Coping with ageing canine companions


Amrita Sharma
The experience of having someone you love grow old and helpless in front of you is very painful. And when it involves a four-legged piece of your heart, who has been a true and loyal companion, showering us with unconditional love and support, it can be a life-
changing experience.

Often pet parents behave like the ostrich, burying their heads under the sand, thinking that the cloud of our beloved canine family members does not exist. But the truth is that one needs to accept the inevitable; and one needs to be prepared to deal with the situation when it finally stares us in the face. This is what happened with Atul and Sakshi. When they got their dog, he was a pup barely a few months old. And before they knew it, age had crept up on him and things were not the same for any of them. “It was shocking how time just flew by with Sultan. It seemed like just yesterday that he would sprint like a panther in the huge park I took him to for his exercise. And suddenly I was walking faster than him,” says Atul. For Sakshi too, it was a very emotional phase. “He would jump and squeal and lick my face all over the moment I came back from school where I work. And it look me a while to realise that he would slowly wag his tail, make an effort to get up and greet me when I came back. Believe me my heart just broke,” she says. Sakshi is now alone in feeling like that. Many like her have difficulty in firstly realising that there are changes taking place in their canine companions and secondly in accepting that their babies have jumped years and grown old.
Signs of ageing
Experts say that it is important to be aware of the changes that dogs manifest—in their health, body functions and behaviour—in order to cope better. According to vets, most common symptoms of ageing in dogs are weight changes, loss of vision, hearing loss, increased sensitivity to temperature changes, urinary incontinence and loss of house training and changes in activity level and behaviour, to name a few. Besides these changes, dogs also become more vulnerable to infections and ailments due to changing food habits, lack of exercise and bladder issues. If one is not aware of the signs of ageing in dogs, it can sometimes lead to complications. This is what happened with Meera and Vikram, who were both exercise enthusiasts and would love to take their Golden Retriever, Mojo, along with them. “We didn’t realise when Mojo started growing old. And since we had always been in the habit of jogging with him, we continued doing so, little realising the damage it was doing. It was only after he started panting and getting breathless very soon that it hit us that he was getting older,” says Vikram. It was depressing for the couple to watch their beloved pet’s health declining day by day. They also realised that Mojo needed a lot more care and attention than ever before. “It broke my heart to see that he was not that active anymore and needed help with his movements. I still remember one day Mojo kept pawing me to take him out for a walk, but I was fighting a deadline and ignored him. That was when he lost control and defecated in the portico. He was so guilty that he wouldn’t look at me and I had to hug him and cuddle him for a long time to make him feel better. I learnt to be very alert to his needs and calls from then on,” recalls Meera.
Make it easier
Experts also say that while we can’t stop the ageing process of dogs, we can make it easier for them to deal with it by being more sensitive, more attentive and more aware of what is going on with them. Some professional help is also advisable at this stage. It’s good to consult vets to find out what kind of diet would work for the aging dog, what kind of supplements are needed and what kind of medical support can be provided to ease the health problems.
Extra bit of love
But what is needed the most at last would be an extra bit of love with care and affection that would be most valuable and the best medicine for our four-legged family members. Sometimes that makes all the difference to our canine companions as they enter the sunset phase of their life.