Aging Signs

We asked a friend of ours recently if she would be willing to contribute a photo of her two dogs, who are 7 and 9 years old, to our Senior Dogs Project. She bristled a little and then said, "My dogs aren't senior! They don't act old. They run and jump and play just as they always have."

In the 1970's, dogs generally lived 7 or 8 years. Now, a dog might be looking at 10 to 15 years of life. (Source: American Veterinary Hospital Association)

Like people, dogs are individual in the way they age. Certain breeds, mixed breeds, and, in general, smaller dogs tend to live longer. A small dog of less than 20 pounds might not seem to show any signs of age until she is 12 or so. A 50-pound dog won't seem old until about 10. Larger dogs begin to show their age at 8 or 9.

With the right care, it's not uncommon for dogs to live to 14 or 15 these days. Using established guidelines to determine when your dog might qualify as a senior will help you to understand changes in behavior or to anticipate a change in health status. On the basis of your knowledge, you will be better able to identify and approach health problems at an early stage, when they may be more easily treated. Following is a table to give you an idea of the relationship between a dog's age and a human's. Note that the weight of the dog is related to his age in human years:

A Dog's Age in Human Years
Up to 20 lbs
21-50 lbs
51-90 lbs
Over 90 lbs
Red numbers =

Blue numbers =
Chart developed by Dr. Fred L. Metzger, DVM, State College, PA. Courtesy of Pfizer Animal Health.


Tufts University published the following guidelines for defining a senior dog: "The point at which a dog qualifies as 'aged' varies. Veterinarians generally consider small dogs to be senior citizens at about 12 years of age, while large dogs reach the senior stage at 6 to 8 years of age. This roughly corresponds to the 55-plus category in people."

What are the signs of aging and what should you do about them? One of the first signs of aging is slowing down. It will take your dog longer to get up and get started from a lying position, longer to climb stairs (one at a time, rather than two). Some of these changes are natural, but it is important not to overlook changes that may be symptoms of a condition needing treatment.

Never assume that a change in behavior or habits is simply due to old age; it may be due to a treatable condition. An excellent example is that cited by Dr. Robin Downing, DVM, who reports: "Molly wasn't leaping on and off the beds anymore, and she didn't want to go for long walks. Her family was worried that this dog had just suddenly succumbed to old age, but when I did a geriatric workup on her, we discovered Molly had a thyroid condition and arthritic back pain. A maintenance prescription of thyroid replacement hormone, pain and anti-inflammatory medication for the osteo-arthritis in her back, and Molly was back in business. In fact, three years later, her owners tell me Molly is more active than she's been in years!" (Healthy Pet magazine, Spring/Summer 2000, p. 13.)

Diseases occur in older dogs that are not usually seen in young dogs, such as arthritis, diabetes, Cushing's disease, cancer, and kidney, heart, and liver diseases. Blood tests done by a veterinarian will screen for many of these diseases, which is the reason that your veterinarian will do such tests during an annual visit. However, you can also be instrumental in keeping your older dog healthy by:

  • keeping his weight down (through good nutrition and regular exercise)
  • keeping his teeth clean (next to obesity, periodontal disease is the one most commonly seen in the vet's office)
  • getting him to the vet for regular check-ups
  • being observant about symptoms that might indicate a health problem and getting prompt and appropriate veterinary attention (information below).

Also see the "The Ten Most Important Tips for Keeping Your Older Dog Healthy."

Other factors that influence your older dog's aging process and that may determine the age-related problems she may eventually have are:

Genetic Background -- Some breeds are known to have specific health problems. Golden Retrievers and large breeds, for example, are known to develop arthritis in back and hips as they age.

Nutrition -- Good nutrition will retard the aging process.

Illnesses & Disease -- A serious illness or disease can shorten a dog's life.

Control of Environmental Factors -- Keeping your dog and his environment clean and free of parasites will increase the chances of long life.


Recommendations for Veterinary Attention for an Aging Dog

Most vets recommend that you begin a geriatric screening for your dog at an appropriate age. This is related to your dog's size as follows:

Up to 15 pounds
Begin geriatric screening at age 9 to 11
16 to 50 pounds
Begin geriatric screening at age 7 to 9
51 to 80 pounds
Begin geriatric screening at age 6 to 8
Over 80 pounds
Begin geriatric screening at age 4 to 6

In general, a geriatric screening of your dog will include: (1) a thorough, hands-on physical exam; (2) blood tests; (3) possibly an electrocardiogram; (4) specialized tests depending on your dog's health history.

Some vets advise semi-annual visits once your dog becomes a senior. An annual visit is an absolute minimum (remember, a year in your dog's life is akin to about five of your own years). In between visits to the vet and annual geriatric screenings, you can stay alert to behavioral changes and other signs of aging. Here are some things to watch for and action to take:

Sudden loss of weight can be extremely serious. Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Serious loss of appetite -- to the point that your dog is eating almost nothing. See your vet right away.

Increase in appetite without increase in weight may mean diabetes. Get to the vet as soon as possible.

Diarrhea or vomiting, if it lasts more than a day can be a sign of many problems. Don't wait to see the vet.

Increased thirst, without a change in activity level, and increased urination are other signs of diabetes. Your dog should be tested as soon as possible.

Tiring more quickly than when younger is normal as a dog ages, but may also be a sign of disease affecting the heart or lungs. Be alert to your dog's becoming excessively out of breath after minimal exercise. Have your vet check for cardio-pulmonary problems as soon as possible, if you notice such symptoms. If the vet determines all is normal, you can continue an exercise program, but modify it in order not to overtax your dog.

Coughing and excessive panting may indicate heart disease. If these symptoms persist even after you've modified your dog's exercise program, visit the vet.

Difficulty in getting up from a lying position, or other problems with moving may indicate arthritis. Your vet will be able to advise you on ways you can relieve your dog's discomfort and lack of mobility.

Problems with vision and hearing are natural as a dog ages. Accommodate these changes as best you can -- by not changing the location of furniture, for example, or clapping instead of calling your dog's name when he no longer seems able to hear you.

Graying hair and drying skin are sure signs of aging. More attention to grooming and the introduction of massage will help the condition of the skin and coat.

Behavioral changes that you may see in your older dog include:

Separation may note that when you leave your older dog alone, she become destructive or barks or whines or loses control of elimination
Sensitivity to noise....thunderstorms that never bothered him before may now make your older dog tremble
Vocalizing....may be due to loss of hearing or to separation anxiety
Uncharacteristic aggression....may be due to painful joints, a drug reaction, or intolerance for new people and new circumstances; your older dog likes things to remain the same
Confusion, lack of attentiveness, disorientation....
Roaming in circles, barking at nothing, being withdrawn....
Elimination accidents....

If your dog is acting abnormally in any of the above ways, consult your vet right away.

Alternative Veterinary Medicine in Senior Dog Health

There is a growing trend toward approaching the problems of the aging dog through "holistic" or "alternative" medicine. A holistic veterinarian uses all appropriate treatment modalities to keep your dog healthy. These may include nutrition, herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage, as well as traditional medicines. The popularity of the holistic approach has been growing in recent years because it offers an adjunct to the standard or traditional treatments for canine health problems and provides some real choices for older dogs.

For more information on holistic medicine, see the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association website.

You may also wish to contact:

The American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, Hillsdale, IL (309) 658-2920

International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, Nederland, CO (303) 258-3767

International Veterinary Acupuncturist Directory (303) 682-1167

An excellent book on acupuncture and Chinese medicine for animals: Four Paws, Five Directions, by Dr. Cheryl Schwartz.

Anesthesia for Older Dogs

There's always a risk when your dog must undergo a procedure that involves anesthesia. If your vet says your dog needs anesthesia, be certain the office is fully equipped with anesthetic monitors: a pulse oximeter, blood pressure monitor, and ECG. A "pulse oximeter" is especially important because it alerts the vet if the dog's blood oxygen level falls below the safe limit. One type of anesthesia that is recommended for older dogs is "isoflurane," an inhalation-type anesthesia that is quickly eliminated from the dog's body once inhalation stops.

In discussing the difference between isoflurane and sevoflurance, Professor Peter J. Pascoe, BVSc, DVA, DACVA, DipECVAA, Department of Surgical and Radiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA, notes: " Both drugs are fine for senior pets. The main claim by the promoters of sevoflurane that it might be better for seniors is that it wears off faster. However the difference in the rate of recovery between the two drugs is very small - i.e. a matter of minutes and in some studies (especially with a short duration of anesthesia - which would fit most in practice) there was no significant difference in the rate of recovery between the two drugs. In most instances a dog or cat goes to the vet, has a procedure done and the owner then returns several hours later to pick up the animal - by this point they would be completely unable to tell which drug the animal had received. On the other side more of the dose of sevoflurane that the animal receives gets metabolized by the liver (still a very small percentage but proportionately a great deal more than isoflurane) - the metabolites of these drugs have some potential to do the animal harm. As far as I am aware there are no reports of this reaching a clinically recognized entity but it just points out that sevoflurane is not necessarily a 'superior' drug. In terms of the effect of the two drugs on breathing and circulation (things we pay very careful attention to during anesthesia), they are virtually interchangeable - they produce dose related depression and it is about the same for each."

Dental Care

Dental care really needs to be continuous from the time a dog is young. By the time a dog is "geriatric," the effects of dental neglect will be evident and potentially life-shortening. Rotting teeth can cause gum and mouth infections, and these infections can migrate to the vital organs and cause serious damage. Gum (periodontal) disease is extremely common in older dogs, and one of the more serious health problems that occurs. Basically it is the overwhelming presence of bacteria in the plaque that adheres to a dog's teeth.

Ideally, from a young age, a dog will have access to chew toys and crunchy foods. In addition, your dog's teeth should be cleaned on a regular basis by your vet. But the most important element in keeping your dog's teeth and gums healthy is your brushing your dog's teeth daily. By brushing, you can lengthen the time between professional cleanings by the vet. Doggie toothpaste, toothbrushes, and other devices for at-home teeth cleaning are available at most pet stores and through catalogs. The toothpaste should contain chlorhexidine to be effective. Beef- or chicken-flavored toothpaste will make your dog think he is getting a treat. (We know of dogs who beg to have their teeth brushed.)

Here's one technique for brushing your dog's teeth: hold the mouth closed gently. Slide the brush in under the lips and along the teeth, toward the molars. Spend most of the brushing time on the molars, and do what you can with the other teeth. It's not necessary to open the dog's mouth to brush the inside surfaces of the teeth. Don't give up if it doesn't work so smoothly the first time. And try different techniques if the suggested one doesn't suit your dog. By experimenting, you and your dog will learn how to cooperate to get the job done.

As a dog ages, he gets lazier about chewing his food and playing with chew toys. He may develop a preference for softer food. He may give only a few half-hearted nudges to the toys and bones he once gnawed on happily for hours. A gradually diminishing interest in chewing is normal as a dog ages; but if your dog stops chewing suddenly or looks like he is eating in a "gingerly" fashion, it may be a sign that his teeth and gums are hurting and need professional attention.

Have your vet check your older dog's teeth at regular exam time, but also do it immediately if you notice a sudden change in his chewing or eating behavior. If your vet recommends that your dog's teeth be cleaned under anesthesia, you should be informed about the risks. Read the information above on "anesthesia."

Alternatively, some vets will clean an older (mellower) dog's teeth using an ultrasound scaler, a mild sedative, and a "sack" type of restraint. But this may not be possible, even with a mellow dog, if there is serious gum disease.

Encourage chewing behavior as best you can: a new crunchy biscuit might work, or a new chew toy. Some of the rope "flossing" toys on the market are also often recommended by veterinarians. Most vets agree, however, that brushing is the most effective means of keeping your dog's teeth and gums healthy in between professional cleanings.

For more information on doggie dental care, visit Pets Need Dental Care, Too.

Six Important Toll-Free Numbers Every Companion Animal Guardian Should Keep Handy

Thanks to Dr. Olakunle Ayeni, DVM, for this very useful list:

National Pet Recovery Hotline: 1 800 984 8638. Whenever your pet is lost, this is one of your first places of help to report your missing friend. This 24-hour service will help you to locate your pet. Lost pets usually end up in an animal shelter before the county or city steps in. Members pay $25.00 for the lifetime of the pet or $55.00 to find the pet for free and non-members pay $50 and above.

Legal Hotline: 1 800 555 6517. "I think my neighbors are abusing their pet. Can I do any thing to stop them?" Here is the number to call. To know your rights and how to go about expressing your displeasures, this number is for you. But try not to call because you don't like someone's method of training his or her dog. Animal Legal Defense Fund can also help with landlord-tenant issues, vet problems, neglect and any form of abuse.

National Animal Poison Control Center: 1 888 426 4435. In a life and death situation when every minute counts for your cat, dog or other pet, this 24-hour manned emergency number is your pet lifesaver. Sponsored in part by 36 different companies. There is a $45.00 charge for consultation.

Emergency Disaster Hotline: 1 800 22 7 4645. Provided by the American Humane Association, this number is your first point of call for earthquake preparedness for your pets or for other disasters -- what to do and where to go. They provide support and relief information.

Pet Loss Support Hotline: 1 888 478 7574. Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine provides a source of emotional support for those who have lost an animal friend or are anticipating the loss of their pet. Veterinary students at the college man this free service. A 24-hour touch phone line provides a place to leave a message and have someone return your phone call. Seven days a week 6:00pm-9:00pm CST; May to August, Wednesdays and Fridays 6:00pm-9:00pm. This free service is funded by the Iams Company and dedicated in memory of Krista Rankin.

Spay HeIpline: 1 800 248 SPAY. Thousands of abandoned and unwanted pets are euthanized yearly due to irresponsible breeding. SPAY USA provides free or low cost services to all. Locations at over 950 programs and clinics nationwide.

Exercise for Older Dogs

Exercise is as essential to dogs as it is to humans. It is profoundly tied to a dog's physical, mental, and emotional health. A sedentary dog is a bored dog, often an overweight dog, and, in general, a less-than-optimally-healthy dog. In older dogs, obesity is the most common condition that vets see, and lack of exercise is a critical component of it.

As dogs age, they still need their exercise to benefit their heart, lungs, circulation, digestive system, and joints -- as well as to fight obesity. Compared with younger dogs, however, older dogs need to adjust the type and duration of the exercise they do.

Every dog is different in the way he or she ages and the exercise he or she can handle. You really need to be very observant in assessing your particular dog's abilities, natural inclinations, and current state of health. Keep alert to your dog's being excessively out of breath, or to a drooping head and tail. If your dog coughs or does not get her breath back after five minutes of rest following exercise, have the vet check her heart. In fact, if your dog is over 7 and has not had a check-up including a geriatric screening for more than six months and she has not been exercising regularly, get the check-up before beginning an exercise program.

Keep in mind that in general smaller dogs -- even younger ones -- aren't meant for distance running (therefore, it's not a good idea to take a small dog jogging with you). And, if your dog is a larger dog, even if she enjoys running, she may be prone to hip dysplasia, which probably means no running after a certain age.

Other basics to keep in mind: It's best to exercise your dog before he eats and to wait about half an hour after the exercise session before giving a meal. Keep your dog out of the sun, and, on a hot day, it's probably best not to exercise outdoors at all. Very cold, wet days are also times when indoor exercise is more appropriate.

If your dog has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, check with your vet for recommendations on an exercise program. Usually walking and swimming are the best activities. For walking, use a leash so that you can control the duration and strenuousness of the exercise.

Two shorter walks will be less stressful on aging joints than one long walk. The walks can be quite brisk, provided the vet has given approval. A brisk walk should have four components:

  • a warm-up of about 5 minutes, gradually increasing the pace
  • brisk walking of about 20 minutes
  • a cool-down of about 5 minutes, during which you gradually decrease the pace
  • a drink of water.

If you play fetch with your older dog, throw the ball or toy a little closer than you did when your dog was younger, and repeat the toss fewer times. After a point, it is probably advisable to stop playing fetch and to concentrate on walking or swimming.

When swimming, remember that an older dog will tend to become chilled much more quickly than a young dog. Take big towels along, and use them to dry off your dog as soon as he gets out of the water -- and preferably before he begins shivering.

Keep in mind that your dog will do anything to please you. That will mean he may tend to become over-exerted in running or playing simply because he thinks that's what you expect. You will need to judge carefully and to adjust the strenuousness and duration of the exercise accordingly.

At-home exercise is also a good alternative for older dogs. Use a carpeted area for the session, and one of your dog's favorite toys. You can play a modified game of "fetch" in a relatively small area. You might also want to play a game that involves your dog doing "roll-overs" or lying on her back to "kick the air." "Wrestling" and "keep away" are two other good games to play with your dog. The idea is to keep her active and moving in a physically non-stressful way. Use your imagination to invent other at-home games.

It's never too late to start an exercise program for your dog. Just as with a human, though, you should check your dog's general health with your vet, and then begin the exercise program gradually. If your dog has been inactive over a long period, frisby-chasing in the first exercise session is definitely not one of the choices! Easy, companionable walks of about ten or fifteen minutes a couple of times a day will make a good beginning.

Tellington TTouch can also be of great benefit in keeping your older dog active. More information on Tellington TTouch....

First Aid

First Aid is a topic that is not exclusive to older dogs. However, older dogs with heart problems or who cannot see or are a little unstable on their feet may need first aid quite often. Information is at the following websites:

General first aid

Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation

Poisoning Telephone: 1.888.426.4435

Other first aid sites: Animal World Site's First Aid

A natural disaster often results in injuries, and we should be prepared to administer first aid both to ourselves and to our pets when it strikes.

First and foremost, have a "disaster plan" that includes your dog. Always have him wear a collar with complete identification (i.e., his name, your name, address, and telephone, etc.) and be sure any legally-required vaccinations (i.e., rabies) are up to date. If you haven't yet microchipped your dog, plan to do so as soon as possible.

Have an evacuation plan that takes account of your entire human and animal family. Pets can't fend for themselves -- especially in a disaster situation. Plan a way to keep everyone together or to place the members of your family in a suitable "foster" arrangement.

Your dog may become panicky, and, if you know she is prone to be so, have a supply of tranquilizers available. To restrain a panic-stricken dog who is acting aggressively, you will need a muzzle -- or to improvise one (use a long, narrow cloth band to wrap around the dog's snout, crossing and tying over and under the chin, finally tying from under the chin to behind the neck). Give your dog commands authoritatively to "sit" and "stay," and grasp and hold him from behind, with one arm around his neck and under his chin, if necessary to keep him quiet.

If your dog is injured, and you need to apply first aid, get someone to help hold him. An injured animal easily becomes frightened and sometimes aggressive, even toward a familiar companion. Use a muzzle (or an improvised one). To hold the dog in a side-lying position, kneel and place your knees into the dog's back, putting one hand on his flank and the other on his shoulders or forelegs (depending on where the injury is).

If a paw or other area of the body is cut or torn, you will need to clean the wound and to stop the bleeding. Clean with a light salt solution (a heaping tablespoon in a gallon of water), then use antibiotic cream. Cover with gauze and wrap with a stretch bandage to yield just enough pressure to stop the bleeding. Do not over-tighten, as that may stop circulation and cause further problems.

For a broken leg or dislocated joint, apply a splint as best you can until you can get veterinary attention.

(This material adapted from Jane Brody's article in the New York Times, February 23, 1999.)

Flea Control

No dog gets through life without fleas. Fleas are an especially big problem if a dog is allergic to flea bites. Many dogs are. Some breeds, like Golden Retrievers, are allergic to flea bites all their lives. Dogs often become more sensitive to flea bites as they age because older skin is drier and an aging immune system weaker.

Even though your dog may have gone through puppyhood and most of the adult years with barely the flick of a paw at a flea, the senior years are different. Flea control becomes increasingly important as your dog ages.

Some people insist they have no fleas in their home or on their dog. They've never seen a flea nor been bitten. Yet, even as they insist they are flea-free, their dog hangs out with bare hind-quarters and several festering hot spots on his body, scratching madly at his undercarriage. Owner denial or lack of awareness is common.

Fleas are hardy and prolific. They like a temperate, moist climate best, but they can go into a dormant state for as much as a year, waiting until conditions for survival and reproduction are more favorable. They live (or lie dormant) in carpets, furniture, bedding, floor and wall joints, indoor plants, gardens, and yards. They like the cozy, moist places around bushes in your garden. They like the car, too, if the dog goes for rides in it.

Here is the plan of attack to keep fleas under control:

  • Attack the fleas on your dog and any other pets who live with you.
  • Attack the fleas in your home.
  • Attack the fleas in the yard, garden, and car.

The advertising literature for some flea control products makes it sound as though your problem will be solved by using just one method of flea control. One method alone usually will not work. Use this three-part plan of attack. It's the best way to achieve good results.

Attack Fleas on Your Dog

Using brush and flea comb on a daily basis will help you to discover any fleas that may be living on your dog. However, you will still need to use agents to repel, kill, or affect the reproductive cycle of the fleas. With an older dog, it is wise to use the gentlest and least invasive methods.

Controlling fleas is big business. Major drug companies are focused on it, and, in the past few years, have developed some outstandingly effective substances. "Program" (Ciba Geigy Corp.) is a once-a-month tablet you give your dog. It acts when a flea bites. The flea ingests the pet's blood, which contains the drug in "Program" (called "lufenuron"). This drug prevents the flea's eggs from developing, ending the reproductive cycle. An "Ovitrol" collar also works by preventing flea eggs from hatching.

The active ingredients in Program and Ovitrol are "Insect Growth Regulators," or IGRs. These aren't designed to kill anything directly, but rather to interrupt the reproductive cycle of insects. The disadvantage to these products is that adult fleas are still free to bite, and an allergic dog will still react.

Two products that kill fleas but that appear to have no adverse side effects are: (1) Advantage (Bayer), which is applied to a pet's skin -- a few drops between the pet's shoulder blades -- once a month. Fleas that get onto the pet die within a few hours of being exposed to the drug in Advantage; and (2) Frontline (Rhone Merieux), which acts in a similar way.

Don't use flea collars with insecticide content. They are not effective and can be harmful to your dog. A better use for a flea collar is inside your vacuum cleaner bag. There it will kill any fleas you vacuum up around the house. When it comes to ultrasonic flea collars, we've heard they don't work.

Don't "dip" or "flea shampoo" your dog; the ingredients in such preparations are too harsh, especially for an older dog.

Attack the Fleas in Your Home

Most fleas spend most of their time OFF your dog, jumping on just long enough for a meal. The rest of the time they live somewhere in the environment. That is why you need to vacuum furniture and carpets often. Use washable bedding for your dog and wash it at least as often as you wash your own. Dry the bedding on high heat (anything above 95 degrees will kill flea pupae). Treat your home with your choice of a flea control agent or use a professional exterminator three to four times a year if you live in a temperate climate, or at least twice during spring and summer.

Select the least toxic chemicals available. The company known as "Fleabusters" uses a non-toxic powder that is very effective. If you use a traditional exterminator, ask about the chemicals they employ. "Precor" is in the IGR class and is considered fairly non-toxic. Pyrethrins and pyrethroids, though somewhat toxic, are common and considered safe when properly applied. Organophosphates are also safe as long as you don't have exposure to them while they are still wet.

The flea-control professionals usually can do a better job than you can do yourself. If you have been doing it yourself and your dog is still scratching, try a professional. Get a recommendation from your vet or from friends. Safe and effective application depends a great deal on the "professional" doing the job. Be sure the person or company is experienced and has a good track record.

Attack Fleas in the Yard, Garden, and Car

There are many choices for do-it-yourselfers to apply to the yard and garden. A class of substances called "wettable powders" can be used effectively. "Dursban" is an example. "Diazinon 25%" is a spray-pesticide that is effective. One problem with these pesticides, however, is that they don't discriminate among insects, and will be as lethal to ladybugs as they are to fleas.

There are some non-toxic alternatives to use in the garden. Diatomaceous earth is a drying agent that creates an inhospitable environment for fleas (available at garden supply stores). Another is a biological substance known as a "nematode" that kills flea eggs and pupae. Sold commercially as "Flea Halt!" and "Interrupt," nematodes are not effective on adult fleas, so, in a cold climate, you need to apply them in the spring, before the eggs have begun to hatch. In a temperate climate, you will need to apply them three to four times a year.

You can spray or "bomb" your car yourself; however, if you don't ventilate the car adequately afterwards, exposure to the poisons in these preparations will be dangerous. Try vacuuming thoroughly first. Then use diatomaceous earth on the carpets and upholstery inside the car. Leave it on overnight, and vacuum again before using the car.

Consider a professional to do your yard, garden, and car at the same time as the interior of your home is being treated.

Consult Your Veterinarian and Personalize Your Flea-Control Program

Consult your vet to decide on the best products to use with your dog. The cost of a visit and the purchase of products from your vet is a good investment. Your vet will have the latest information on flea control products, and will also know if your dog is on medication or has a condition that would be compromised by using a particular flea control method. What works for another dog -- who may be younger and in a different state of health -- may not be right for your senior dog.

If you have a personal leaning toward more "natural," environmentally-safe methods, be sure your vet has the same point of view.

Your own lifestyle should also affect your choices. Flea control requires time and energy, so try to plan a program that is convenient for yourself.

A personalized and convenient program -- including an atack on all three fronts -- is one you are likely to follow. It will make a big difference in your senior dog's overall state of health and, in the end, is likely to save you time and money you would otherwise spend in extra trips to the vet.

Tick Control

You can attack both fleas and ticks at the same time by using a product such as Advantix. Ticks are problematic because they cause illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Erlichia. Ticks especially like to attach themselves to your dog's face, ears, legs, paws, chest and abdomen. Check these areas carefully by running your hands deep into the fur, along the surface of the skin.

You will need to use care in removing a tick from your dog so that you do not leave behind a big part of the tick's body. A tiny particle of the body will not be problematic, but any large piece may cause illness or infection. If the tick is not deeply embedded, you can kill it by applying a pyrethrin spray directly to it. If the tick doesn't fall off within a day, use a pair of tweezers (rather than your bare hands), grasping the tick as close to its head as possible. Pull straight out. Then clean the site on your dog's body with soap and water or alcohol, and apply Neosporin or another antibiotic ointment.

If you are unsure about whether you have successfully removed the tick, see a vet. Tick-borne illnesses like Erlichia can be extremely serious.

The TICK-L List

The TICK-L E-mail list is devoted to sharing information on the following tick-borne canine infections: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Hepatozoonosis, etc. While the main focus of the list is infections in canines, there is also discussion of infections in other animal species and humans. Many tick diseases can and do infect multiple species.

Grooming: Brushing, Combing, and Bathing

Grooming a senior dog is not just for looks. The coat and skin are the dog's first line of defense against environmental attack -- from such enemies as fleas, wetness, and cold. When the coat and skin are in poor condition, your dog becomes susceptible to disease or illness.

An older coat and older skin just can't take care of themselves like they used to -- because circulation and muscle tone aren't as good as they were when the dog was younger. You can make up for the decrease in these functions with a grooming routine.

A daily grooming session with the proper tools is the first step. Brush and flea comb are two of the basics, but the specific brushes and combs you should use depend on the length and type of your dog's coat. Check with your vet or groomer, or look at the labels on the various grooming tools at your pet supply store. There are also books and videos on grooming available at stores and through pet supply catalogs.

You may not have had the time to brush or comb your dog regularly over the course of the years; but it's so much more important as a dog ages! Fifteen minutes is usually all it will take each day, but those fifteen minutes will save you time in the long run. You'll keep your dog's overall health at a high level, eliminating visits to the vet other than for regular check-ups.

Another reason for a daily grooming session has to do with an aging dog's need for physical contact and attention. While puppies and young dogs are busy running around and tearing up the place, an older dog doesn't have energy for such stuff. A grooming session can be an energizer as well as provide an interesting diversion for the dog. It is also an opportunity for you and your dog to experience the kind of closeness and physical contact that is reassuring and satisfying and that contributes to the dog's overall sense of well-being -- which, in turn, stimulates good health.

Regular brushing can lengthen the time between baths. Usually dogs don't need a bath more than once a month, although some dogs have a natural tendency to be a little greasy or to play in some awful-smelling stuff. These dogs will need more frequent bathing. Although it always depends on the individual dog, in general, dogs with smooth, oily coats should be bathed only when necessary. A dog with a thick undercoat can go for six months without a bath. Dogs with long, curly hair can get a bath every four to six weeks.

Always bathe your older dog with warm water in a warm room. Cold will dry the dog's skin and might cause chilling. Always use a very mild shampoo with an older dog, since older skin has a tendency toward allergy and dryness. Shampoos not especially formulated for use with a dog -- even "baby" shampoos -- should NEVER be used on any dog of any age. Don't use a blow-dryer, which is too hard on the coat and skin. Instead, use thick, absorbent towels.

Use grooming sessions as a means of checking for tumors, growths, or changes in skin condition. Run your hands over all parts of your dog's body -- from stem to stern, along the abdomen, legs, ears, and tail. Early detection of a malignancy can extend your dog's life by years. The skin, as the largest organ of the body, also can indicate internal health problems that may not be otherwise visible. Watch for dryness or roughness of the skin texture, and for any unusual symptoms.

Grooming: Nails & Ears


Most dog's nails need to be trimmed once a month, but an older dog's nails should be trimmed every three weeks. You can also do it weekly, if your preferred method is to trim just a tiny sliver from the nails each time you do it. Younger dogs can wear down their nails a little with the running around they do, making it less necessary to be strict about the time between trimmings. But an older dog tends to do less walking and running, so it's critical to keep to a regular nail trimming schedule. Nails that are too long can affect the dog's gait and cause imbalance and muscle strain.

The older your dog is, the more critical it is to keep the nails at the proper length, primarily so that the dog can maintain some semblance of a regular exercise program without compromising skeletal alignment and muscle function. A general guideline for proper length is that the dog's nails should not touch the ground when she is standing (i.e., not walking, but just standing still).

Your groomer or vet can do the nail trimming, or you can do it yourself -- with the proper tools and knowledge. If you plan to do the trimming yourself, you will need to get information about the correct tools and techniques for your particular dog. The Internet Dog Owner's Guide has excellent material on nail clipping.

You may also want to check in books, with your groomer, and with your vet. If the thought of potentially hurting your dog by cutting into the quick of the nail with clippers makes the job unappealing, you can try an alternate. Dr. Jack McElroy of Ocean Avenue Vets in San Francisco recommends a "Dremel" variable speed drill with a filer attachment. Sears also sells a similar tool. You may find one in a pet catalog, as well, but often the tool is more expensive when purchased specifically for a pet. With this tool instead of a clipper, you file the nails just a bit at a time and don't run as much risk of cutting the quick. This is much more time consuming than clipping and you may find it needs to be done on a weekly basis, since it takes a while to remove just a tiny bit of nail.


Keeping the ears clean and dry is good practice with a dog of any age. If you are brushing and combing your dog every day as we recommend, you'll have a daily opportunity to examine and wipe the outer canal of his ears. You can do this with a tissue moistened with liquid ear cleaner.

Dogs who are still swimming in their senior years need to have their ear canals dried after they go for a dip. You can do this simply with a tissue or soft cloth.

Be diligent about clean, dry ears with your senior dog, and you'll minimize the risk of an ear infection. If you notice a bad odor or discharge from the ears, or if your dog starts shaking her head noticeably more frequently, see your vet immediately. A major infection could be brewing. Your older dog's immune system isn't working quite as efficiently as it did when she was younger, making it harder for her to rebound from an infection. (Excessive head-shaking may also injure the brain.)

Over the years the Senior Dogs Project has spent with older dogs, just about every one we've adopted has come to us with ear problems that the vets evaluated as being of long standing. Once the vet addressed the initial condition by flushing the ears, none of our dogs has ever again had an ear infection. According to one of the veterinarians we've seen, fleas are a major source of ear infections. Here at the Senior Dogs Project, we go to extremes in controlling fleas and keeping our dogs' environment clean, so we weren't surprised to learn that there is a relationship between good flea control and good ear health.

Grooming: De-skunking

Here is supposedly the best recipe for ridding a dog of skunk odor:

1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide
1/3 cup baking soda
1 Tablespoon liquid dish soap

Mix ingredients together. The mixture will fizz and may explode if kept in a closed container, so use it up each time you mix it and don't try to save the rest. Use a sponge to apply the solution to your dog, kneading it into his coat; avoid the eyes, nose, and mouth as you sponge the face gently. Rinse thoroughly with lots of water. To be effective, this treatment must be applied within four hours after exposure to the skunk spray.

We have also had a report on the effectiveness of PureAyre, made by Clean Earth (telephone:  831/ 429-2846). A user writes, "I have this found to be an excellent product that is far superior to anything else that I've tried.  It is 100% food-grade safe - for children and pets.  I have used it in my house (near the cats' litter box), and in the car... and it is very effective.  I finally feel good about using something that is safe to eliminate odors.  Now I am prepared if any of my dogs or cats should have an encounter with a skunk! "


Health insurance is difficult to find for dogs over a certain age (usually 8 years). Age limits also change from time to time. The American Humane Society supports the concept of pet health insurance because it often means the difference between euthanizing a pet and treating him.

For commentary on pet health insurance, you can read "Insuring the Health of Your Pet," John Cargill and Susan Thorpe-Vargas, authors.

These companies offer pet insurance:

Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) 1-800-872.7387 (an older, established company). The following "testimonial" for Veterinary Pet Insurance was posted to the Senior-L list in 1998:

"We are very pleased with Veterinary Pet Insurance. It has saved us an awful lot of money. Both our policies have already paid for themselves several times. A fine example is the $750 check I am waiting for in response to Dublin's $1500 laryngeal paralysis surgery. It also is covering the Adequan shots for his arthritis. If you have a senior dog who is still rather healthy, you can get a policy; however, they do not cover 'pre-existing conditions.' "

Pet Assure Inc. 1-888-789-7387 (New York based) Pet Assure supposedly enrolls all pets, regardless of age, infirmity, or species.

Union Plus Pet Health Care Insurance

Petshealth 1-800-799-5852 (a relative newcomer -- 1998 -- to the pet health insurance business)

Medical Management International, Inc. 1-503-256-7299 (based in Portland, OR)

Pets Best Insurance, based in Boise, Idaho. Founded by Dr. Jack Stephens, DVM, commonly known as the father of the pet insurance industry.

Laboratory Tests -- How to Read Them

For information on the meaning of various laboratory tests, you can visit the Washington State University site.

Medication Info/Warnings

Doggie "Lifestyle" Drugs

  • Multi-billion-dollar market for 'lifestyle' drugs for animals raises alarms ....Seems there's a pill for everything -- canine obesity, depression, etc.; but how safe are these drugs? more....


    Slentrol is a Pfizer drug to help dogs lose weight -- is it safe? The FDA has its more....also find out why Pfizer doesn't want the drug studied too closely...


    Ketoconazole is an anti-fungal drug (human drug is called Nizoral) that is used for animals with fungal infections. On October 21, 2006, the Senior Dogs Project received a report from Nice, France, where "Ralph," a dog belonging to an American living in France, died as a result of liver damage. The drug is suspected as being the cause of the liver damage. The report states that the veterinarian provided no warning about the potentially deadly side effects of the drug and neither did the manufacturer's label. The vet had warned only that Ketoconazole might cause vomiting at the beginning of treatment, but that, in time, the vomiting would stop. On the 'notice' sold with the drug, the statement made is: 'This medicine is very well tolerated except for rare cases of vomiting at the beginning of treatment.' Ralph did not vomit at first. He did, however, have diarrhea, orange urine (almost black), trembling, and fatigue, and his skin turned dark and peeled in large flakes. After one week, the side effects had not disappeared. The vet advised cutting the dose in two (from 200 to 100 mg daily), and that was Ralph's death sentence. On the 24th day after beginning treatment, even though the drug had been withdrawn, Ralph began to vomit. He vomited whether he ate or drank; nothing would stay down. A perfectly healthy dog (on August 14) was diagnosed with hepatitis most likely brought on by drug intoxication, which could only have come from the Ketoconazole. He died, suffering greatly.

    Veterinary note: Ketoconazole is approved for veterinary use in France; however, it is not FDA- approved for animal use in the US, although it is widely used (note that you can buy it online). Every vet advising use of this drug should be fully aware that it: (1) Does not work for one in five dogs. (2) Can cause severe liver damage, and (3) Has a fairly high number of allergic reactions. There is a safer anti-fungal -- Fluconazole -- but that safety comes at a price -- around $12-$15 a pill -- although there may now be generic versions available or coming soon. There are many situations where fungal infections can be life-threatening. These are generally internal infections, not just skin allergic reactions, so these drugs do have a place and are a better alternative than simply suppressing the symptoms with steroids.

    Promeris, a anti-flea medication introduced in 2007-8 by Fort Dodge, has caused adverse reactions in dogs, and also in the human administering the dosage. Reactions in dogs include vomiting, staggering, dehydration, lethargy and worse. Fort Dodge claims it's not the drug, but the dog licking the product from his coat. Learn more....

    On this website, you will find extensive information about Rimadyl. Mention is made, as well, of EtoGesic and other medications and nutraceuticals used as therapy for arthritis.


    Deramaxx is another entry in the canine NSAID market. It also has the potential for harmful side effects. In addition to the link above, you can read about Deramaxx in an article in USA Today.

    For more information on Deramaxx, please visit:

    To read the latest "Dear Doctor" letter from Novartis regarding Deramaxx, use this link:


    A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug primarily for the treatment of the pain of arthritis...the link above takes you to the pages on the site containing information -- both pro and con -- about Etogesic

    Metacam, another NSAID, was introduced by its manufacturer, ........with a claim that it did not cause the same kind of adverse effects as other NSAIDS. However, the following letter from the FDA dated February 23, 2004, reveals that these claims were not warranted:

    "Misleading Mechanism of Action Claims....The materials state: 'METACAM@ is the first NSAID proven invivo in dogs to be COX-1 sparing/COX-2 inhibiting.' They state, further: 'COX-1 sparing is demonstrated by not inhibiting PGE2 (prostaglandin E2) in the gastric mucosa.' These statements are misleading because they suggest that these attributes are clinically significant, when this has not been demonstrated by substantial evidence or substantial clinical experience. The disclaimer that 'clinical relevance has not been shown,' appearing in two of the pieces, is presented in a footnote in fine print, and is, therefore, insufficient to correct the overall misleading impression created by the materials."

    The Senior Dogs Project recommends that you:

    (1) Discuss with your veterinarian the potential side effects versus the benefits of any drug before deciding to administer it.
    (2) Request and read the package insert or consumer information sheet that should always accompany any medication that your veterinarian dispenses.
    (3) When the drug has been administered, observe your dog carefully and be alert to the appearance of any of the side effects described in the insert or sheet.
    (4) Report any side effects to your veterinarian immediately and get veterinary attention for your dog.
    (5) Follow up with a report of the side effects to the drug's manufacturer and to the FDA.

    Warning on the Drug "Revolution" .....In an update to their original article on Revolution, Good Dog! magazine editor, Ross Becker, wrote: "We have received some initial reports of two or three dogs dying after use of Revolution. Sage, for example, had a history of bruising, and died of cardiovascular collapse resulting from hemorrhage. This occurred following use of Revolution. No other anti-coagulatory toxins showed up in her autopsy. We are following these stories, and will report when there is more information available." April 24, 2000

    The doglogic website contains the complete story about Sage's reaction to Revolution.

    ProHeart6 .....In the fall of 2002, the Senior Dogs Project began receiving reports of fatalities and other adverse effects from the ProHeart6 shot. ProHeart6 is a long-lasting heartworm preventative, intended to protect a dog from heartworm for six months. As of October 2003, we established a ProHeart6 page on the site to address the topic of the growing number of adverse reactions to this drug.

    Please also see the page on Health News on this site for other news and alerts regarding medication and health-related issues.

    Questions to Ask When Your Animal Is Prescribed a Medication

    Do you always understand the purpose and method of administering a medication your veterinarian prescribes for your animal? Your understanding will ensure your animal receives the maximum benefit from the medication and that, should side effects occur, you will know how to recognize them and what to do. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends you ask your veterinarian these questions.

    Medicine/Supplies Sources

    Online Ordering of Medications

  • Do you order your dog's medications online? If so, watch this FDA video....or read about how to do it safely...
  • Sources:

    KV Vet (1.800.423.8211):

    Pet Med Express:

    Valley Vet Supply:

    Drs. Foster & Smith:

    Organix Natural:

    J-B Wholesale, 1.800.526.0388
    R.C. Steele, 1.800.872.3773
    Omaha Vaccine, 1.800.367.4444
    Pet USA 1.800.4.PET.USA
    UPCO, 1.800.254.8726
    The Dog's Outfitter,1.800.367.3647
    Anicare Suppy, 1.800.476.2642

    Other sources (human grade vitamins & supplements -- you can use the same for dogs as for humans):

    You will also find vitamins and supplements at your local Price Club/Costco; Walmart; K-Mart


    How do you mobilize an older dog with hip problems, arthritis, spinal nerve damage, weakness, or other ailments? Here are some tips and resources:

    Keep the fur on your dog's pads trimmed close. This will give your dog more traction on slick floors. Put down skid-free carpeting in places where your dog normally lies down to make getting up and getting started easier.

    You may wish to put coverings on your dog's paws -- such as those "slipper" socks that have non-skid material on the bottoms. "Paw Tectors," sold by K-V Vet Supply (1-800-423-8211) are described as being non-skid. They come in five sizes from XS to XL.

    Totes and Keds make some "booties" that are fleece-lined and have a non-skid bottom. These are often given to patients in hospitals, but can be adapted for a dog's paws. You can sew on a velcro tape to the top and then wrap it to fit snugly (but not too tightly!) around the dog's leg. It is suggested that you put these on one paw at a time until the dog grows accustomed to the "feel."

    Firm Grip is an all-natural rosin spray that can be applied to your dog's pads to improve traction when climbing obstacles, jumping, running, and for better grip on surfaces like rings and linoleum and hardwood floors. (It was designed for athletes to improve grip for sweaty hands, so if ring nerves cause you to sweat, you can use it too!). The owner of the Doggone Good website writes,"My old dog had difficulty maintaining balance on our hardwood floors, and I used this to improve her grip so she slipped less and felt safer."

    Slings, Harnesses, Stretchers, etc.
    Use a sling made of fabric (an old winter scarf might work, depending on the size and weight of your dog) to help lift the rear end when needed. Place it close to the rear legs, tie it loosely to provide a 'tucked in feeling' then tie it again at the top to form a 'handle.' There is also a company that makes slings for farm animals and can tailor one for your dog: Monks Slings, 800.377.9454.

    A product manufactured by Python Products, Inc., is available at Petsmart for about $8.95. A long fabric wrap with velcro tabs and handles, it's meant for carrying snakes. However, it is also useful for raising the rear end of a dog.

    Some other ideas:

    (1) Use a vinyl briefcase that unzips all around. When it's upzipped, wrap it around the dog's torso and grab the handles on top.

    (2) Use a canvas log carrier in the same fashion, i.e., wrapping it around the dog's torso and grabbing the handles on top.

    (3) If descending the stairs is creating stress on the dog's front legs, put a t-shirt over the dog's front end. Hold the t-shirt, pulling up and back on it, to relieve some of the weight on the front end and to prevent slipping.

    Animal Suspension Technology manufactures support harnesses for disabled and injured dogs. The AST Support Suit is a support harness for injured, weak or disabled dogs. It is designed to provide complete support and control for dogs that need help walking. (See photo at left.) Also, they write, as of August 2008, "We've recently designed a set of general-use suits with veterinarians, rescue groups, humane societies and dog boarders in mind. Our new Get-a-Grip! Dog Lift Harnesses are made for anyone that needs to move an animal in the daily course of work, or in an emergency. The AST Get-a-Grip! is easy to use, heavy-duty, fits a broad range of dogs and is washable. Get-a-Grip and Toss the Towel! See more at the website:

    The Northland Newfoundland Club is selling stretchers and slings for large dogs as a fund-raising effort for their organization. The stretchers and slings are designed for the large dog. There are many situations in which stretchers and slings are very necessary. For example, when large dogs are injured or ill, moving them presents a serious challenge. Or, in cases of injury, a dog's movement may cause additional trauma unless assistance is given. Then, too, a dog may need help after some types of surgery. And, when a dog has hip problems, old age may bring with it the need for regular assistance in getting up and in walking.

    The Stretchers are made of nylon packcloth and will carry a 200 lb. dog. There are six handles and a belt to hold the dog securely. The stretcher price is $55, price includes *shipping by USPO priority mail. The sling price is $30, price includes shipping by USPO priority mail. Visit the website for details.

    We were given the opportunity to try out a new product called Lift'N'Aid, which is a kind of sling/harness that is meant to enable you to assist a mobility-challenged dog to climb up or down the stairs, to get into or out of a car, or to rise from a lying position -- all without injuring your own back. The one major drawback we noted with this product was the confusion surrounding the several buckles that needed to be attached. We reported to the inventor that we thought colored-coded buckles would make this job a lot easier and have been told that the manufacturer (PetZone) has now implemented the color-coded system, and it should be in the stores shortly (July 2004). Our handlers also noted that not all dogs will initially tolerate being assisted with any type of harness, although they would probably get accustomed to it with enough positive reinforcement. In addition, with some older dogs, when they need to go, they need to go! In the time it takes to put on a harness, it might be too late to avoid having an "accident" in the house. That said, we still think it's a great idea to have some safe way to assist a mobility-challenged dog, and the Lift'N'Aid might be the one that works for your dog.

    For information on other assistive walking devices, see the website describing the Walkabout Harness.

    Steps and Ramps
    One of the best devices we've ever come across to enable an older dog to get up into a car or onto a bed is a set of steps constructed out of styrofoam. The directions/diagrams for the device are easy to follow. They are provided by Lisa Auen, who says:
    "The foam is sawed to the dimensions in the schematic in the diagram and glued together with Liquid Nail for Foam Insulation. I made two sets of steps for less than $25, one for the Bronco and one for the foot of my bed. We couldn't do our daily trek to the pastures without them." The Senior Dogs Project made these steps then covered them in Astroturf, which is very lightweight and gives good traction.

    You may wish to build your own ramp out of plywood. A 3' x 6" length with carpeting or Astroturf tacked onto it would work in many situations. However, the weight of the device may not lend itself to portability. Secure the ramp carefully when in use so that there is no chance it will cause your dog to fall.

    If you're not interested in building your own, you can order a pet ramp or steps online at many pet supply sites, such as:

    PawSteps advertises that their product as ". . . a convenient, lightweight ramp that provides easy, pain-free access to cars, beds, couches and chairs for smaller, older, arthritic or disabled pets. Pets can now climb or descend from elevated surfaces with ease, by themselves. . ." The Senior Dogs Project has not tried this product, but we did note that it is much lighter than many of the other products designed for this purpose (under 7 lbs.).

    America's Pet Store

    If you don't have a ramp or steps to assist your dog in getting into the car, try this method: Get her front paws established on the floor of the vehicle. Then lift from behind, cradling the rear end. This will take practice and cooperation from all parties.

    Suggestion from a website visitor:

    Sammantha, a 17-year-old Yellow Lab, had a stroke and was unable to climb the steps in and out of the house. The solution: her folks built a deck for her with steps that are only 3" in height. Next, because Sammie has had laryngial paralysis and the surgery to correct it, she cannot bark, so they added a motion detector/bell on both sides of the door. Sammie has been doing nicely in rehab. She is actually now able to walk around the block. Sammie will be 18 on June 1, 2001. Her "mom," Julie, sent this photo of dear Sammie on her special steps.

    Carts and Strollers

    Baldar's Buggies, Cecilie Siegel-Sebolt, Owner; e-mail:

    The K-9 Cart Company are makers of the original pet mobility aids. They custom make each cart for each dog. Veterinary technicians are on hand to assist you in deciding on type and dimensions. Telephone: (406) 995-3111; or to order, (800) 578-3113. Website at:

    Dogs To Go! is a small, family owned and operated company specializing in the design and manufacture of "wheelchair" carts for disabled pets of all shapes and sizes. Laurie is a Registered Veterinary Technician working in a Veterinary Surgical practice. She has worked with disabled pets for over 20 years and she will be happy to talk to you about the special needs of your pet. She can also assist you with physical therapy questions and helpful hints to aid in the recovery process.

    Pet Strollers -- are made by a number of manufacturers. A folding variety, shown at the right, can be handy.


    Rubbermaid makes a child's wagon (about $40 on sale at Wal-Mart) that is molded plastic and has high sides. You can cushion it with padding to make it comfortable for your dog.

    Gretchen Breese wrote to tell us about " ... a fairly new wagon that is great for hauling a large injured/post surgery dog. It's a Radio Flyer called the "Wagon-barrow" geared primarily for gardeners (holds three 'flower flats'), carries 300 lbs., and is about 45 by 27 on air filled tires, with a long handle. The price ranges widely, but the best I found was $119 at (Ace Hardware) with a $5 delivery. Nothing else I found was really big enough. The front wheels can turn, making it fairly easy to maneuver. It will be another two months before my dog Blaise is allowed to run around; the wagon allows me to take him along on walks with my younger dog."


    Artificial Legs
    Contact Anne T. Loew or Dr. Dr. Alan Lipowitz in Bethesda, Maryland. E-mail is Also try, Joanne, At Oregon Orthopedic in Oregon (541-343-7251), Mr. Hal Moore made an artificial leg for a dog named "Kuma."

    Dogs with Disabilities Website
    The Dogs with Disabilities website is both informative and inspiring. Chelsea, a Golden Retriever with Degenerative Myelopathy, is both the example and the starting point for the presentation on this site. The site has information on doggie wheelchairs and lots of practical tips on how to cope with a disabled dog.

    For more ideas and resources to help handicapped pets, visit the Handicapped Pets site.

    Physical and Hydro- therapies
    PWhen our 13-year-old Golden, Jazzie, began to have trouble walking, we found that having her swim kept her happy and trim. However, in the winter, when the water got really cold, that wasn't an least, not until more recently. Now there's a growing number of facilities that offer physical and hydro-therapies for dogs. See the section below to learn more.

    Neuter/Spay Surgery for an Older Dog

    Is it appropriate or beneficial to perform neuter or spay surgery on an older dog.? Our survey of veterinarians indicates that, unless a dog is extremely old or medically unstable, the surgery can only be of benefit. Dangerous conditions such as pyometra and prostatitis can be avoided by spaying or neutering. As one veterinarian summed it up, it is better to spay a healthy 9-year-old than to do an emergency spay on a 9-year-old who is ill with pyometra.

    Spaying or neutering a senior dog is a decision that always depends on a careful exam by a veterinarian, including bloodwork and other tests. If the exam shows a dog to be healthy and in condition to successfully undergo the surgery, there is every reason to proceed with it.

    It's not surprising that the location of some of the most advanced thinking and technology in the country is now the home of an absolutely-free spay-neuter clinic. No minimum fee at all -- just completely free veterinary services to spay or neuter a pet. Located on Laurel Street in San Carlos, CA, the clinic is open two days a week, Thursdays and Fridays. It will open five days a week beginning in January 2000, and will eventually offer free pick up and delivery service. For information and appointments, call (650) 592-7827. These smart people have figured out that it makes more sense to cover the cost of a spay or neuter operation than to pay (financially or emotionally) for rehoming or euthanizing accidental litters. Totally advanced thinking!! We hope that other agencies will take notice.



    Best Food for Older Dogs

    There is no one best food for an older dog. Every dog is an individual, and every senior dog is, too. A senior dog of one breed is different from a senior dog of another breed, and, even if the same breed, dogs vary in their genetic make-up, life style, history, and environment.

    Although pet food manufacturers advertise special "light" diets or protein-reduced foods for older dogs, there is actually no proven benefit from these special diets, and, in some cases, there may be some harm. According to Dr. Delmar Finco, in an article in Veterinary Forum (September 1994), "Benefits from a reduced protein diet typical of existing canine geriatric products have never been proven, and the possibility exists that reduced protein diets are not in the best interest of the geriatric patient."

    Dr. Finco explains that there is very little scientific information about nutrition for senior dogs. He mentions one study that found older dogs have the same ability to digest and metabolize food as younger dogs do. And, in a study he himself conducted, Dr. Finco found that it was not clear whether older dogs gained weight because of lack of exercise or because of changes in their metabolism.

    It is easy to become confused about deciding on the best food for your older dog. Advertising distorts the picture and, as Dr. Finco points out, scientific data are lacking. The bottom line is that it probably isn't necessary to change your dog's food simply because he is getting older. As long as he has no weight or health problems, you can plan to keep feeding his regular food to him. The most important thing is that the food consist of a good proportion of high-quality protein. Many of the premium dog foods will provide sound nutrition for your dog. Ask your vet to recommend one. If you'd like to read some in-depth information on dog foods, look into The Collins Guide to Dog Nutrition by Donald R. Collins, CVM. Also see Building a Balanced Diet. Making Sense of Pet Food Labels is another helpful resource.

    Preventing Weight Gain

    Nutrition and exercise are intricately related when it comes to weight control. Try to keep your older dog exercising as much as she is able. This will help her to burn calories and to maintain more muscle; muscle tissue burns more calories than fatty tissue. If you notice a gain in weight, ask your vet to suggest one of the "light" formulas of manufactured pet food, or feed her less of any of the foods she likes, provided her hunger is abated. The senior "light" formulas tend to contain ingredients that will make your dog feel full, even with fewer calories. Give your dog three or four smaller meals a day rather than just one or two larger meals. She will be less ravenous at mealtime and also will burn calories more efficiently if they are spaced through the day.

    If your dog has been accustomed to eating one large meal a day, introduce the several-meals-per-day plan gradually. Keep in mind that these several meals can add up to the same amount as was contained in one meal. The difference will be in the way the calories are used.

    Keep your dog entertained with activities other than eating, and make her more dependent on verbal praise and physical contact than on "treats" for her daily rewards.

    There is an excellent article by Sarah Probst of the University of Illinois about the dangers of obesity in your older dog, along with recommendations for achieving weight loss.

    Loss of Appetite and Loss of Weight

    A gradual loss of appetite is not uncommon in older dogs. As a dog ages, his senses of smell and taste may decrease, making food generally less appealing. A sudden loss of appetite may mean the onset of a serious illness, so be sure to check with your vet if your dog refuses to eat for more than a day. Appetite that gradually diminishes to a dangerously low level also may be a sign of a serious problem. Again, check with your vet if you are in the least concerned about your dog's appetite.

    One way to increase the smell- and taste-appeal of food is to warm it. It is, in fact, recommended that you always present food to your dog that is at room temperature rather than directly from the refrigerator. Take it from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature quickly; that is, don't allow it to sit out for a lengthy period to warm up. Of course, it shouldn't so hot that it might burn delicate tissue in the mouth, either.

    Some older dogs like their food on the "soupy" side. Adding unsalted beef or chicken broth will make the meal more "slurpable."

    Although it is often said that a dog doesn't need variety, our own experience has contradicted this. When our dog lost her appetite, we rekindled it in spades by introducing variety to her diet. The same old kibble mixed with beef or chicken, beef broth or chicken broth, and a small amount of lightly-cooked vegetables immediately sparked her interest in eating. If you add variety, add it gradually in small amounts to avoid digestive upset.

    In serious cases of appetite loss -- sometimes due not only to aging but to medical condition or treatment -- you may need to hand feed your dog special home-prepared food. We never felt we were "spoiling" our dog when we did this. We had to do it only for a short while. When she felt better, she went back to eating on her own. Check with your vet about the kinds of home-prepared foods that may appeal to your dog and encourage appetite.

    Foods to Avoid

    The very cheapest brands of manufactured food are not good for your dog -- at any age. Although a younger dog may be able to get by on a lower-quality diet, an older dog definitely won't. Many brands of premium food will provide your dog with good nutrition. Although "premium" foods cost more, they are more sound nutritionally. In the end, you probably won't save money by buying a cheaper brand because your dog will have to eat more of it to obtain adequate nutrition and ultimately won't be as healthy. You may see the difference in vitality, skin, and coat, and may also pay the difference in vet bills.

    Do you give your dog chews made of pig ears, beef jerky or pigskin? If so, be careful to wash your hands carefully after handling the treats. About 30 people in Canada became infected with Salmonella in 1999 as a result of their exposure to dog chews containing the bacteria. Another option, of course, is to completely avoid the chews. Try giving your senior dog a carrot stick instead.

    Home Prepared Diets

    If you want to avoid manufactured foods entirely, and you have the time and inclination, you can prepare your dog's meals yourself. It will not necessarily be cheaper, but it can be nutritionally sound provided you are equipped with good information. For guidance in designing a home-prepared diet for your dog, you can use either Dr. Collins' book (mentioned above), or Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, & Susan Hubble Pitcairn. You may want to use both of these books, as well as any others you can find.

    You will often hear advice to avoid feeding your dog table scraps. This advice is sound, especially when it comes to preventing weight gain. In the case of an older dog, any food that is different from his normal fare may also cause gastro-intestinal upset. In addition, food for human consumption can be excessively salty, which can be harmful to an older dog. However, if your dog is accustomed to an occasional "treat" in the form of table scraps, changing this pattern may be stressful to him. An older dog doesn't like a change in routine, and may be upset if you begin to deny him his usual treats. Use your best judgment. Be careful to notice whether your dog is gaining weight and whether feeding him something from the table causes an upset. If so, try giving him a "treat" in the form of a different type of dog food from his normal fare. If your dog has no weight or digestive problems, be sure the food you give him from the table is wholesome (that it does not contain excessive salt or sugar or additives, and isn't excessively fatty). Food from your table should be presented as a snack, or it can comprise a small portion of a meal, but should never make up more than 5% of the dog's diet. (And, as every well-trained human of a well-trained dog knows, table scraps are not fed from the table, but rather are put into doggie's bowl at appropriate snack or mealtimes.)

    Should I feed my dog "people food"?

    You've probably heard it repeatedly from your veterinarian and well-meaning friends with dogs -- "people food" isn't meant for dogs. Actually, good-quality dog food begins with ingredients that would be considered good for people to eat. We couldn't agree more with the article by Dr. Cathy Alinovi, DVM, which we encourage you to read......

    Nutritional Supplements

    Check with your vet before introducing nutritional supplements into your dog's diet. An excess amount of something that is normally beneficial may create an imbalance in your dog's overall nutritional status. There are so many products on the market now -- especially in the "health foods" arena -- that you may find yourself confused. You are not alone. Many of these products do no harm; many do no good and are a waste of money. See what your vet thinks before giving supplements to your dog.Here are some to consider:

    • Glucosamine/chondroitin -- for joint health
    • Vitamin B-12 -- for energy and metabolism
    • Vitamin E -- an antioxidant
    • Vitamin C -- may play a role in immune function
    • Brewer's yeast -- a good source of the B-complex vitamins
    • Linoleic acid -- found i corn and sunflower oils
    • Bromelain -- aids digestion and is an anti-inflammatory
    • Glycerin -- for eye health

    (Source: Dog Fancy magazine, August 2004 issue, p.p. 44-45)

    Drinks for Older Dogs

    Water is the best drink for your senior dog. The main problem with many older dogs is that they forget to drink, or, due to arthritis or joint pain, they have trouble getting up and moving around, so they avoid going to their water bowl. Dehydration -- even mild -- is a bad state for a senior dog.

    The recommendations are: (1) Thoroughly wash and re-fill your dog's water bowl several times a day. (2) Set out several water bowls in locations that your dog can reach easily. (3) Deliver the water bowl to your dog if you notice he hasn't had a drink in a long time. Be certain that the water you give your older dog is clean and free of pollutants. Because an older dog's kidneys may not be functioning as well as when he was younger, they won't tolerate impure water. Some vets recommend giving your dog filtered water. A good guideline to use is that if the water is good enough for you to drink, it's good enough for your dog. Similarly, if you don't think you should drink it, your older dog probably shouldn't drink it either.

    Comfort While Eating

    Most of us usually put a dog's food and water bowls on the floor. For some time, it was thought that raising the bowls off the floor and placing them on a low table was better and made eating easier for a large dog. However, recent reports indicate that an eating table may cause bloat in large, deep-chested dogs. (Bloat is an often-fatal condition in which the stomach twists; it requires emergency veterinary attention.....more info on bloat.) There may also be a correlation between bloat and feeding a large dog just once per day, which is all the more reason to feed two or more small meals throughout the day.

    We also like this "tip" from a visitor to "My dog, Judy, has lumbar spinal cord pressure from arthritis, giving her hind leg weakness. This causes some instability, particularly while standing to eat. She winds up pushing her stainless steel feeding bowl across the room. I have looked into a number of weighted bowls that haven't worked. Trying to be creative, I put four small round Velcro patches on the bottom of her bowl and placed it on a small rug....Works like a charm! No more traveling supper times....."

    Another source of discomfort may be your dog's teeth and gums. If he seems to be avoiding crunchy food, or looks distressed while chewing, report this to your veterinarian and have the vet check his mouth.

    Return to questions at top of Nutrition section


  • See "Pain Drugs for Dogs: Be an Informed Pet Owner," an excellent article published by the FDA.

    Pet Sitters

    Your senior dog may be most comfortable staying in her own home environment when you must travel without her. Some seniors may do just as well boarding at someone else's home. Start by reviewing the valuable information about choosing a petsitter on the site of the Humane Society of the US. You may then consult, billed as a trusted online community where people can find, list and book pet sitting, dog walking, doggy daycare and other means of caring for your senior dog.

    Physical & Hydro- Therapies
    for Pets

    Whether it is part of the recovery process following surgery or a means of maintaining mobility for an aging pet, physical and hydro- therapies are taking hold as useful components of companion animal care. Here is a list of centers we currently know about:


    Two Hands Four Paws, Los Angeles, CA, is a canine physical therapy facility that succesfully works with senior dogs. Theirs is the only permitted hydrotherapy pool in Southern California. Its 15,000 gallons are kept at 83 degrees so that senior dogs with arthritis, muscle stiffness, poor conditioning, etc., can safely and comfortably get the exercise that will put them on the path to mobility and good health. The facility also offers an underwater treadmill, a land treadmill, and other rehabilitative equipment. The Medical Director at the facility is one of only four veterinarians in the world who is also a registered Physical Therapist. The staff also includes Massage Therapists and Veterinary Rehabilitation Technicians. Recently named "Best Dog Rehab" by Los Angeles Magazine. To see a video of Axl, a 12-year-old Bulldog who swims at the facility, click here. Also be sure to click on the photo-icons at the left of Axl's screen to see videos of dogs of all ages who are benefiting from the Two Hands Four Paws experience.

    Chicago Animal Rehab,10051 S. Kitty Avenue, Chicago Ridge, IL Phone: (708)576-2801.

    Interstate Equine and Canine Swim Center, 2738 B Carsins Run Road, Aberdeen, MD. Phone: 410-836-2131.

    New York
    Angel's Gate Hospice and Rehabilitation Center, Fort Salonga, NY; Telephone: (631) 269-7641

    North Carolina
    Carolina Canine Center, 2104 Georgia Street,
    Greensboro, NC 27408. Phone: 336.373.9663

    Cozy Inn Pet Resort & Spa, PA; Telephone: (724) 593-6133

    Shiloh Road Kennels Canine Hydrotherapy Rehabilitation Center, Midlothian, TX. (972) 723-3880.

    La Paw Spa, Richmond, WA

    Doggone Day Spa, Woodinville, WA

    Pool and Water Safety for Dogs and Wild Animals

    When a pet or wild animal jumps or falls into a pool, walled lake or pond, without a way out, the animal will eventually drown from exhaustion brought on by panic or fatigue. Though drownings occur by day, they occur most often at night, leaving the pool owner or lakefront resident with that cruel surprise of a dead pet or animal floating in the pool or skimmer basket.

    Skamper Industries LLC manufactures and distributes the animal rescue device known as Skamper-Ramp® - in two sizes: regular and Big Dog. This patented device (US Patent # 664389, Trademark registration #2867405) is attractive, affordable and most important, it works! Skamper-Ramp safeguards against finding any dead animals in your pool and, in particular, the tragedy of finding your own beloved dog drowned. It also works successfully with docks and boats.

    Renting an Apartment

    Many of the pets who are turned into shelters each year are surrendered because families need to move and are unable to find an apartment in which pets are allowed.The Humane Society of the United States has created a website addressed to tenants and landlords that provides guidance for creating the kind of climate that will be mutually agreeable to both animal lovers and property owners. The website offers, among much good advice, samples of resumes to prepare for a pet and a sample letter of recommendation to obtain from a veterinarian. You have a distinct advantage with an older dog because you can list on your dog's resume such appealing qualities as mellowness.

    Replacement Parts

    If one of your old dog's parts has worn out and is not functioning well, she may be a candidate for a replacement. Some of the procedures now being performed and associated estimated costs are: total hip replacement ($3,000); prosthetic limb ($375-450); tracheal ring replacement to treat a collapsing trachea ($1,500-3,000); cardiac pacemaker ($1,000-1,500); heart valve transplant ($5,000-6,000); crowns for teeth ($1,200-1,500); ocular prosthetics; lens implants for cataracts. For more information, contact: Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Fort Collins, CO (970) 491-7051; University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Davis, CA (530) 752-1011 (; Veterinary Brace and Limb Technologies, Livermore, CO (970) 221-9361; Veterinary Surgical Associates, Concord, CA and San Rafael, CA (800) 834-7874. (Source: San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, July 14, 1999)

    Stress and Comfort Factors

    Following are the topics covered in this material. Click on the topics you wish to read about.

    Home Environment
    Extra Weight
    Introducing Another Pet


    Cold and dampness are hard on an old dog. As your dog ages, her coat will get thinner and her circulation will be less efficient, making her feel the cold more. Protect her with a sweater and/or rain gear when necessary. Don't keep her out too long in really cold weather. Older dogs are also more susceptible to becoming overheated in hot weather. Shade your older dog from the sun and keep him in an air-conditioned room in very hot weather. Take shorter rather than longer walks in the hot weather. Be sure he has plenty of cool water to drink. Never leave your dog -- of any age -- parked in a sunny place in a closed car (even with the windows slightly open). A car parked in the sun can become an oven in just a few minutes. Return to top of section.


    An older dog tends to sleep more, but that doesn't mean he should be left alone more. His nose still tells him when he has human company, even as he sleeps. He will still hear your voice (or sense your presence through vibrations), even though he looks like he's dreaming. Give your older dog the benefit of as much human companionship as he's had throughout his life -- even increase it, if possible. Keep him near you and take him with you when you go places. It will increase his sense of security and his involvement with life, and it will make him last longer. Return to top of section.

    Home Environment

    In general, dogs like routine and sameness. Older dogs like it even more. To the extent possible, keep your dog's home environment and routines the same. For example, her water and food bowls should be in the same location and she should be fed and walked at the usual times and in the usual places. Of course, individual dogs will vary in their ability to deal with change in their surroundings. Dogs with decreased vision will be more stressed if the furniture is changed around than dogs whose vision is still good. Be alert to signs of stress in your dog that you may have inadvertantly caused by a change in home environment. Try to help her adjust by giving attention and guidance and lots of positive reinforcement when she seems to become more relaxed about the change.

    Slippery floors will become a problem as your dog ages. You'll notice that your dog will begin to have trouble getting up from the bare floor, or walking across the bare floor. Cover the problem areas of the floor with a rubbber-backed/non-skid runner or area rug. Other suggestions for helping keep your older dog mobilized are on this page under the topic "Mobility." Click in the navigation bar at the left.

    Your older dog's sleeping areas are particularly important environmental factors. Many older dogs -- particularly those with arthritis in hips and back -- seem to prefer sleeping on an "egg crate" type mattress. Not only does it seem to provide a more even surface and therefore give better skeletal alignment, it also tends to reduce pressure on the dog's bony areas. Egg-crate mattresses are sometimes called "orthopedic" mattresses, and are sold, with zippered covers, through catalogs and in pet stores. But you may also simply buy one from a local foam rubber store or a place like K-Mart, cut it to size, and top it with blankets, towels, or a synthetic "sheepskin." You can place several of these mattresses around the house, in the areas where your dog(s) nap during the day, as well as in the night-time sleeping spot. Your older dog is also likely to be more comfortable in a bolster-backed bed in a draft-free place. Concerning beds that have a built-in heating element, the comment we've heard most often is that the heating element is small and doesn't produce very much heat, and that dogs don't seem to find the mattresses all that appealing.

    Inexpensive saddle pads can also make a good dog bed. A website visitor made this suggestion: "I buy the fleece western saddle pads from any tack shop, riding supply catalog, or feed store. They're easily large enough for a Dobe to curl up on. They're thick and cushy and have a distinct advantage over 'egg crate' pads in that you can put them in the washer and dryer. They really last, too! My pups have been sleeping on the same saddle pads for years. If you shop around, you can usually find them for about $10 each (sometimes cheaper). Needless to say, my floors are covered with them. I even left a couple at the Doggie Day Care center for them." -- from Roberta (

    Does your dog have calluses and bare patches on her elbows from lying on hard floors? Even though you might have purchased the most expensive bed on the market, your dog may still prefer the floor. There is a product called "DogLeggs" that looks interesting as a possible helping agent for this situation. It is basically a kind of garment that covers the dogs elbows. You can visit the DogLeggs website and judge for yourself whether it might help your dog.

    Meals are also a very important part of your older dog's life. Be sure your older dog has a consistently organized, quiet environment in which to consume meals.

    Cleanliness and parasite control are critical in an older dog's environment. Keep your senior dog's water and food bowls scrupulously clean, and please read the information on this site on flea and tick control, linked from the navigation bar at the left.

    Return to top of section.


    It is becoming more and more popular for people to travel with their dogs. If your dog has been accustomed to traveling with you all his life, there's no reason he shouldn't continue to do so even into his very old age. The only type of travel your older dog should avoid is that which would involve putting him into the cargo compartment of an airplane. Unless your dog is small enough to travel with you in the passenger compartment of the plane, he will be better off at home. Click on "Travel" in the column at the left for more information.

    Return to top of section.


    Of course, we love to have our older dogs celebrate the holidays with us. They, however, are usually much happier if everything stays the same. The hustle and bustle of holidays, with people coming and going and you rushing around to get everything done does not necessarily coincide with your dog's idea of a good time. Try to set aside a period every day during a holiday season to spend "quality time" with your older dog. Reassure her that, even though things in the house aren't exactly the same, your love and devotion to her are unchanged.

    She may beg for that delicious-smelling turkey skin, but you need to resist giving it to her because her digestive system won't tolerate it (except, perhaps, in very small portions). You'll need to keep the trash with the turkey bones (which can splinter and perforate the digestive tract) out of reach, as well as the chocolate candies that can be poisonous to her.

    At Christmas, keep holiday decorations high on the tree and off the floor. Use unbreakable ornaments; hang them with string or ribbon rather than hooks. Keep popcorn strings well out of reach. Never let candles burn unattended. Hide electrical cords under the tree skirt or inside a protective cord cover. Unplug lights when you leave the room or house. Cover the water-filled tree stand securely; tree water can be toxic. Put used ribbon, paper, and foil into a secure trash receptacle immediately after they've served their purpose.

    And watch out for guests! Be sure they know that your older dog isn't supposed to get any leftovers unless you give them to her. Children may need a special reminder not to play rough with your older dog, or to give her candy. Return to top of section.

    Extra Weight

    Probably the most common stress on the health of an older dog is extra weight. Ask your vet about the ideal weight for your older dog. If he is overweight, begin a diet-and-exercise program right away, with your vet's guidance. The exercise program for an out-of-shape older dog will need to begin gradually. Please read the information on exercise for older dogs linked from the navigation bar at the left. Return to top of section.

    Introducing Another Pet

    Should you get another dog to keep your older dog company, or to give him a new lease on life? The answer is that it depends on your dog. An older dog usually doesn't like change of any kind, and a new creature in her territory can mean a big change. However, the family of an older dog may feel that they need another -- preferably younger -- dog in anticipation of their older dog dying. You'll need to weigh these needs against the needs of your older dog. If your older dog isn't happy about having a new, younger dog around, the stress will show. Just be alert to it and as considerate as possible of your older dog on this issue. There is an in-depth discussion about getting another dog on the "Loss" page on this site. Return to top of section.

    T-Touch Therapy

    Many older dogs have health problems that do not seem to respond to traditional therapies or medication. T-Touch is an alternative approach. According to information on the Internet, "It is two sets of techniques – body work and ground work. The body work is a collection of specific touches designed to work on emotional and health problems. The touches are not massage or acupressure, and they are not invasive. The body work includes various gentle manipulation of body parts."

    For more reading on T-Touch, see:

    Tellington Touch article on

    Dog Owner's Guide: TheTellington Touch

    Toxic Foods and Substances


    Raisins can be extremely toxic to your dog. According to the ASPCA Poison Control Center: "Much is still yet to be discovered about the toxic principle associated with grape and raisin ingestions, as well as the exact mechanism leading to kidney damage in some dogs. It is also not clear if only canines are susceptible to developing a toxicosis, and additionally if only certain dogs are affected, or if chronic, long term ingestions can lead to the same effects as large, acute or single ingestions.As there are still many unknowns with the toxic potential of grapes and raisins, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center advises not giving grapes or raisins to pets in any amount." As few as seven raisins or grapes could be toxic. Some trainers and handlers use them as "treats." Any exposure should give rise to immediate concern. For more information on potentially poisonous foods, plants, etc., see the ASPCA Poison Control page.

    Sugar-free Gum

    Don't take it lightly if your dog inadvertently ingests sugar-free gum. What quantity is lethal? Between 8 and 10 pieces of gum could be fatal to a 65-lb dog. For more info, see the Snopes site.

    Blue Green Algae Toxicity

    Blue Green Algae toxicity can kill dogs who swim in water where it exists. Blooms can occur at any time, but most often in late summer or early fall. They can occur in marine, estuarine, and fresh waters, but the blooms of greatest concern are the ones that occur in fresh water, such as drinking water reservoirs or recreational waters. Some cyanobacterial blooms can look like foam, scum, or mats on the surface of fresh water lakes and ponds. The blooms can be blue, bright green, brown, or red and may look like paint floating on the water. Some blooms may not affect the appearance of the water. As algae in a cyanobacterial bloom die, the water may smell bad. Some cyanobacteria that can form CyanoHABs (Harmful Algal Blooms) produce toxins that are among the most powerful natural poisons known. These toxins have no known antidotes. Swallowing water that has cyanobacterial toxins in it can cause acute, severe gastroenteritis (including diarrhea and vomiting). Liver toxicity (i.e., increased serum levels of liver enzymes) is also common. Symptoms of liver poisoning may take hours or days to show up in people or animals. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Both kidney toxicityand neurotoxicity may also occur. These symptoms can appear within 15 to 20 minutes after exposure. In dogs, the neurotoxins can cause salivation and other neurologic symptoms, including weakness, staggering, difficulty breathing, convulsions, and death. People may have numb lips, tingling fingers and toes, or they may feel dizzy.


    Smoking Harms Companion Animals, too! From the "" site:

    "Many people today are beginning to realize the harmful effects of cigarettes. They are not only hazardous to the smoker, but also to those exposed to the second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke is dangerous to the nervous systems of their cats, dogs, and other pets. This is due to the chemicals found in cigarette smoke, some of which can also cause cancer." Visit the QuitDay site for a free guide to quitting!

    Training an Older Dog

    We don't know of any phrase in the English language that has done more harm than that old, worn-out, inaccurate adage: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." An older dog may, in some cases, actually be easier to train than a puppy. One of the reasons is that just about any dog who has reached the age of five or more has learned what "No" means. In order to be acceptable in human company, he has also learned generally what is expected of him. He is calmer and quieter than a puppy, and so he is able to focus better on what you are trying to teach him. He has learned about dominance and has a firm grasp of the concept of "alpha" dog. As an older dog, he is not trying to prove his dominance over humans, and, in general, he is ready to fit himself into his human family "pack," and to do whatever is necessary to make that fit as comfortable as possible.

    There are different schools of thought when it comes to dog training. Some trainers believe in the use of verbal praise and other types of non-food rewards for training. The most current thinking, however, is that the use of a food-based reward system lends itself better to the concept of "positive reinforcement" and avoids the negative "correction" or "punishment" that is a component of some systems of training.

    Some systems of training employ a choke collar. Please be aware that your dog can strangle himself on his choke collar. We have had reports of dogs left in their crates overnight whose choke collars got caught in the bars of the crate and would not release. The dogs slowly choked to death. Decide whether a choke collar really is necessary for your dog. Expert advice is to eliminate it, if at all possible.

    In the past, dogs who were meant for high-level, competitive "obedience" work were trained using very harsh, punitive methods. Although these methods are not widely practiced today, there may still be a few trainers around who believe in them. The Senior Dogs Project strongly advises against those training methods for any dog, but we particularly recommend against it in the case of an older dog. It is too stressful and totally inappropriate. It is far preferable to be as gentle as possible while using positive rewards, and being fair, understanding, and, above all, consistent. We also strongly advise against shock collars, and have the following incident to report:

    Darren and Denise Ashby's dog, Rufus, an 8-month-old Yellow Labrador Retriever, was wearing an Electronic Training Collar when it malfunctioned and caused second- and third-degree burns on his neck. The burns were deep and penetrated to the muscle layer. This episode with a malfunctioning training collar illustrates yet another reason to avoid training methods that employ negative reinforcement or "correction," as it is euphemistically called. More details about this episode are posted by Darren Ashby.

    Every dog is an individual. Some dogs are more highly motivated than others to please their human companions. Some will be much more sensitive than others to tone of voice or to the cues you use in giving praise. Dog owners are individuals, too, so you need to be aware of your own tendencies and preferences when it comes to training. The references listed below will help you decide what system suits you best.

    Humane Sosciety of the US -- Dog training tips
    Judy Moore's "Dogs Deserve Dialogue" (no-punishment behavior modification for all "problem" dogs)
    "Training Your Dog" by Cindy Tittle Moore
    Dumb Friends League Training Info
    My Happy Dog
    Perfect Paws
    Super Dog
    Pet Behavior Resources
    Free Video on Basic Training at
    Dog Owner's Helpline
    Association of Pet Dog Trainers

    Books: See the Dogwise website for the latest books that use "positive reinforcement" techniques. Look for: Nobody's Best Friend: Loving and Learning with Adoptive Dogs, by Lorraine Houston.

    Keep in mind that many humane agencies and shelters offer courses in dog training at a nominal cost. Be sure to check those in your area for information.

    Obedience training with your senior dog can be a wonderful way to spend quality time together. Your senior will thrive on the attention and extra time you'll spend together. Even if your older dog can't run as well or see as well as a younger dog, he can still make progress in obedience training. It's not necessary to "show" in competition. The experience, in and of itself, will be enjoyable and enriching for both of you.

    Transporting An Older Dog

    Are you relocating and need a way to get your dog to your new home? Particularly with older animals, you want to reduce the potential for stress, so it would be best if you could drive to your destination with your dog; however, if that's not possible, you'll want to investigate alternative. An older dog will NOT do well being transported in the cargo hold of an airliner. In addition, there have been instances of dogs' dying due to delays and mistakes. If you absolutely must have your dog fly, review all the information you can about placing your dog on a flight. Begin at the ASPCA website. Some commercial airlines will allow your dog to fly in the passenger cabin. Airlines change their policies from time to time regarding this issue, so you will have to inquire directly from the airline you are considering using.

    You may want to consider an airline that specialized in having you and your pet to fly in the same cabin. See the listing for "Companion Air," below.

    A number of other transport services-- air and overland -- specialize in taking proper care of companion animals so that they get to their destinations unharmed. To get a rating on any of these companies, you can contact the US Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for certifying such companies. Here are some examples:


    Companion Air -- where "Pets and their families fly first class". Companion Air is the first airline created specifically for pets and their owners. They state: "We fly very safe and reliable jet-prop aircraft so that we can operate out of small local airports, fly high and fast, and provide a roomy, executive class interior. The use of more, smaller aircraft allow us to provide services much more broadly and at a more reasonable cost. During peak times we may supplement our fleet but the Companion Air fleet is comprised of new aircraft purchased and configured for Companion Air, our pets and owners. Small airports allow us to operate on time and allow our passengers to spend 15 minutes at the airport instead of hours resulting in less stress." Other companies that offer pet transport:

    Pet Air offers animal and pet transport. Company statement: "At Pet Air we strive to provide affordable, professional animal transportation in the most convenient way for our customers and their pets."

    Air Animal
    Company statement: "Whether you are planning a move elsewhere in the U.S. or moving abroad, Air Animal has the experience and knowledge needed to ensure that your pet's move will be safe and comfortable and comply with all government and airline regulations."


    Robbin Barkley Pet Relocation Specialist
    Family Pet Relocations
    256-612-0555 256-778-9654

    New pet transport companies seem to be popping up all the time. Use a search engine to find the most current listings.

    Traveling with An Older Dog

    There's no need to leave your dog at home when you travel simply because she is getting older. Staff at the Senior Dogs Project took an almost-14-year-old dog on an 8,000-mile driving trip across the United States. Everyone had a great time!

    It is becoming more and more popular for people to travel with their dogs. If your dog has been accustomed to traveling with you all his life, he can do so even into his very old age. The only type of travel your older dog should avoid is that which would involve putting him into the cargo compartment of an airplane. Unless your older dog is small enough to travel with you in the passenger compartment of the plane, he will be better off at home.

    Many hotels accept pets now, including the larger chains, and you can book online by going to one of the many Internet sites listing such hotels. You may have to pay a fee to have your pet stay in your room, 'though not all hotels impose such a fee. If your dog is a service dog, a pet fee is not charged, although you would have to pay for any damage your dog caused to the room or premises.

    For helpful hints on how to travel safely with your dog (or other companion animal) in a car or truck, be sure to check out the information provided by the Truckers' Report. The Senior Dogs Project obtained this reference from "Kaylie," who participated in events related to Animal Shelter Appreciation Week . Thank you, Kaylie!

    PETA's Guide to Traveling with Dogs

    "dogfriendly" One of the nice features of this site is that they list only those hotels that have no size restrictions for dogs. The site also has links to pet sitting services you can use when you can't take your dog with you.




    Books that inform you about places to go, things to do, and places to stay with your dog can help you plan your trip. {Look for titles such as "The ....(name of state).... Dog Lover's Companion".}

    Another effective means of arranging to travel with your dog is simply to call the place you'd like to stay and ask if they accept dogs. Many places do, even if they aren't listed in the available guides or on the websites.


    Thanks to Ray Heizer for passing along this heartwarming story by Karl Alabrecht and Ron Zenke, as it appeared in "Condensed Chicken Soup for the Soul":

    A man wrote a letter to a small hotel in a Midwest town he planned to visit on his vacation. He wrote, "I would very much like to bring my dog with me. He is well-groomed and very well behaved. Would you be willing to permit me to keep him in my room with me at night?"

    An immediate reply came from the hotel owner, who said, "I've been operating this hotel for many years. In all that time, I've never had a dog steal towels, bedclothes, silverware or pictures off the walls. I've never had to evict a dog in the middle of the night for being drunk and disorderly. And I've never had a dog run out on a hotel bill. Yes, indeed, your dog is welcome at my hotel, and if your dog will vouch for you, you're welcome to stay here, too!"

    Old dogs are mellower and even better guests at hotels and motels than young dogs.


    When you can't take your older dog with you, the best arrangement is to leave him at home in the care of a competent person. You will want to give the sitter as much information as possible about your dog's habits and preferences. Be sure to provide your pet's vital statistics, vet's name and contact info, feeding schedule, medicines to administer, walking and activities schedule, sleeping arrangements, how to contact you while you're away, alternates to contact in case of emergency, etc.


    When traveling in the summer months, be aware that a closed car -- or even one with the windows open somewhat -- can become an oven in a matter of minutes when left in the sun.

    Dog Rescuer Jude Fine placed a copy of this notice on the windshield of any car in which she noticed a dog in danger of overheating:


    We understand that you meant to be kind in taking your dog with you today, but you could be risking his life. Every summer, countless dogs and cats suffer needlessly and even die in cars that become unbearable ovens when parked in the sun. Even leaving the windows slightly open doesn't stop a car from heating up to 100 degrees in as little as 10 minutes on an 80-degree day! Within a half hour -- 30 minutes -- temperatures in the car can soar to 120 degrees. With nothing but overheated air to breathe, a dog can last only a short time before suffering irreparable brain damage or even death. Your dog would be much happier and healthier if you left him at home. IF YOUR DOG IS OVERCOME BY HEAT EXHAUSTION, YOU CAN GIVE IMMEDIATE FIRST AID BY IMMERSING HIM OR HER IN COOL WATER (BODY ONLY). TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE NEAREST VET IMMEDIATELY.


    We were shocked to note that, despite growing evidence that annual vaccinations are not necessary, many vets refuse to give up the practice because it creates an income stream for them -- despite the evidence that, in many cases, annual vaccinations can actually be detrimental to a dog's health. We noted, in particular, this alarming incident reported by Dr. Bob Rogers, a veterinarian who maintains the "Critter Advocacy" website, and has received an award for his work to educate consumers about vaccinations:

    "Dr. Bob Rogers hired a Chicago based law firm and initiated a class action suit for pet owners who were not given informed consent and full disclosure prior to vaccination administration. His article entitled 'The Courage to Embrace the Truth,' states, 'While attending conferences like WSVMA and NAVMC, I have asked over 400 DVMs from various parts of the country if they attended the seminars on New Vaccination Protocols. I was told by all but one, 'I don't care what the data says; I am not changing.' One DVM here on VIN even said, 'I am not changing until the AVMA makes me change.' "

    The growing body of evidence against annual vacciantion is being collected by two world-renowned giants of veterinary vaccine research -- Dr. W. Jean Dodds of Hemopet and Co-Trustee of The Rabies Challenge Fund and Dr. Ronald Schultz of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. These veterinarians have been volunteering their time over the course of the past six years to ensure that critical 5 and 7 year rabies challenge studies are conducted in the United States. The studies are being financed by The Rabies Challenge Fund Charitable Trust, a tax-exempt organization founded by pet vaccine disclosure advocate Kris L. Christine of Maine in 2005.

    Effectiveness of Rabies and Other Vaccinations May Last Much Longer than Assumed....Annual Boosters May Do More Harm than Good

    Due to the incidence of illnesses in companion animals that have been linked to vaccinations, the practice of giving annual vaccinations began come into question many years ago. A protocol from Colorado State University, which is based on solid scientific research, advised some time ago that vaccinations be given only every three years (except rabies, which depends on state laws). A quote from the protocol: "We are making this change after years of concern about the lack of scientific evidence to support the current practice of annual vaccination and the increasing documentation that over-vaccinating has been associated with harmful side effects. Of particular note in this regard has been the association of autoimmune hemolytic anemia with vaccination in dogs and vaccine-associated sarcomas in cats -- both of which are often fatal."

    Most recently, the research indicates that dogs over 10 or 12 years of age should not be vaccinated because their immune system can be compromised, and also, by the time they are that age, they have received adequate protection. This means, in many cases, that a dog over the age of 7 years should NOT be given any type of vaccination. If a state mandates by law that every dog be vaccinated against rabies, then it is possible to limit vaccinating older dogs to once every three years. A rabies shot should not be given at the same time as other vaccinations. The vaccine package should carry the warning that it is to be administered only to healthy animals. Thus, if your dog has a systemic ailment or disease (e.g., cancer), your dog SHOULD NOT receive any vaccination at all. In some states, you can have your dog exempted even from rabies vaccinations by obtaining a letter from your veterinarian stating that your dog's health does not allow it.

    Antibody titres -- blood tests that detect the presence of antibodies to diseases -- can be performed to determine antibody levels. However, titres are not true indicators of the degree of immunity a dog has; that is, a low level of antibody does not necessarily mean that the dog is not protected. Another problem with titres is that different labs have been known to report radically different results when testing the same blood specimen. Some veterinarians feel that titres are worthless as indicators of whether your dog requires a booster.

    We all want our pets to be safe from infections and potentially fatal diseases. However, yearly vaccinations as recommended by vaccine manufacturers are not based on any studies showing their necessity.  In fact, as the Rabies Challenge Fund reserach and other studies noted in this article show, an animal's immunity to disease is NOT enhanced by re-vaccination and, given that all vaccinations have the potential for side-effects, can actually be harmful to an animal. Read more about vaccinations and their potential harmful effects at Lifelong Immunity and also at Rabies Challenge Fund.

    Veterinarians -- Finding a Good One

    Recommendations from friends and relatives should be a main focus of your research to find a good veterinarian.

    A veterinary school may be a good source of a veterinarian. To find one in your area, check this list.

    You may also use the following:

    Veterinarian Specialties

    To find a holistic vet:

    Veterinary Terms

    Need to understand veterinary or medical abbreviations and terms? Try these websites:

    Vital Signs --"Normal" Readings for a Dog

    What should a dog's normal temperature, pulse, and breathing rate be? Here are the ranges:

    Temperature: 99.5 - 102.8
    Pulse: 60-120 beats per minute
    Breathing: 14-22 breaths per minute

    Wills and Planning for Your Pet's Future

    We all know that there is never any guarantee about length of life, either for our dogs or ourselves. From the side of rescue, we have become aware of many heartbreaking cases of dogs who are left behind when a guardian dies, only to be turned over to a shelter where they have an excellent chance of being euthanized. The Humane Society of the United States' website has information posted on "Providing for Your Pet's Future without You." There is also now a website with informative articles and links to other sites on the topic of estate planning and wills to cover the care of pets who outlive you. We encourage you to visit it.

    Two books on the topic may also be interesting:

    Estate Planning for Non-Human Family Members by Gerry W. Beyer, Professor of Law, St. Mary's University School of Law, San Antonio, Texas;

    All My Children Wear Fur Coats -- How To Leave A Legacy For Your Pet, by Peggy R. Hoyt, J.D., M.B.A.

    Although it may not be within the financial reach of most of us, those who can afford it can provide for lifetime care at a sanctuary called Pet Estates in Melrose, NY (when last we checked fees ranged from $20 to $45 per day). They state: "Unlike other pet retirement facilities that use a large, impersonal dormitory-style housing numerous pets under one roof, Pet Estates provides private and shared lakeside condos for your pets. Living arrangements are all custom-designed to enhance the lifestyle of your pets. Owner Don Gagnon, who lives on the premises, personally designed and constructed the buildings at The Estates, providing a casual and open space, within a confident and protected environment." There will be an Open House at Pet Estates in June 2004, or you can set up an appointment for a tour by calling the owners, Mary Lynn or Don, at 518-663-5732. Address is: 250 North Pole Road, Melrose, NY 12121

    Winterizing Your Dog

    When winter is upon us, we need to focus on the special needs of older dogs, who can be especially susceptible to the extremes of temperature and other stressful, dangerous conditions of winter.

    (1) Does your older dog need a sweater? How about a raincoat? Wet fur decreases your dog's ability to fend off the cold. Even if she's never needed these before, as she gets older, she'll be less able to keep herself warm with activity.
    (2) Is your dog's sleeping area free from drafts? Is there a blanket and thick mattress pad for her to snuggle under/sleep on?
    (3) Does your dog have ready access to unfrozen water? It is preferable for all dogs, including seniors, to live indoors with their family, but, if that's not possible for your dog, ensure there is always a source of water to drink that remains unfrozen.
    (4) Never leave anti-freeze in a place that is accessible to your dog. If it spills on the garage floor, wipe it up immediately and rinse the area clean with lots of water. The sweet smell of it is attractive to dogs.  Anti-freeze is a poison.

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