Turns out owning a dog is good for your health. Here’s why.
Amanda Oglesby | Wochit, Asbury Park Press
It’s no secret our pets are part of our families – they enrich our lives.
Whether you live with a dog, cat or lizard, it’s never easy to watch them start as balls of energy and decline as they get older.
I was only 22 years old when I met and purchased the beige and white shih tzu dog from a pet store in a strip mall in New Jersey.
It had only been a year after my mom passed away from lung cancer. I chose her because of two reasons. I loved her coloring – white with splotches of beige all around her body. Her face was mostly white with a pink human-like nose. On her fore head, was a patch of white, reminding me of a halo glow. Her ears were fluffy and a cashmere tan. The second reason I chose her was her feistiness and independence. There was another shih tzu boy in the pen with her and he kept trying to knock her over and jump on her, playing. She wouldn’t have it – she abruptly turned around and barked at him.
What a funny high-pitched bark she had, her little mouth open like a heart. She seemed outraged that he was bothering her.
Decidedly I named her Coco Chanel.
At the time, I was commuting to New York for my first job in fashion at Brooks Brothers. The commute was long, and I never wanted to leave her at home, blocked off in the bathroom, when I left for work. I couldn’t wait to rush home to check on her.
There was a dog walker who came mid-day to check in on her, but I wanted to spend all the time I possibly could with her.
That first year, we went to puppy training classes and dog parks, and she trained and passed to get her Therapy Dog certification. We were even featured in the local newspaper after she passed the test to be a therapy dog.
Through that first year, I was learning a lot about my new friend. She had a fierce independent streak, coupled with a longing to be close to people.
She didn’t like to walk and only walked when she felt like it. There was no pulling or dragging the leash. When she was done, she plopped onto the sidewalk and dared me to so much as make her walk.
With all our dog park visits, Coco never liked other dogs. When they wanted to smell her, she turned around and gave them a snappy bark as if to say, “Move along.”
These years flew by – sometimes I wonder where they went.
Coco was a huge part in the healing process after Mom passed away.
In retrospect, as she aged, there were signs of her starting to become blind, but we didn’t know what to look for. The following are 5 great tips for caring for your senior dog:
1. Pay attention to changes in behavior. Since your pet can’t talk, their behavior can give you big clues. For instance, while an older dog is naturally less active, paying attention to unusual behaviors can help you catch problems early. Look for signs like:
- Sudden weight loss or lack of appetite
- Change in urination or bowel movements
- Increased water consumption
2. Watch what you are feeding them. Older dogs and cats are less active and require less calories. Table scraps are never a good idea for animals of any age, but as pets get older, this can lead to weight gain and other problems.
3. Look for signs of arthritis. These can include difficulty climbing stairs, decreased activity and stiffness in the joints. By being proactive, you can provide your pet low-impact exercise and get them on a specialty diet.
4. Pay attention to early signs of canine cognitive dysfunction. About two years ago, we noticed Coco was increasingly anxious and pacing around a lot, just walking into walls and furniture. We attributed it to blindness and the disorientation from it. After a vet visit, she was considered to have CCD, which is a disease prevalent in dogs that exhibit symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease shown in humans.
While there is no cure, you can help by instilling a routine of daily activities and some vets can prescribe anti-anxiety medication. For Coco, we treat her with acupuncture once a week.
5. Be patient with your elderly friend. They will rely on you more than ever as they get older and possibly more fragile. Think back to the good times you have shared and be present when spending time together.
Last year, we began to notice Coco was hungry all the time. She had always been a finicky eater, so when she was finally eating like a “normal” dog,” we thought “Great.”
A year ago Coco was diagnosed with a Pyloric tumor. (Photo: courtesy of Jean Chen Smith)
Then one night after a stroll, Jay and I came back to find her having what seemed like a seizure. It sounded like a reverse sneeze like flat-nosed dogs sometimes will have, except it was worse, like she was choking. We rushed her to the emergency vet. Through a long process over several months, the vets discovered a pyloric tumor in her stomach.
Due to her age, we elected not to have the biopsy to determine if the tumor was malignant or not. At the vet’s recommendation, we decided it was too invasive for a dog her age. I connected with a local veterinarian who practices acupuncture on dogs – he has been a life saver. Additionally, with the doctor’s guidance, we administer herbs and other natural remedies that I think has kept her going this past year.
Recently the doctor has been cautiously optimistic toward Coco’s status, but warns me gently, “She is on borrowed time.”
The truth is, we are all on borrowed time, I think sadly. I leave these acupuncture sessions bawling like I remember doing when Mom first passed.
Watching your pet decline is not easy, and it’s not something that most people want to think about, but it’s important to seek resources that will help all of us through the difficult time.
How to grieve the loss of a pet
1. Acknowledge your grief and pain. Pets are a huge part of our lives. Make sure to take time to fully experience your emotions. If you need to take a day off from work, make sure to do so. Denying your emotions will not honor your pet.
2. Think about the happy times you shared with each other. Even in a time of loss, there are wonderful memories that will make you smile about your pet. Embrace that love and bond.
3. Self-care is important. Make sure you are not neglecting your essential needs such as eating and getting plenty of sleep. Continue maintaining routines to the best of your ability.
4. Reach out and seek help. If you are experiencing grief over the loss of a pet, here are some excellent resources that you might find helpful. With the click of a button, you can be connected to other people who might be experiencing the same emotions. Don’t try to go at it alone.
Some days, I look at my almost 16-year old shih tzu and think to myself, she is no longer the same dog I first met. Then I reconsider when she nuzzles her face into my chest as I hold her. I am also no longer the same person I was back then – we have walked a long road together.
Jean Chen Smith is a freelance writer, social media consultant and Pilates studio owner in Corvallis, Oregon. Jean, a marathon runner, is passionate about health, fitness and fashion, which is the reason she started her lifestyle website, www.projectcloud9.com and Pilates studio www.studiocloud9pilates.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
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