The Old Dog

I write with my old dog at my feet. Tired out after her hour's free running - and she sure does run! Border Collies tend to run till they drop - she sleeps peacefully near me. She doesn't see so well now, and she doesn't hear as sharply, but as long as she jumps up - ready to go - at the sound of the lead, I know she's well.

It's so easy to look after her after our long life together. It's never a chore to take extra time for my old dog, to hold the kitchen door open a bit longer, lift her into the car - it's not a task, it's a pleasure. It's a small Thankyou for all the love and fun she's given me over the last fourteen years.

Dogs don't live as long as we do - some stiff questions will need to be answered when I get to Heaven! - but they pack an enormous amount into their few years.

A sheepdog runs maybe 30,000 miles in his lifetime, much of it over rough terrain and in all weathers. Gundogs also clock up huge mileage, and even the busy little terrier covers an awful lot of ground during the course of an active day. This activity causes a lot of wear and tear on the skeleton as your young tearaway becomes an old dog.

The Secret of Keeping an Old Dog Young

There are steps we can take to keep our old friend active and content for as long as possible. The most important is to keep him physically fit. "You are what you eat," as the old saw goes, and the right nutrition is so important.

How would your teeth be in old age if you only ate soggy biscuits? How could your body function correctly if you had been bred for thousands of years to eat raw meat, guts and bones, yet were only allowed to eat grain? And what would your muscle tone be like if you were served mushy food in your armchair everyday, instead of having to prepare fresh food for yourself?

This is how it is for millions of dogs worldwide, caught up in the fashion for fast food. Check out our Dog Feeding page now, to see how to feed your dog healthily, appropriately, and ... very cheaply!

Atkins for Dogs?

To keep your old dog fit and happy, it's essential to keep the weight off! It's so sad to see huge, obese dogs waddling around, and it's usually pure self-indulgence on the part of their owners. So much easier to stuff the dog with unsuitable food and then blame her for not wanting to exercise!

Did you know that giving a small dog a biscuit is the equivalent of us eating a beefburger! Please think before giving your dog - of whatever age - unsuitable food. If you must, then break off a tiny morsel of biscuit - that will carry the same message of devotion.

If you follow the natural diet correctly, this problem never arises. It's hard work chomping your way through meaty bones, and this is beneficial for teeth, muscles and therefore the skeleton. The whole dog gets involved in ripping meat off a bone - see them use their legs and shoulders and really put their backs into it!

Dry him off

My next tip comes from that redoubtable English Border Collie breeder and trainer, Bing Bellamy (Sealight). "Never leave an old dog wet!" she admonished. Some of you rejoice in warm weather year-round, so this may not apply to you. But for those of us languishing in the temperate zones or colder it's good advice. It's easy enough to ensure your house-dwelling old dog is clean and dry after a walk, but remember your kennel dogs need even more to be dried.

Despite all your efforts and possibly as a result of an accident, your old dog may suffer from arthritis and associated joint problems. There's lots of help you can get, from over-the-counter remedies to working with a Canine Massage Therapist - don't leave your friend suffering!

Give him comfort

Give your old dog a warm, comfy bed. Many dogs have made a warm, comfy bed a requirement from an early age - for my Whippet it's a priority! But even those who spend their life spurning the lovely bed you bought them in favour of a hard tiled floor will benefit from a soft bed as they get older.

Be sure that it's an easy-care bed, as one of the problems you may encounter in your old dog is urinary incontinence. This is more common in a spayed bitch, as the hormones needed to keep the tissues plump are no longer available. It's simply cured though. Your vet will have hormone tablets that you can administer in remarkably small doses that I have found fix the problem completely.

Eyes and Ears

Just like us, your old dog is gradually going to suffer from diminished function of eyes and ears.

Loss of hearing can be dangerous for your dog - unless you are prepared to keep him on a lead rather more. My old dog Poppy was so deaf towards the end of her sixteen years that I attached a bell to her collar. At least I knew where she was in our garden or in the fields we walked, even if she didn't know where I was.

It's now standard practice for us to add a bell to the collar of our old dogs when we go out. And the bell also keeps bears away - not a huge advantage in the Norfolk countryside, but no doubt very useful in bear country!

It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, though, and an unexpected benefit of hearing loss was that Poppy was no longer terrorised by fireworks for the month leading up to Halloween.

You'll know when your old dog's eyesight is getting worse as he starts to knock into doorways, miss catching his ball or frisbee, and peer in your general direction when you speak to him, instead of straight at you. As time goes by he'll stick close to you a lot of the time. Unless there's a danger to the dog, or he is seriously injuring himself, he can usually be accommodated pretty easily.

His eyes may weep more, so you'll need to clean his face for him. You'll also need to clean him the other end on occasion, especially if he has a long coat, as he finds it harder to reach that far to clean himself. A long-coated dog could also benefit from having his "trousers" and underside clipped shorter. This will ensure that there are no mats than can become smelly.

Tough Decision Time

Some dogs will slide gracefully and uneventfully into old age, like Poppy, and will die peacefully at home. Up to age 16, she still came for occasional walks and was content to potter about the house and garden, having no difficulty getting up. But there may come a time when your old dog is suffering pain, is unhappy, and you need to intervene to end his life.

Unlike us, a dog can't curl up with a good book. If he can't "be a dog", and run or just walk about, snuffling at things and enjoying life; if he's no longer excited at the sight of the lead and cry of "Walk!" then maybe it's time to let him go. Don't agonise for too long over this. You'll know when the time is right, so just do it.

I shall have to dodge the brickbats now, but I could never bring myself to put a dog's back end into nappies and onto a pair of wheels. My criterion in the event of an accident has always been "Can he be a dog?" Getting about on three legs will still allow him to be a dog. Two legs and two wheels will not. Though I must add that this is my own personal choice. I know people who have kitted out their dog with wheels and had success. There's a lot you'd need to take into account to choose the best outcome for your family and your dog.

Click here, then roll over the thumbnails to see an old dog in action!

Jake at 14, and Sky at 8

Jake at 14, and Sky at 8

Jake at 14, and Sky at 8

Jake at 14, and Sky at 8

Jake at 14, and Sky at 8

Jake at 14, and Sky at 8

Jake at 14, and Sky at 8