Easing Your Senior Poodle into the Golden Years

In This Chapter
  • Feeding your senior Poodle
  • Adjusting your senior Poodle’s exercise routine
  • Dealing with health problems that afflict senior dogs
  • Letting go of your senior Poodle
Just like an older person, a senior Poodle can be active and happy. However, just like an older person, your Poodle may need some adjustments to his lifestyle. In this chapter, I explain how to feed and exercise a senior Poodle, how to handle a variety of health issues, and how you can part with your beloved pet when the unfortunate time comes. (For more information, check out Senior Dogs For Dummies by Susan McCullough [Wiley].)
Remember
Your Poodle may still act like a puppy, but by the time he reaches 7 years old or so, you may notice some changes. He may not want to play as long or as hard. He may be a bit stiff after a nap. Whether you notice any outward signs, seven is a good age to ask your veterinarian to do a geriatric profile, which includes a complete physical and a blood workup. Ordering an annual blood workup gives your vet a chance to detect and stop any problems before they progress too far beyond help.

Instituting a Sensible Senior Diet


Around age seven or so, your Poodle may show signs of aging in many areas, including appetite. Even if he still seems as active and as hungry as ever, his metabolism could be changing. Schedule an appointment to talk to your veterinarian about your Poodle’s diet. She may run blood tests and, depending on the results, suggest a senior food fit for your Poodle. Senior foods have many benefits for your dog, including the following:
- Senior foods typically have less protein and fat.
- They may include supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin.
- Many senior foods have omega-3 fatty acids to help control arthritis.
- They also may have omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.
Even if your vet doesn’t recommend that you give your senior Poodle a different food, you should keep watching to see if your dog starts adding a few pounds. You may not want to cut back on his normal food, but you can cut back on or change the snacks and treats you’ve been giving him. Try the following tactics:
- Buy smaller dog biscuits or break the larger biscuits in half.
- Find low-calorie treats. Keep a bag of carrot sticks in your refrigerator to give to your Poodle instead of cookies.
- Replace rawhide chewies with nylon bones.

Exercising Your Senior Poodle


Exercise goes hand in hand with watching your Poodle’s diet — a statement that holds true from the time your Poodle is a puppy to when he hits senior territory. For your senior Poodle, a touch of arthritis may make it harder for him to enjoy the long walks he’s used to. He may no longer be able to compete in performance events or fetch a ball endlessly. In his golden years, you need to be creative and find ways to exercise your Poodle without putting him at risk for injury. Exercise for a senior Poodle is as important as exercise for a senior human. Dogs, like people, need to keep active to maintain muscle tone and to help fight weight gain. Exercise also helps with mental awareness. The following list has a few ideas:
- If you and your Poodle have always exercised by taking long walks, consider going on more frequent and shorter walks. If you’ve always taken a long walk in the morning and one in the evening, try to shorten those walks and work in a walk during mid-afternoon. With this schedule, the distance you travel can be the same, but you put less stress on your Poodle. You can use the same tactic for sessions of fetch. Instead of playing for 20 minutes, try holding two 10-minute sessions.
- Poodles who have competed in performance events (see Chapter Showing Off and Enjoying Your Poodle’s Talents) still enjoy the events in their golden years, even if they can’t run as fast or turn as quickly now. Many older agility dogs are able to compete in the preferred agility division, which has lower jumps and allows more time to finish the course.
- Show dogs often enjoy trips to shows, even after they retire. A long weekend may be too much for your Poodle, but if a show is taking place close to home, take him along. Your Poodle will like the outing, and you’ll appreciate all the people who fuss over your senior.
Remember
No matter how much or how little exercise you provide for your senior Poodle, try to include him in as many family activities as possible. Don’t isolate him just because he can’t keep up with everyone in the family anymore. He still needs your love and companionship.

Handling Senior Health Issues


Many Poodles are healthy and active far into their senior years. Occasionally, however, problems start cropping up as the gray hairs increase and the playtime winds down. A proper diet, plenty of exercise, and regularly scheduled visits with your veterinarian go a long way toward keeping your Poodle healthy, but old age may bring some health issues that you can’t foresee or prevent. I discuss some health issues your Poodle may face in the following sections.

Potty problems


Your older Poodle may need to go out for bathroom breaks more often as he gets on in years. During the day, increase the number of times you take your Poodle out. (Of course, if you have a Toy or Miniature who uses a litter box or a papered area, he already has access to the appropriate area all the time.) A schedule that was perfect for your dog when he was younger may not be enough now that he’s a senior. Taking your Poodle for breaks every four hours can make him more comfortable and prevent accidents indoors.

Incontinence, or the inability to restrain a natural discharge from the body, is a common problem with older dogs and one of the main motivators for euthanasia. If you’ve noticed that your Poodle has this potty problem, schedule an appointment with your vet to make sure that the leaking isn’t a symptom of an issue more serious than weakening muscles. For example, your Poodle may have a bladder infection. When the vet rules out other causes, she can prescribe medication to stop or lessen the problem.

Arthritis


Arthritis is a common problem that comes with old age (in dogs and in people). Your Poodle may have arthritis if he’s stiff and slow moving after naps or if he limps. Take your dog to your vet for diagnosis. For a mild case of arthritis, a daily aspirin may be all it takes to keep your Poodle comfortable; talk to your vet about dosage and about using buffered or coated aspirin so it’s gentler on your Poodle’s stomach. If aspirin doesn’t do the job, talk to your veterinarian about giving your Poodle glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, or treating him with acupuncture (see Chapter Taking Basic Care of Your Poodle’s Health for details). Rimadyl also may be an option for severe cases.
Warning!
Rimadyl is a drug veterinarians frequently prescribe for arthritis. It can free your Poodle from back pain, but it also has its drawbacks. If your Poodle has any liver problems, Rimadyl may not be appropriate to deal with arthritis. If your vet doesn’t bring up this topic, mention it to her so she can have blood tests done to confirm that your Poodle has no existing liver problems. Afterward, you should have tests done every six months to make sure that the Rimadyl isn’t affecting your Poodle’s liver.
Besides giving medication, you can do the following to help your arthritic Poodle:
- Make sure your Poodle doesn’t overexert himself. Stop games before he has the chance to get sore or injured. Exercise is important, but you need to give it in smaller doses. (I cover exercise for senior Poodles earlier in this chapter.)
- Make sure his bed is in a draft-free area. He may have enjoyed sleeping in a cool corner when he was younger, but if your Poodle has arthritis, a warmer space may make him feel more comfortable.
- Invest in a thick, plush bed. His bed doesn’t have to be expensive; you can make your own plush bed with two or three layers of egg-crate foam, depending on the size of your Poodle. (Chapter Choosing the Best Poodle for You has more details on buying bedding.)
- Be wary of stairs. Your senior Poodle may manage on the level quite well, but stairs may be a real challenge for him. Consider purchasing or building a ramp for small flights of stairs. Otherwise, you may need to take on the responsibility of carrying your Poodle up and down stairs. If you live in a building with an elevator, but you’ve always taken the stairs for exercise, try using the elevator to make life easier for your Poodle.

 Hearing problems


You may fondly recall many occasions when your Poodle pretended not to hear you, but as a senior dog, your Poodle may really be having trouble hearing. If he doesn’t come when called or doesn’t respond to noises that would otherwise alert him (like the refrigerator door opening), take your dog to your vet to get his hearing checked. Hearing loss is progressive, so you may not notice your Poodle’s condition until it progresses to the point where it’s obvious.

Some common causes of hearing problems include the following:
- Your Poodle may be suffering from age-related hearing loss or presbycusis.
- If you’ve hunted with your Poodle, the noise from numerous gunshots may have damaged his ears.
- Ear infections can cause temporary or permanent deafness. If there’s a discharge from or nasty smell in the ear, if you notice pus, or if your dog is shaking his head or scratching his ear, head for your vet.
Tip
You and your Poodle can adjust to his hearing troubles and continue with your lives if you follow these suggestions:
- Let your Poodle know you’re coming. Stamp on the floor as you approach so you can alert him with vibrations.
- Use hand signals. If you haven’t taught your Poodle hand signals before, he’ll quickly learn that he needs to look at you for direction. Decide on an appropriate signal, be consistent, and retrain. For instance, for the “come” command, have your dog on a long line, get his attention, give your hand signal, and then gently reel him in. Praise and treat. This is one way you can teach an old dog some new tricks. You’ll be surprised at how fast your dog learns the signals.
- Use a small flashlight rather than a clicker when teaching new behaviors (see Chapter Housetraining Made Easy for more about training). Go for a flashlight with a push button; switch flashlights are too slow for training.
- Replace your Poodle’s regular collar with a vibrator collar. A vibration can mean that your Poodle has done something right, or you can vibrate to get your dog’s attention so that he knows “someone wants me.” You can even combine the collar with hand signals and treats. Use the collar all the time if the vibration means “someone wants me.”
- Keep your Poodle on his lead when he isn’t indoors or in a fenced area. He may not be able to hear approaching cars or other dangers. The job of keeping him safe falls on you.

Fading eyesight


Your Poodle’s eyesight may start to fade with age, due to the following canine (and often human) conditions:
- Cataracts: A clouding of the eye’s lens, which gives the eye a murky, whitish-blue look. Your dog’s eyes may start to look bluish simply due to age, which doesn’t affect his vision. Check with your vet if you notice a difference in your Poodle’s eyes.
- Corneal ulcers: These can happen at any age if your Poodle experiences irritation in or an injury to an eye. Left untreated, a corneal ulcer can lead to blindness. If your Poodle is squinting or has redness, discharge, or discoloration in his eyes, schedule an examination with your vet right away.
- Glaucoma: A condition that produces elevated pressure in the eye; the amount of pressure determines how quickly a dog goes blind. If your dog’s eye is red or painful, or if it looks cloudy or enlarged, it may be glaucoma. If you catch the condition early, you can give medication to lower the pressure temporarily. Surgery may help, but it doesn’t always work. More than 40 percent of all dogs who get glaucoma go blind, no matter what’s done to treat the problem.
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) or sudden acquired retinal degeneration (SARD): Your Toy or Miniature Poodle may inherit the former condition, but the latter is a noninherited form. Both of these diseases cause blindness, generally affecting dogs between the ages of six and eight years. With PRA, the dog’s night vision goes first, and eventually he becomes totally blind. With SARD, the dog is suddenly and totally blind. If you think your dog has trouble seeing, make a vet appointment.
Tip
Blindness or limited eyesight certainly limits your Poodle, but maybe not as much as you expect. If he still has his hearing and his sense of smell, these senses allow him to navigate quite well in familiar surroundings. In other words, if your Poodle goes blind, don’t rearrange the furniture! Try the following guidelines instead to make life as simple as possible for your pal:
- When you walk your Poodle, keep your eyes peeled for anything in his path, like a child’s toy or a fallen branch. Steer him clear of any obstacles.
- Always talk to your Poodle as you approach him, and remind others to do the same. Any dog may snap when touched unexpectedly.
- Keep his food, water bowls, and bed in the same places.
- Don’t wash his plush toys unless they become absolutely filthy. The scent on the toys enables him to find them.
- Give him squeaky toys or balls with bells so he can locate his toys without much trouble.
- Keep the basement door shut so your Poodle doesn’t accidentally tumble down the stairs. If your residence has two stories, put baby gates at the top and bottom of the stairs.
- Add textures to your floors. A throw rug near a set of stairs can act like a warning track on a baseball field. A rough mat by the outside door can serve the same purpose.

Saying Goodbye to Your Beloved Poodle


No matter how long your Poodle lives, his life won’t be long enough. Toys and Miniatures can live to be 18 years old, and a Standard may live to be 14. However, none of those ages are long enough. The unfortunate truth is that in most cases, the day will come when you have to say goodbye to your most cherished companion.

It would be nice to think that when the time comes, your Poodle will just pass on quietly in his sleep, but that’s rarely the case with dogs. Most of the time the owners must make the decision to euthanize.

Euthanasia is the painless process of putting a dog to death, and the process is carried out by your veterinarian. Most vets use an overdose of the anesthetic pentobarbital. Some vets agree to sedate the dogs first. No matter your vet’s method, you can be sure that the procedure is fast and painless.

Letting go of an adored pet isn’t easy, but you can take some comfort in knowing that when your Poodle’s quality of life is poor, and he’s constantly in pain, the compassionate thing to do is to release him. In the following sections, I walk you through the stages of saying goodbye to your Poodle.

Knowing when the time has come


Many people say that your dog will “tell” you when the time to say goodbye has come — that you’ll just know deep down. I’m not convinced that this is the case. All owners want their dogs to stay with them as long as possible, so sometimes owners deny that their dogs have serious problems. I’ve seen blind and deaf dogs that could hardly move; their quality of life was poor, yet their owners couldn’t make the final decision to euthanize.

Making arrangements in case your Poodle outlives you


A dog’s life is so much shorter than a human’s, which makes it easy to forget that your dog may outlive you. You may believe that family members and friends will step in and care for your pets, but that may not be the case. My mother, for example, is always willing to pet sit, but she has no room, or desire, frankly, to care for two dogs permanently. My brother knows that my dogs are a part of my family, but caring for two dogs fits neither his lifestyle nor his desire.

Include care of your dog in your will. At the very least, leave a letter with your lawyer about your desires for your Poodle’s care. Remember to keep your desires updated, because situations can change. Years ago, I had a casual arrangement in place with two other women. We agreed that if anything happened to one of us, the other two would step in and care for that person’s dogs, by keeping them ourselves or finding good homes for them. One summer, we were all in the same car, and we had an accident. It was minor, but it made me realize that I needed another plan.

Whatever arrangement you make, be sure that your will also makes provisions for the cost of dog care. A friend or relative may be happy to take your Poodle, but that person may not have the resources to care for a Poodle — especially a senior dog, a pet that can require more money for care. Also, consider how well your dog may adapt to his new home. If my breeder isn’t available to care for my old male, and no friend or relative of mine can give him a home, I’d rather have him put down than sent to a shelter. I don’t want my dog’s last days to be spent in a shelter.

Another possibility is to make arrangements with a Poodle rescue program to care for and find good homes for your Poodle. Every Poodle Club of America local affiliate club has a rescue chairperson, so you can contact a Poodle club in your area to get information. Go to www.poodleclubofamerica.org to locate an affiliate club near you.

Very rarely will a vet tell an owner what to do in this case, but your vet can advise you in matters of your senior Poodle and help you make an educated decision about when you should say goodbye. The following list gives you some questions to ask yourself:
- Does your Poodle have a terminal disease?
- Is he in constant pain?
- Can he eat and drink normally?
- Can he urinate and defecate on his own and without pain?
- Does he still enjoy walks and playing games, even if the activities don’t last as long?
Remember
Pain is a huge determining factor for many owners, but the decision to euthanize must be yours. Don’t be swayed by others. Always do what’s best for your Poodle.

Deciding whether to be with your Poodle at the end


After you make the decision to have your Poodle euthanized, your vet will ask if you want to be with your pal at the end. This decision is a personal one, based on your state of mind and preference. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t be with your Poodle.
Tip
If you have children, be honest with them. Tell them what’s happening with clear language. Don’t tell a child that the dog will be “put to sleep”; the child may develop a fear of falling asleep. Tell your children ahead of time so they can say goodbye.

Memorializing your Poodle


You need to talk to your veterinarian ahead of time about how you want to deal with your Poodle’s remains. You have some options: traditional options, such as those in the following list, or unique memorials (which you can couple with the traditional options):
- You can bury your Poodle in a pet cemetery, if your area has one, or you can opt to bury him under his favorite tree in the backyard. If you want to bury him on your property, make sure that option is legal in your area. And on a practical note, make sure that the grave you dig is deep enough. A local ordinance may specify the required depth.
- Many vets offer individual or separated cremations. In individual cremation, which is the more expensive process, only your dog is cremated. In separated cremations, multiple dogs are cremated, but each one is in a separate tray. Your vet returns your Poodle’s ashes to you in an urn or a box.
Tip
A memorial to your Poodle can be a comforting reminder of your wonderful life spent together. A memorial can be as simple as a stone in your yard with your pal’s name on it, or it can be as elaborate as a framed photo collage.
Remember
Many people find comfort in specific graves, memorial stones, or urns. You shouldn’t feel guilty or “funny” about the way you choose to handle the loss of your beloved pet. Whether you choose to have a grave in your backyard or to put a photo memorial on your mantle, do whatever is best for you.

Dealing with your grief

Remember
Grieving is a natural process; it isn’t something you should be ashamed of. Stay away from people who say, “It was only a dog,” and spend time with the people who understand your loss and sympathize with you. Going to activities like a dog show or a training class may help with your loss. Many communities offer grief counseling for pet loss. Check with your local YMCA or YWCA or talk to a member of the clergy or a counselor.
 Another option to aid in your grieving is to write a letter to your deceased dog. It can be as short or as long as you need it to be. You can express your love for your dog, or you can explain to him what it was like during his final illness. What you write can help you deal with your loss.

The following is an excerpt from a piece by Ben Hur Lampman in The Oregonian in 1925; it sums up the way I feel about remembering all the wonderful times I had with each of my dogs:
“ . . . For if the dog be well remembered, if sometimes she leaps through your dreams actual as in life, eyes kindling, laughing, begging, it matters not where that dog sleeps. On a hill where the wind is unrebuked and the trees are roaring, or beside a stream she knew in puppyhood, or somewhere in the flatness of a pastureland where most exhilarating cattle graze.
It is one to a dog, and all one to you, and nothing is gained and nothing lost — if memory lives. But there is one best place to bury a dog.
If you bury her in this spot, she will come to you when you call — come to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death, and down the well-remembered path and to your side again. And though you may call a dozen living dogs to heel, they shall not growl at her nor resent her coming, for she belongs there.
People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bend by her footfall, who hear no whimper, people who have never really had a dog. Smile at them, for you shall know something that is hidden from them.
The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of her master . . .”
by Susan M.Ewing

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