Dachshund for contact information). Another person or even the rescue organization itself may be willing to adopt your Dachshund, pay for the surgery, and then place her into a good home. Surely this is a better option than euthanasia. (You can’t, however, expect a rescue organization to pay for the medical treatment and then return the Dachshund to you.)
Some people struggle with the euthanasia decision more than others. If you really aren’t sure what to do, wait a little longer until you are sure. Then, when it is time, if you can bear it, your Dachshund will feel safer and less stressed if you — the one she loves the most — are there to hold her, talk to her, and comfort her in her final moments.
Afterward, your veterinarian can advise you about burial, cremation, and other options. Sometimes, a memorial to your pet can help with the grieving process.

Grieving for your Dachsie

If you’ve ever known, loved, and lost a dog, you know how heartbreaking it can be. People don’t like to admit that they’re grieving over pets, but why not? Dogs are true companions to humans, and our society has evolved in such a way that many people consider their dogs to be members of their families. Of course you’ll be griefstricken when a member of your family passes away. It would be unnatural not to be saddened by such a loss.
Still, people feel silly. Who wants to admit to sobbing alone in a room because that warm body is no longer at your side? Yet people do it every day. Fortunately, more and more people are opening up about the grieving process as it applies to pets. You can even purchase sympathy cards for people who have lost pets. Such a gesture is usually appreciated far beyond the thank you that you may receive if you send one.
If you’re the grieving one, you can do some things to help yourself get through the process. Knowing a little about the stages of the grieving process may help. You’ll go through the following stages after your loss — the same stages that anyone who’s lost a loved one goes through:

Denial: At first, you won’t quite be able to believe or accept that your pet is gone. You may forget that she is gone and call for her or look for her — even prepare her food. This is a protective mechanism. Your mind is giving you a chance to adjust to the notion before experiencing the full weight of the grief. You may also experience this stage if your pet is very ill and you don’t want to admit to yourself that she probably won’Tip pull through.

Bargaining: This stage is more common in the human grieving process, but it can still happen with pets. You may make deals with yourself or with a higher power: “If she lives, I promise never to let her escape from the backyard again.” “If she pulls through the surgery, I’ll never yell at her again.”

Anger: This stage may surprise you. You aren’t angry at your pet, yet you feel abandoned. Sometimes anger manifests as guilt: “If only I hadn’t . . .” You may be angry at yourself, or you may blame someone else — a vet or another family member. Try not to let yourself get caught up in the guilt-andblame cycle. It doesn’t help; it will just make you feel worse.

Grief: After you’ve let go of your anger, the real grief sets in. You feel an overwhelming sadness. This is the time when you need support and someone to talk to. If you don’t have an understanding and sympathetic friend or family member, call a pet support hotline. Knowing you aren’t the only one who has ever felt this badly about the loss of a pet will help; even just talking about your pet will make you feel better. This is a tough stage, but you can make it through. (See the section on pet loss resources later in this chapter for more help.)

Resolution: When your grief begins to fade (it may never go away entirely), you’ll finally come to a resolution about the loss. Ending the grieving process doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten your beloved friend. It simply means that you’ll remember the good times more than the bad and that you’ll find a sense of peace and joy in the memory of your Dachshund. You’ll recognize that your Dachshund has left you more, in the form of memories and unconditional love, than she took with her. You were lucky to share part of your life with such a wonderful creature. At last, when you reach this final stage, you’ll feel lucky once again.

Tip

Holding some kind of memorial service can be of tremendous help. Formal or informal, a memorial service allows all who knew and loved your pet to come together and remember. Tears and laughter are common at such events, and the final feeling is often one of healing.

Utilizing pet-loss resources

Many excellent books and Web sites are there to help with the subject of pet loss and bereavement. Here are a few good ones I recommend:

– The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement is a nonprofit group of concerned people who are experienced and knowledgeable in the tender subject of pet death. Members are professional counselors as well as pet-loving people from all walks of life; they’re concerned with helping pet lovers cope with this intimate kind of loss. Anyone who’s genuinely interested in this subject is invited to join them. Write, call, or check out the Web site for chat groups and extensive resources:

P.O. Box 106
Brooklyn, NY 11230
718-382-0690
www.aplb.org(Web site)
aplb@aplb.org(e-mail)

The Loss of a Pet, a book by Wallace Sife, founder of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (Howell Book House).

– Pet Loss Grief Support at www.petloss.com. This nurturing site includes a Monday Pet Loss Candle Ceremony, tribute pages for pets, and poetry.

– The Pet Loss Web site, at www.findinfo.com/petloss.htm, offers articles about pet loss, online memorials, hotlines, counselors, discussion groups, pet memorial products, stories, and poetry, among other features.

– In Memory of Pets is an Internet pet loss cemetery at www.in-memory-of-pets.com.

– The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Grief Counseling services offers a list of pet-loss support hotlines. Look at the following link: www.avma.org/careforanimals/animatedjourneys/goodbyefriend/plhotlines.asp.

– Companion Animal Related Emotions’ (C.A.R.E.) Pet Loss Helpline — a service offered by the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine — helps people who are dealing with grief or anticipating a loss. You can call Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings between 7 and 9 p.m. Central time at the following number: 877-394-CARE (2273). You can also check out the Web site at www.cvm.uiuc.edu/CARE.

Most of all, remember that it’s okay to grieve for your lost pet. Millions of people understand and have been exactly where you are. You loved your Dachshund. Your Dachshund understood you. You’re lonely without your pet. Your grief is a sign of your love, and even if you feel you made mistakes as a caretaker and Dachshund companion (we all do), remember that your love made your Dachshund’s life better. Similarly, your Dachshund made your life richer and more amazing than it would’ve been without a Dachsie at your side.
by Eve Adamson

Comments on Facebook