Making the Best Decisions for our Senior Dogs
Some of us fortunate dog owners will, at some point in time, have the great honour of living with a senior dog. Senior dogs make me laugh. Our relationship develops in a completely different way then it did when these dogs were my “competition partners.” What defines “senior,” I think is for each of us to decide. For me personally, I think age is just a number. My birth certificate may read that I am 51 years old but I will not buy into that! I believe the same holds true for my dogs.
My oldest dog today “Buzz” (who will be 16 years old in less than a month) has always lived with such joy. He truly exemplifies living each day as if it was your birthday and he has been that way since the day I brought him home as a 7-week old puppy.
A few months ago I had Buzz’s “wellness” blood work done at my vet clinic. When my vet herself made the phone call about the results I was a bit panicked (isn’t that the job of a vet tech??). Panic was replaced with relief as Dr. Kelly announced in a rather surprised voice that Buzz’s wellness profile looked very similar to a 5-year-old dog. No values where elevated anywhere. Hurray for Buzz!
As Buzzy has aged he has developed a collection of “lumps” or Lipomas all over his body. These are relatively harmless fat deposits under the skin that many dogs acquire as they grow older. A few years ago when crazy man Buzz knocked out one of his front teeth (and needed a surgery to remove a root) I decided to remove his biggest two lumps which hung down under his chest.
Great decision, life went on, Buzzy was unfazed.
Buzz’s body started betraying him as a 5-year-old so over the past 11 years he has had to do a lot of “compensating” to get around. Still, he will not be denied. When I set out to take the dogs for their “big walk” around our field Buzz always wants in. Don’t anyone suggest he is “too old” for the hills (there are a lot of them). Even though it only takes 15 minutes to make the trip around, the hills and uneven surface of the field make it challenging for a “senior” dog.
“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm”. ~ Henry David Thoreau
Buzzy has certainly not outlived enthusiasm. However, in the last month, I noticed he has gotten much slower on our daily walks and decided it must have something to do with his latest large lipomas. Buzz didn’t have the best hips in the world as a 2-year-old and now he had a huge fatty tumour hanging directly under his hips. It had gotten so big it affected the way he walked and the weight of it dragged him down. I decided to see if it was possible to “drain” the large unwanted protuberance without putting Buzz under a general anaesthetic. The answer sadly was no.
However, I woke up the next morning with a strong need to do more for Buzz. Yes, he was almost 16 years old but his blood values where that of a 5-year-old PLUS he was still crazy with joy for life. I thought today his body would withstand surgery but next year at this time I may not have that option and the size and weight of this tumour would be what finally ends his life.
Was I crazy? Should I be considering surgery for Buzz? I consulted my longtime friend Dr. Leslie (who happens to also be a veterinarian) and she said even though I may, in fact, be slightly crazy my idea to help Buzz wasn’t. She said I could go to a clinic that performs “laser surgery” it will be a much faster surgery as they just “zap” the blood vessels and the recovery will be better because the laser is less invasive than traditional surgery.
I was intrigued because this nagging feeling that I could do more for Buzz just wouldn’t go away. My next concern was recovery. I didn’t want to put Buzz through days or weeks of pain. So I still hesitated, but I was interested enough to do some research. Dr. Leslie directed me to her friend Dr. Renee Fleming at Guelph Animal Hospital. As luck would have it on Dr. Fleming’s bio was this line that made all the difference in the world for me.
Her most avid area of interest is pain control – both surrounding surgery and for chronic conditions such as arthritis or cancer. She is currently working on her certification for the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management
Bingo, it was just what I needed to read, I was game. I further read up on this laser surgery and after a long conversation with Dr. Fleming made the decision to book Buzzy for surgery the day after I arrived home from the Canadian Nationals.
Buzz had his surgery on Tuesday and had not one, but three lipomas removed. The surgery itself was under 90 minutes. I brought him home 5 hours later. He is already much happier. Yes, we have 2 weeks until the stitches come out but he hasn’t skipped a beat. He is moving so much better and I can tell he is happy with my decision.
I decided to share this experience with all of you to give you the confidence to make these tough decisions for your older dogs. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision for me. John said to me before, “only do this if you could be okay with the consequences of something unpredicted happening and Buzz not making it through the surgery.” I knew in my heart I could because success would make Buzz’s life so much better and doing nothing meant watching Buzz struggle the rest of his days carrying around at least 10 extra pounds of “lumps.”
Having a senior dog in the house can bring joy, but I think it is critical that we bring joy to them. A few years ago I wrote about the importance of “Big Adventures” for our senior dogs
I really believe the small effort of these big adventures makes a mammoth difference to our dog’s longevity but it also can bring you joy as you take a few moments from your day to reflect on a lifetime. This blog is written in celebration of the senior dog, may every day of their “retired” lives be enriched and filled with many “big adventures.”
Today I am grateful to have Buzzy safe and sound recovering at home.