Years ago I was sitting in the veterinarian’s office with my Collie Maya, when the exam room door opened and an elderly couple came into the main area. The woman cradled a thick pile of baby blankets in her arms as though she held a precious cargo within. Slowly she peeled back the layers and revealed a bony, bleary-eyed Chihuahua.
“Look,” she directed the motionless, incased form, “there’s a Collie!” She lowered her bundle and as I watched, the ancient dog lifted its head out of the wrappings and with obvious effort turned in our general direction. I don’t think I’d ever seen anything look that old.
“She’s 22 years old,” the woman said, part brag and part concern. “We’re not exactly sure, we got her when she was a couple of years old.”
Even give or take a year, I was still impressed and silently wondered if 22 years was a record. “We’re worried about her,” she added, “she’s not doing well.”
I nodded in amazement while the ancient head wobbled in effort to keep upright. Finally the old dog gave up, sank back into the blankets with visible relief, and the couple walked out.
Long after they left questions lingered in my mind. How in the world did that dog even hear? Or, after all those years, was there an unspoken communication between them? Surely the Chihuahua’s cloudy eyes could barely discern us in the waiting room, perhaps she smelled us. Or was she simply doing her job as she had always done; trying to please her devoted owners as they requested, by looking at the Collie.
The other day walking into the vet’s office I noticed a sign on the glass door announcing September is Senior Month. It recalled the memory of that brief introduction to a very senior dog. Guinness world record of the oldest living dog is Chanel at 21. She died on August 28, 2009. The oldest dog on record, Bluey, was an Australian Cattle Dog who died in 1939 at 29 years 8 months.
How to add (quality) years to your dog's life:
First and foremost, if your dog is overweight, put it on a diet now! The older our dogs get the harder it is to deal with excess weight. The same principles apply to our dogs as to us; diet, exercise, eat well. I've seen skinny people with obese dogs, I don't understand that. I've had owners tell me their dog isn't overweight, their vet said so. Guess what, vets don't tell us our dogs are fat because they are afraid of alienating the client. Senior food might be the solution short term, but I've heard many say senior food is so full of grain to lower protein and caloric content, that it isn't as good as adult formulas. I don't know, I'll try to find out more about that.
I have the opposite problem with my 12 year old dog, Banner. He has lost all the muscle mass in his rear and he is skin and bones. We struggle to get him to eat enough to put meat on his pathetic frame. I try to get as many calories in him as I can, but have to be careful not to upset his stomach. He gets a specially formulated senior diet mixed with doggy junk food. The ingredients are awful--sugar, dies, chemicals, but I am desperate to entice Banner to eat, so I'll trade some junk for calories. The truth is, our seniors require extra TLC but they are worth it! More to follow.....