Helping Your ‘Good Old Dog’ Navigate Aging: NPR

It’s important to talk to your veterinarian about any changes in your dog’s behavior or diet, says veterinarian Nicholas Dodman.

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It’s important to talk to your veterinarian about any changes in your dog’s behavior or diet, says veterinarian Nicholas Dodman.

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As dogs age, caring for them becomes more difficult. Owners of aging dogs often struggle with their pet’s dementia and incontinence, and must also navigate the maze of end-of-life care decisions.

Veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman is the head of the animal behavior department at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has worked with aging dogs for decades. He says that old age is not a disease, but a stage of life that animals and their owners have to go through.

Dodman recently collaborated with other veterinarians at Tufts University as well as writer Lawrence Linder on a reference guide for owners of older dogs called Good Old Dog: Expert Tips for Keeping Your Aging Dog Healthy, Happy, and Comfortable.

Dodman joined Fresh airis Dave Davies for a conversation about the best ways to care for your older dogs during their golden years, covering topics such as the types of diet and exercise senior dogs need, illnesses they will face and the best way to handle the end. life care.

Basic Needs of Older Dogs

According to Dodman, one of the basic things owners need to know about raising older pets is that older dogs are generally more sensitive to extreme temperature changes due to changes in their metabolism.

“They really look like older people,” he explains. “Older people are often victims of these episodes of freezing or extreme heat. They are less able to regulate their temperature, so this must be taken into account by ensuring that they wear some sort of coat or shaped contraption blanket. Keep them warm and don’t leave them outside for too long in cold weather. The same goes for heat. You really don’t want to leave them out in the yard, especially tied up on an extremely hot day. They can become dehydrated. They are less able to cope with the temperature change, and that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Good old dog

Good Old Dog: Expert Tips for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy and Comfortable
By Nicolas Dodman
Hardcover, 288 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
List price: $26

Read an excerpt

Dodman also recommends moderating exercise for older dogs because heart and lung function deteriorate. And he warns owners who buy specially packaged dog food as a “senior diet” for their pets.

“While there are certain laws that govern what constitutes puppy food and while there are recommendations and regulations regarding what goes into dog food, there is no real legal requirement or definition of what constitutes a ‘senior’ dog food,” he says. “So they are out there, but their composition is very variable.”

To ensure your dog’s diet is appropriate, Dodman recommends consulting your veterinarian before introducing a new food to your pet’s bowl. He also recommends checking with your veterinarian if your dog seems overweight, as the extra weight can affect the health of his joints.

“The large mass or weight of the dog will put more stress on the joints,” he says. “You can often get a lot of relief (from joint pain) if you can get him down to his fighting weight.”

End of Life Care for Senior Dogs

Another concern many owners have, Dodman says, is what to do when their pet contracts a terminal illness. Cancer kills 500,000 dogs a year in the United States and affects half of all dogs over 10 years old.

But deciding whether or not to treat cancer aggressively is difficult for many pet owners, Dodman says, because there are so many things to consider: the cost of treatment, a pet’s quality of life after treatment, whether the treatment is painful and how long a dog’s life can be prolonged.

“If, for example, you had a relatively non-invasive procedure that wouldn’t cause your dog a lot of pain, and it would save him an extra six months and you could afford that treatment – and those six months were a lifetime quality – so why not, if you can afford it?” he says. “But, on the other hand, just to prolong an existence… Some people, that I have known in the past… have do that. The owners, with the cooperation of the veterinarians, just took it step by step, when in reality you are on a highway to nowhere. If the dog is in chronic pain and doesn’t have long to go, I sometimes question the wisdom of this approach.

Older dogs can also develop canine cognitive dysfunction, Dodson says, which is the human equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease.

“As in humans, there is a certain constellation of signs that are not explained by any physical sign or disease,” he says. “It is a diagnosis of illness or an exclusion. To make the diagnosis, there is a useful table on Pfizer’s animal health website, where it breaks down the signs a dog may exhibit. If you take the test, then take the test again a month later, and see that the number of signs is increasing, that’s a very good sign that you are on the road to Alzheimer’s disease. »

Eventually, there may be a time in a dog’s life when he can indicate through his behavior that it’s time to let go, Dodman says.

“We listen carefully to what people tell us about a dog’s life and we examine the dog carefully,” he says. “If they’ve reached a point where they’ve given up — they’re basically dull, not enjoying life, not playing, not interacting, not responding to any therapy, losing interest in food and social interactions — and nothing you do can do to bring them back, you have to think very seriously about quality of life.”


Interview Highlights

Of the 4 million dogs taken to shelters each year, 1 million are abandoned because their owners simply think they are too old, says veterinarian Nicholas Dodman.

Tufts University


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Tufts University


Of the 4 million dogs taken to shelters each year, 1 million are abandoned because their owners simply think they are too old, says veterinarian Nicholas Dodman.

Tufts University

How to measure your dog’s age

“Small dogs live longer and very large breeds have a fairly short lifespan. So if you’re taking an older dog you may want to multiply by 8 or so to get its human equivalent and for small dogs, say between 10 or 15 pounds – that number drops to 6. So you multiply by 6 to get its human equivalent.

On the feeding table leftovers

“My dog ​​gets table scraps and I’m proud of it. But you can’t overdo it. This needs to be regulated, especially if the dog is on a diet. You can really ruin everything by feeding him too much human food. Dog food is designed quite well to meet all the carbohydrate, fat and protein needs as well as all the additives they need. The more you give them something else, the more you can unbalance that equation – and what’s more, you I don’t want a dog that sits on the edge of the table and begs during the meal.”

On dog arthritis

“Most often, arthritis occurs due to a disease that the dog suffered from when very young and which has now progressed. One condition, for example, is hip dysplasia, where the ball and socket joint of the the hip is not properly congruent, so the head The femur bone is distorted and does not fit properly into the socket. So there is some movement and over the years we find these arthritic changes that you can see on an x-ray. It’s like it’s corroded. and it gets progressively more painful.”

Good old dog

By Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Nicholas Dodman and Lawrence Linder


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