Thursday, December 17, 2009

Golden years ahead

Stella is seven and a half which for a Great Dane is tipping into old age. In the mornings now, especially the chillier ones when our house is infiltrated by the promise of frozen air outside, she doesn't rise up out of her bed without some encouragement. She gets colder faster when she's outside so I'm having to put double layers of jackets on her or else she starts to shiver. I have to help her - just a little - when she takes that big step up into the car. And this morning, when she crouched down to take a pee, she was on a grassy slope and somehow lost her footing and balance and slipped and then she just lay there on her belly, looking at me, somewhat confused. "This has never happened to me. What is happening?" she asked.

She still grumbles at the new dogs at the park but the edge is off. She still barks at the squirrels and raccoons and possums in the backyard but instead of running at them full tilt, it's more of a trot. Even Rocky, with his own set of stiff hips, overtakes her in their pursuit of these backyard intruders. I use to worry about them possibly catching one of these critters. Now I know they never will.

Sometimes, when she is doing nothing more than lying in one of her beds, I hear Stella let out a sigh verging on a whimper. This is new behaviour and I wonder if she's doing it as a new stratagem for attention or if there is some new ache in her bones which is causing discomfort. Especially after that last round of mystery affliction, I am cautious and always trying to decipher the meaning behind every noise she makes.

But there are new curtains opening as well, revealing new prizes. Stella, always affectionate with her human friends, is even more so now, making more effort to appreciate her companions through nose nuzzles and body leaning and hello barks.

There's been a subtle shift on our walks. It seems our communication is better. Like when she wants to go left and I want to go right, she doesn't pull. She just stops and stands there and looks at me then looks in the direction she wants to go and she waits. If I am not in a rush to get into work and the weather is not too unpleasant, we go. I follow her to whatever scent pulls her. Other mornings, I say "No, not today" or "Leave it" and we go the way the clock pulls me.

At home, there's not just a sense of comfort in her routine and manners, there's a sense of security. If she clears the backyard of all interlopers, all will be safe. If she gets a bone to gnaw on after supper, all will be well. If she gets to sleep in her own bed, meaning I have to kick Rocky out of it (he's got his own but he prefers Stella's), the night will pass peacefully. During the day, Stella is most happy and pretty much immobile under her covers beside a window through which to look out and occasionally bark at the world. In her own mind, she is still the queen. She may be willing to give up the crown eventually - but just not today.

So, while I worry about her health, I am always hopeful that Stella's slide into her golden years will still be a smooth and uneventful ride.


Anonymous said...

I know what you mean, Fred. It's especially poignant with the larger breeds.

I know I could make 12-year-old Kyoto's (shiba inu) life easier if I just focussed on helping her lose a few pounds so her joints wouldn't ache. I do watch what she eats though because, like me, she can't handle buffalo wings and fries. Her muzzle and eyebrows are white now. Sometimes when she jumps on the bed, her back legs don't quite make it and I hoist her tail end up. Once she's up, she's pretty proud of herself. Sometimes she gets full of ginger and races down the stairs; it makes my heart stop. She also takes off in a tear if there's a squirrel in the backyard.

I know what you mean about the rich communications and closeness that develops.

She caught me looking at her yesterday. I must have had that "gosh, she's getting old" look. She gave me back a gaze that was so wise.

I didn't anthropomorphize that. Nope.

Kate said...

That whimper might be caused by osteoarthritis, which most older mammals get. This older mammal finds glucosamine really helps a lot, and if you're not already giving it to her, you might want to give it a try. Although I use a human version, there are many kinds available for dogs!

Fred said...

Hi redstarcafe, I do find with the larger breeds, I "feel" their aches and pains more. Maybe it's just due to them physically taking up more space that their emotions also seem to take up more space.

Hi Kate, Stella's just started on glucosamine now (Rocky's been on it ever since I got him) along with chondroitin, MSM and celadrin and there's always the big bottle of Metacam for back up if all that fails.

It would be a lot easier, though, if her aging bones just spontaneously self-rejuvenated.

Joanne said...

Fred, check out cartrophen for Stella. It is a series of injections that were given to Abby. Made a heck of a difference. It is not an ongoing thing...starts every week for a month, every second week for a month, then once a month for a couple of months and in some cases, it may need to be repeated. It really does help with their arthritis. Check it out Also a bed warmer is a great idea. There are some things you can put in the microwave and heat and put in their beds...actually, I would like one...

Fred said...

Thanks, Joanne. I'll definitely check it out.

Barb said...

I LOVE old dogs... but it is a bittersweet experience for sure. The bond developed over the years deepens, the communication improves. But it is so hard to watch such good friends grow old and grey while we worry about their comfort.

Another suggestion just to keep in mind...if there is a vet in your area who is certified in veterinary acupuncture, that can make a world of improvement for chronic pain conditions. It's not wishful thinking, nor magic... there appears to be a real physiological improvement. It doesn't help everyone or every dog, but it helps many of them.

Marcie said...

I try to avoid reading about animals getting old in general. Been there, done that and like to pretend it's not going to happen to Lexus.

Stella is a lucky girl to have an owner who notices she is getting older & understands how important every day is because unfortunately they are not around forever. I didn't get it with my first dog. I didn't notice she was going grey until she had gone white, I didn't notice her hearing was getting worse until she was almost deaf, I was too busy & blind to notice that she was getting old because I had her my whole life. After 19 years with her & literally growing up together I was so used to having her be apart of my life it didn't even seem possible that she would ever not be. It floored me when I realized she wouldn't be around forever, unfortunately she was well on her way downhill by time the light turned on for me.

Stella is one lucky pup & I have no doubt her senior years by your side are going to be wonderful.

borderjack said...

"...I am always hopeful that Stella's slide into her golden years will still be a smooth and uneventful ride."

I hope so too.

I also want to thank you for sharing your thoughts about your dogs' golden years. Mine are 9 and 10.5, and aging is always a tough thing to think about. I'm particular about their care, and try to be "preventative" with healthy food/lifestyle for them. You give me comfort in knowing there are other people out there facing similar concerns. Thanks. And "cheers" to Stella's and Rocky's continued good health :)

borderjack said...

I forgot: my vet's assistant has a large breed dog that had joint issues/arthritis. She swears by something called "Sasha's Blend". It comes in the form of 'bites' - like a treat. It's not a drug, but is shellfish based (so it's apparently safe but not if your dogs might be allergic to seafood). Anyway, I've heard really good things about it for joint/mobility/inflammation issues. I wanted to use them for Klondike but he has, among other things, seafood allergies. I'll definitely use them with Sparkle, though, if the need ever arises.

Fred said...

Hi borderjack, I used to have Stella on Sasha's Blend for no particular reason, just a supplement. I think I might try putting her on it again now that there is a reason.