Are you alone? Why not get a dog. Not a puppy, who will make you run around and exhaust you with the cleaning up and exercise. Think of a senior dog, one who is over 7 years old. One who needs you as much as you need him/her. Someone who will be sad when you leave and thrilled when you get back, several times a day. A senior dog just wants to stay clean, warm and safe with its owners. They bond quickly and work hard to be part of the new family. You will have saved a life and got yourself such a good companion that your loneliness will go.
Go slow when the dog comes home. Do not insist on handling him/her all the time. The dog needs time to get to discover the house and its inmates without being pushed. Let the dog find its own favourite place to sit or sleep. After taking the new dog for a tour of the house, settle down for some rest after all the “excitement.” Sleep is good and the chances are your new family member is exhausted. If you adopted the dog from a shelter, remember that he is coming from an extremely stressful and noisy place and in the quiet and safety of your home he may sleep almost continuously for the first few days. Unless there’s an immediate need, save any stressful activities like bathing or visiting the vet until after these first days when the dog has rested and adjusted.
Provide a safe spot for your dog. Put a thick and soft mattress for him because old animals, like old people, need something soft to lie on in a quiet corner where he can feel safe. Your newly adopted senior dog may watch you like a hawk for the first few days. He is learning about you, so let him enjoy feeling safe while he learns the household sounds and routines. As he becomes more relaxed you’ll find he wants to join you during your activities, and may readily follow the lead of any other dogs in the household. The dog will take at least a week to adjust and he will seem dull during this time. Usually after this first week, the real dog starts to emerge. Stay as neutral as possible during this time, stick to routine, and don’t coddle him/her overmuch.
If you know what he ate before, continue with that while you slowly offer the food that you want him to eat. Going from a poor quality diet to a high quality diet can be very disruptive to the digestive system so mix the old and the new foods together for at least a week. Mixing in a little plain cooked rice for the first few days is helpful to keep the food bland and gentle to the digestive tract. If he refuses food, don’t panic. A day or two without eating won’t hurt and is a normal reaction to stress.
Older dogs need more protein. Paneer, soya, dahi. The more appropriate the food, the more you save on veterinary bills! Poor diets can result in a lack of coat quality, more frequent skin allergies, gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhoea and vomiting, and a loss of vitality. Obesity is another problem. Arthritis can be one of the first symptoms of a dog carrying excess pounds, with the joints becoming overstressed in supporting the extra weight. You may not want to see each rib but you should be able to feel them. So no table scraps, mithai, parathas, bread, omlettes, gravy, oil-rich meat. Very little fat intake, as this causes pancreatitis. Feed thrice a day but small meals. Try fresh vegetable snacks as treats if the dog will eat them: Sliced cucumber, carrots, apple slices are all healthy treats.
Plan for twice-a-year veterinary visits with a complete blood screening and urine analysis. A blood test is a fundamental tool which reveals problems long before you see any outward signs. An increased number of white blood cells could indicate the presence of a previously undetected infection. A low red blood cell count indicates anaemia which should be investigated with other tests. The urinalysis helps your veterinarian check for diabetes, abnormal amounts of protein in the urine, and infection in the urinary tract.
Dental care is really important in an older dog. Tartar build-up on teeth leads to inflamed and infected gums, or gingivitis. The bacteria from gingivitis affect all body systems. Many owners are afraid to put their old dog under anaesthesia for a dental procedure. Look for a clinic with modern machines and veterinary anaesthetics like propofol and sevoflurane to make the procedure safe and recovery fast.
Arthritis sets in by 5 or 6 years of age in giant breeds and later in small breeds. You might notice slowness in getting up, or stiffness and even limping for the first few steps in the morning or after a long nap. Have your dog checked by a veterinarian, especially if these symptoms appear suddenly. Your veterinarian can recommend joint supplements or prescribe daily pain medication to keep the dog comfortable.
Increased time spent sleeping is common with senior dogs. But he should still get regular exercise. It keeps muscles toned and minds clearer. Even a gentle walk every day will keep the muscles from atrophy, and the sights and smells will keep an old dog’s mind engaged in the world around him. Be sure to keep him on leash or within your sight if you take him to the park. Old dogs can easily become disoriented in unfamiliar areas.
Give your old dog a weekly massage. Not only will he/she love it, it will give you an opportunity to check for any abnormal lumps or tenderness. This is especially significant in dogs with longer coats, where abnormalities can be hidden in thick fur; gently rubbing and smoothing your fingertips over the fur, running your hands down the legs to the paws, and checking ears, neck, chest, and belly feels good and keeps you informed of anything out of the ordinary. As they age, some dogs are especially prone to developing lumps and warts which are usually benign.
Brush the coat. This will keep her skin healthy and stimulated. It will also reveal any problems with external parasites like fleas or ticks, or dry, flaky skin, which could mean the dog needs more dietary fat or a supplement of essential fatty acids.
Keep the nails trimmed as the dog is not going to walk enough to wear him down. Trimmed nails give the foot better contact with flooring. If you have smooth floors make the dog’s life easier with a rubber throw mat to make the walk easier. If you feed your dog on this kind of flooring, provide an easily washed bath mat for him/her to stand on so they can eat in relaxed comfort.
As dogs age it’s harder for them to “hold it” for long periods, and bathroom accidents may occur. This causes them physical and emotional distress as they try, and fail, to hold it. It’s essential to allow them increased opportunities to get outside. Aging dogs, specially females, may sometimes leak urine while they sleep. This can usually be remedied with a medication that helps with bladder control. .
Old dogs can learn new tricks, so find out which treat he likes best or what motivates him – attention, affection, toys, and go ahead and teach him what you want. Make the effort to keep your sweet old dog engaged in life, interacting with family members and the world around them, and cherish every fleeting moment in their too-short lives.
Maneka Sanjay Gandhi
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