- 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!
At What Age Is a Dachsie a Golden Oldie?
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.
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
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.
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.
– 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.
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.
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
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.
Remembering that old shouldn’t equal lazy
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.
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
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
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.
Grieving for your Dachsie
– 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.
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
– 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:
– 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.