My mother, Chit Ramos, breeds Shih Tzus for a living, and, as can be expected, we’ve had our share of old dogs. What makes my mother somewhat unusual among breeders is that she doesn’t believe in a strict business model for running her kennel. For her, if you want dogs with good disposition, health, and intelligence, you simply can’t keep them in cages unless you have a good reason. They should be treated as part of your family.
And so it is that while some people are surprised that there are so many dogs in our house—16 at last count, and we’re adding new ones for the next generation—we treat our dogs as part of our family. Even though we have our own formal kennel name, Shadoogie, our actual dog area is our whole house, so that our dogs are house-trained.
Like all families, we have our senior citizens. In the case of our dogs, we simply don’t allow the females to breed beyond a certain age. It’s not good for the dog’s health, and neither is it good for the quality of the puppies that she will give birth to. At that point, we let the older dogs be, to live a relaxed life at home.
So, how do we take care of old dogs?
Currently, we have two “lola” dogs in the house: Georgie, and her mother Bambie, who are 9 and 13 years old, respectively. We used to have more senior dogs, but my mother (a breeder) allowed them to be adopted. (More on that later.)
“You have to remember, they’re not as playful as before,” she says. For some dogs, this may mean they have less patience for when people want to shower them with affection, leading to unwanted mouthing, bites, or overall bad temper. In other dogs, this can mean that they will prefer to have limited contact with humans from time to time.
It’s important, then, that they are given space, maybe even their own corner of the house. In ours, the dogs have organized themselves into groups. Bambie, for example, prefers to stay outside in the front yard. Georgie, who likes being around people, but not being the center of attention, is one of our Kitchen Dogs, as she stays mostly in the kitchen, just out of everyone’s way.
As your dog grows older, it’s a good idea to gauge how much attention he or she would like to have before requiring some “me time.” This way, he or she won’t be stressed out or exasperated.
UNIQUE HEALTH ISSUES
For my mom, each dog has its own set of health issues, even if they are all the same species. Bambie, for one, is practically deaf and blind, so we have to be aware when the weather isn’t good to bring her in—not that she really needs it. Her sense of smell is very acute, and she can actually find her way to the kitchen through the back door. Her daughter, Georgie, has excellent eyesight and hearing, but tends to hate cold weather. For her, we keep a few woven cloth doormats on the kitchen floor.
“You should know your own dog’s medical issues, and address them,” she says. It’s not just a matter of bringing the dog to the vet whenever something is wrong, it’s about being attentive to what can make them feel sick or uncomfortable.
“A friend told me a long time ago that her dog developed kidney stones from eating purely canned food,” Mom says, in a distracted tone. “That’s why I do this.” While we’re talking in the kitchen, she’s mixing rice and some trimmings with dog food.
PORTIONS AND SERVINGS
Older dogs tend to be more sedentary, so it’s a good idea to lessen their food allotment, if possible. That way, you can prevent obesity. It’s also very important to stick to a regular feeding schedule. You should know your dog’s digestive cycle, so you can make even their need to go out and do their business regular.
ARE VEGGIES OKAY?
Feeding dogs vegetables depends on the dog. Some like it; some don’t. If they do, it’s a good idea to reserve them as treats, or as something semi-regular. For old dogs, it’s possible that you can still teach the old dog new tricks, but if they’re really meat eaters, then all you can do is lessen the portions and salt content.
For older dogs, you can and will need supplements to keep them healthy, and their nutrition well-rounded. It is always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian first.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s June 2017 issue.