Rocky, a cockapoo, joined our family 14 years ago. His mom was a black cocker spaniel and his dad was a miniature white poodle. His black eye made him stand out in a litter of 6 puppies. Most of his black hairs have turned grey. His fur is now wiry (it used to be baby-hair soft). Considered a member of our family, he was a great addition for us with his sweet, intelligent and obedient personality.
Over the last year or two, we have seen many changes. These changes became more noticeable when we got our new puppy, Berkeley, a Havanese. The differences between a younger dog and an older dog were quite striking. As anyone who has had a dog for a few years knows, these changes come on slowly. So, having a younger dog around really made them noticeable.
Rocky is considered a “senior” and as a medium-sized dog, his life span is expected to be between 14-16 years. He is showing signs of growing old and as an aging specialist (in humans), I see how time has affected him. I have never had a dog that lived to a natural old age, so this is my first experience with seeing it first hand.
The signs of aging for Rocky have been:
Decreased hearing (he has had many ear infections over the years, so I suspect this has contributed to his deafness). He can still hear loud claps and whistles, or other loud noises like his sister Berkeley barking right beside him. We have learned to use hand gestures and touches on his butt area or head to help guide him to where we want him to go. On runs with Cupp (his “dad”), he has to be on a leash now, as it is difficult to get his attention as he likes to wander off to sniff or go pee/poo.
Decreased eyesight. The vet said about a year ago that he was developing cataracts. This is very common in humans, too. We notice he can’t see that rabbit on the lawn as quickly as he used to. Or he may miss that treat that fell on the floor (his sister Berkeley is quicker to snatch it up so we have to watch that!)
Urinary incontinence. Rocky started having “accidents” and I looked up to see what “doggy diapers” there were. I learned about belly bands for male dogs and bought some for him (“Teamoy” brand on Amazon). We keep this on him most of the time, especially when he is sleeping. I observed that his accidents happened usually while he was sleeping. In humans, we call it “nocturnal enuresis.” The absorbent washable fabric band has velcro and goes around his waist area. I put a feminine napkin inside to catch the bulk of the liquid. He doesn’t mind wearing them and it is working out quite well. It took us some getting used to, as we would forget he was wearing the diaper and he would go outside with it on. He would go pee with it on! Our bad.
Coordination issues. Sometimes I will notice him stumble a bit, especially on stairs. He is more cautious now before he tries to climb up on things. His back end kind of “drags.” He takes a little more time getting around.
Prefers soft, canned dog food. We noticed he wasn’t eating his hard kibble, so we added some soft food to his kibble. This is more appealing to him, and we can get him to eat a lot more than if we hadn’t added the soft food to it. (His teeth are still good as far as we know. Many older dogs have issues with gums and teeth.)
Anxiety. Rocky has been showing signs of anxiety, especially in the mornings. On bad days, he will tremble, pant and shadow me (stay really close). I suspect he feels “out-of-sorts” with his declining senses (decreased hearing and vision) and he is very attached to me. He may sense that I am getting ready to go to work, therefore leaving him behind to fend for himself. I have been giving him 10:10 cannabis oil (THC/CBD) and a very small amount has been helping him settle. Marijuana can help people in many ways and it’s not just for “getting high.” I thought I’d give it a try and when I notice him having an “anxiety attack within”, I give him a very small dose of 10:10 and within 30-45 minutes, he is resting comfortably. This effect lasts about 3-4 hours. We may continue with this solution, or I may end up getting him a prescription for an anti-anxiety pill or something similar from the vet.
Growths, lumps, bumps, and warts. Rocky has many little sores and bumps all over his body. The vet said some of it could be cancer. He likes to lick these areas and we have tried using creams and ointments but he just licks it off. We could use a cone, but that seems to be a moot point because I believe these abnormalities on his skin aren’t going to heal. I suspect many more skin issues are to come. We try to gently redirect him from licking and it usually works.
Sleeping a lot. Rocky rarely plays with his toys anymore and tends to sleep a lot. He still enjoys walks and “running” beside Cupp when he is on his bike. When we are chilling, he prefers to be right beside me and part of his body cuddled up against us. He never used to be a cuddler, but now he enjoys touch more than ever. He will not sleep at night if he is not on our bed. I always said I didn’t want my dog sleeping on my bed, but he gets very anxious if he is not near us.
Shadowing me. Whenever I get up, Rocky gets up. He is usually right underfoot, and I am afraid I will kick him or trip over him. He seems to need the reassurance of having someone else be his eyes and ears for him. This is probably related to increased feelings of anxiety.
“Doggy dementia moments.” Sometimes Rocky will do strange things, like stand in the bathroom behind the door (lost perhaps?) or scratch on a door that is already open. One time he was staring at a bedroom dresser. Some days he is “off” and more confused than other days.
Like humans, dogs need love, affection, attention, and activity no matter what their age. Old dogs need an increased level of it and some extra patience. Special needs will arise, and it’s important to pay attention to these needs to help your little buddy have a good quality of life in his or her golden years.
Please share your experiences about living with, and loving, an old dog.
Angela G. Gentile