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.

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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.

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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.

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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)