Tips For Making a Senior Dog's Life Safe and Fun
We noticed Bentley was losing his hearing when he was 14 years old. At that time he could hear normal-volume sounds like a door closing or our voices, but but he couldn't tell where the sounds were coming from.
We've adapted to his hearing loss by talking louder and using some hand signals. We clap to get his attention or to get him to stand up, and point to where we want him to go. If he's too close and we want him to back up we move our hand from our body back over his head. He learned this when he could hear, and it is a useful signal. We get him to lie down by patting the floor in front of him.
At 15 years old, Bentley is nearly deaf and only responds to very loud or sharp noises (like a loud clap). He can hear a command if I loudly say "SIT", "BACK", or "POTTY". All these commands have very simple and distinct sounds, so I think he hears and understands them.
At this point we rely a lot on:
At 17 years old, his hearing is a little worse, but he still hears loud, sharp sounds. The hand signals don't work quite as well as they used to because of his "senior moments"
You could call it forgetfulness, doggy-dementia, or just plain dumb, but we prefer to think of it as goofy! The signs were fairly mild at 15 years, and have slowly gotten worse at 16 years old.
The most obvious signs of his brain aging are:
There's not much we can do about his senior moments other than change our expectations and how we respond. We are much more patient and observant when sending him potty. Sometimes we send him out to go and he forgets what he's supposed to be doing and just stands and sniffs the air or lays down. We clap to get his attention, or walk out to the lawn and pat him to get his attention, then point to the yard and say "potty" pretty loudly so he might hear us. I'm sure the neighbors have heard me very late at night shouting "go potty" 3 or 4 times to get him to remember why I sent him out there!
Bentley can't hear commands unless we yell them and even if he hears us, he may choose not to obey. So we are very observant of him if he's in the front yard with us and we make sure he doesn't take himself for a little walk or visit the neighbor's. If he starts to wander off, we stop what we're doing and bring him back home.
He forgets he's not supposed to join us at the dinner table, and begs for food more often. I suspect this is because his nose still works very well but his brain doesn't remember his training. We just ignore him or I take him away and tell him to lay down on his bed.
Of course there are times we get frustrated with his "senior moments", but we try to remember to be patient and adapt our expectations to his abilities.
At 17 years old the senior moments are more frequent, but with patience and encouragement we get Bentley to do what's needed.
At ~ 15 years old his hearing was pretty limited and the "senior moments" were getting more frequent. I think this also caused him to feel isolated or apprehensive about being away from us. Bentley is in the house with us after we come home from work, and he started following me everywhere. At first it wasn't all the time, but as time progressed, it has gotten to the point where I can't walk to the other side of the room without him trying to follow me. If I know I'm going to be in another room for a while, I let him follow. But if I'm just leaving for a minute I sometimes make him go lay down where he was. He's just not agile enough to turn quickly and it's gets dangerous trying to walk around & over him every time I try to walk somewhere. If I'm gone for more than about 30 seconds, he comes and finds me....and gets a big "you found me" pat. Oddly, he sleeps in his bed all night and stays in the yard all day. It's just when he's in the house and knows were home he has to be with one of us (mostly me, not his dad).
At 17 years old Bentley isn't my shadow quite as much, probably because he's sleeping more and it's more difficult for him to get up all the time to follow me. But if he's awake, he's usually following us around.
16 years old. We call it "slippage". Bentley's evening walk was "productive" in terms of him going poop. But now that his walks are very short, he often doesn't do his normal evening poop. Sometimes this results in a little poop slipping out while we're watching tv, or overnight. It's not a complete accident, just a single piece of poop that sneaks out! The vet confirmed our suspicions that Bentley doesn't feel everything that's going on back there. It's not a big deal, we just pick up the poop and clean the floor.
At 17 years old "slippage" happens more often - probably 4-5 times a week. We try to anticipate when he needs to go out, but our clocks aren't always in sync. It's also very hard for him to walk around the yard until he "feels" the urge to go, so even if we take him out to go potty, sometimes he doesn't feel the need, then comes back inside and a few minutes later something slips out. We just pick it up, flush it, wipe the floor with a Lysol disinfecting wipe, and move on. There's no point in getting upset about something no one has any control over.
Because he can't squat as easily as when he was younger, he squats lower to the ground or leans his body forward while pooping. This sometimes results in his fur getting dirty as he poops, so I trim the hair on the backs of his legs and the feathering on the underside of his tail so it doesn't get dirty. This also helps prevent poop from getting stuck in his fur when he's lying down and "slippage" happens.
At 15 years old, the newest change in our senior doggy's life is what I call "tinkle toes". Due to a combination of him not being able to keep his leg lifted while peeing, and his not feeling everything that's happening in his back end, he often pees on his back feet. In the back yard he usually he pees "girl style" with both hind legs on the ground and it's not a problem. But on his walks, he usually lifts his leg to leave "pee mail", then puts his leg down a little too early. Other times he isn't aware he's still peeing and he starts walking....while peeing....on his feet! When we get home I rinse his feet with the hose or wipe them with a baby wipe. At 17 years old he always pees "girl style" and if he starts walking before he's finished, he dribbles on his feet. I just wipe them with a baby wipe.
An untidy prepuce
There's no way to be "cute" about this, so I'll just use plain language and you may learn a new word. The prepuce is the the sheath of skin that covers a dog's penis. There's also hair covering this area, and at 16 years old Bentley is unable to reach his prepuce to lick it clean. This means urine and other fluids accumulate on the hair in that area and it gets very dirty and sticky. I Very Carefully trim the hair from his prepuce and trim the fur from his tummy that is long enough to get in the way of his urine stream. I also use a baby wipe to clean the area as needed.
At 16 years old, Bentley's vision is still pretty good, but it is impaired because his eyes have become cloudy. He has difficulty discriminating between similar-colored objects like the concrete step from the house to the concrete patio. Both are gray and it's difficult for him to see the step (see the 'Before' photos below). We put an outdoor doormat on the step to help him see the difference. We also covered the patio area with a large piece of inexpensive outdoor 'carpet', which prevents him from slipping on the concrete.
Bentley's arthritis became a problem when he was about 13 years old. Over the years his hips have become progressively weaker and less stable. At 15 years old he has difficulty walking more than a block, sometimes places his back feet incorrectly (knuckles under), stumbles, and his shoulders are also beginning to give him problems. Our vet said a dog's feet are pretty tough and the knuckling under shouldn't cause any damage to his feet. We just have to be careful he doesn't slip or get his toes caught in any cracks. He can not stand up if he's on a slippery surface. At 16 years old his shoulders are affected by arthritis too. At this point he can't "back up" any more, so we have to lead him forward and around to get him to 'back away". If he tries to back up, he usually ends up falling back on his butt, then turning his shoulders and trying to stand up....all a very exhausting and potentially dangerous situation for him.
He's been taking Rimadyl and cosequin since he was 13 years old. At 16-1/2 years the vet prescribed tramadol which is specifically to control pain. The tramadol helps Bentley a lot and he seems much more comfortable.
In Bentley's outdoor patio area, the area he's walking & turning around on most often is covered by outdoor 'carpet' so he doesn't slip on the smooth concrete. I purchased it at a warehouse store for about $30. His winter bed is made of 5-inch thick firm couch cushions with an old comforter on top. The entire area is protected by the deep eave of our house, so it never gets rained on. He likes his couch-cushion bed so much that he hasn't used the inside of his dog house for the last 2 winters. I suspect it's too hard for him to get in and out with his arthritic hips. We've kept the dog house there to help protect his bed from cold winter winds and blowing rain.
Summer 2008 - Bentley is 16 years old, and we've had to make additional modifications to his outdoor patio area to accommodate his weakening hips. He had difficulty using the single step out of the house, so we constructed longer and shorter steps that are easier for him to use. The new steps are long enough for him to stand on (42 inches long), and they are only 4-5 inches tall so he can "walk" up them instead of having to "bunny hop" his back legs onto the step. The stairs are plywood & 2x4 construction and I covered the plywood with more indoor/outdoor carpet. I spray painted the edges of the steps black so it would be easier for him to see. We placed plants at the edge of the upper step so he won't be tempted to try to jump off (or fall off). It took just a few days of "coaching" him in and out using his new steps until he got use to the feel of his new steps and remembered things have changed (that's a tough one for him and his senior brain).
Inside, we've covered all the wood floors with carpet runners or area rugs. It's far from stylish, but it allows him to walk safely. We've blocked off access to two room where the wood floors aren't covered.