It’s something all dog owners have to face: Our pets getting older, and them having to deal with all the health issues that go along with it.
Although it’s heartbreaking to see them looking less sprightly, they’re still the same pooches we’ve come to know and love. We just have to stay positive and be there for them, and do everything we can to make them feel comfortable and happy.
That includes “listening” to their needs. Because if our senior dogs could talk, they’d probably be telling us this:
“Be patient with me. Spend more time with me, and cherish me more than ever,” says Fiona Foo, the manager of Heartcave Senior Paws Retreat & Rehab.
The first day care and boarding centre for senior dogs in Singapore, Heartcave offers to help care for our senior dogs with human companionship, cosy accommodations, a place to roam and relax, and options for special meals, pet massages, pet memorials, and even reiki.
“It’s Heartcave because our heart is a cave where our dogs reside always and forever,” she explains.
Fiona should know – aside from the dogs at Heartcave (the photos you see here are of their satisfied clients), her pets also happen to fill that “cave”. And there’s room for more.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for senior dogs and dogs with special needs,” she admits. “My dog is 18 years old, and I adopted two other senior dogs (one was eight and the other was ten). I also foster a dog born with a broken spine that requires a wheelchair to move about.
“These dogs have been a huge inspiration to me, teaching me so much about senior dogs and dogs with special needs. I have the best job in the world. I always feel that senior dogs should be loved, cherished and spoilt more than ever, and we do that while they’re with us.
“Often their owners tell us that their dogs go home much happier, or even walk steadier. Sometimes we discover things about the dogs that their owners aren’t aware of and this helps the owners too, so that they can take the dogs to the vet for early detection.”
Now comes the tough part
One detail that struck me the most about the things Fiona’s told me is dementia in dogs. Yes, they suffer from it too.
“Walking in circles, going to the kitchen and somehow forgetting how to go back to the room, peeing in the wrong places because in their minds, they’ve probably walked to the pee area already – but they could’ve been walking in circles,” she describes.
“However, having said that, peeing in the wrong places could sometimes mean they can’t control it. It could be UTI, bladder stones, kidney stones. So always see a vet first and don’t assume.”
Their eating habits may be affected as well. “When they forget how to open their mouths to eat, the owners might take it that the dog has suddenly become a picky eater. But actually the dog may have trouble coordinating and eating,” she observes.
“A simple task like opening their mouths to eat from the bowl may suddenly require so much effort, and still they don’t succeed. Spoon feeding might help.”
Fiona recounts the other challenges she’s seen:
• “Weak or stiff limbs, lying down and having difficulty standing up, arthritis"
• "Falling often, losing balance easily"
• "Poor vision, bumping into things, poor hearing"
• "Losing sense of taste and smell – thus losing interest in food, and some may require stronger-smelling food"
• "Vestibular disease"
• "Stroke (although the symptoms are similar to vestibular disease)"
• "Not being able to control their pee as long as they used to, thus there are more accidents at home"
• "Drinking water and forgetting how to lift their head up after drinking, so there’s a risk of drowning. We have owners who tell us that when they go out, they don’t even dare to leave water bowls for their dogs to drink, because they’re worried that their dogs may drown. As a result, the dog is either very thirsty or dehydrated when the owners return from work, or they have to go out for a very short time and rush home. This is where Heartcave comes in with day care and boarding."
• "Their character and temperament may change too. My dog is 18, and he used to be sweetest boy. But now he bites out of frustration and after biting, he forgets how to let go!”
Let’s be ready
It all sounds incredibly sad and upsetting, but we can do something for our pets as they reach and go through their senior years. Fiona shares the many ways we can prepare ourselves emotionally and physically.
“Read up more, be well-informed on how senior dogs behave, and be accepting and understanding. Supplements can sometimes help stave off certain health issues,” she relates.
Don’t forget yourself too. “You, too, might one day have dementia like your dog. A recent SG survey stated that one in ten Singaporeans suffer from dementia. That’s alarmingly high and scary.”
Fiona also suggests adding a few pet accessories and other features to your home. “Have non-slippery floors. But if that’s not possible, have a room lined with non-slip mats, and free from wires and clutter to minimise your dog getting stuck or hurt. Buy non-slip shoes. And if necessary, get your dog a harness (front or rear lift) or a wheelchair to aid mobility.”
Heartcave to the rescue
For those of us who have to leave and be away for the entire day, it’s good to have a centre like Heartcave to properly watch over our pets.
“You don’t have to worry about your dog getting stuck in wires or corners while you’re at work,” Fiona declares. “Senior dogs benefit from small meals throughout the day, rather than just one or two big meals. We can do that, as well as frequent toilet breaks.
“We offer the dogs water every hour to ensure they’re well-hydrated. We do subcutaneous drips for those who are dehydrated or have kidney failure. We can syringe-feed, tube-feed, and take them out on their wheelchairs as we have purpose-built ramps for dogs on wheels.”
Hearing all that, you’d likely feel better already. :)
Laying our pets to rest
It sounds morbid, and it’s something we’d probably prefer not to think about too deeply. But as someone with a 12-year-old dog who’s gone through some illnesses, the idea pops up more often than I’d like to. What I do know is that I want her to be respected and treated well when the time finally comes.
Heartcave arranges pet memorials, but Fiona also has tips for us on how to make ours as special and memorable as possible.
“When a dog passes on, very often the owners are confused and in a state of shock. Then before you know it, the vet has asked a cremation company to take your pet away to be cremated. Within the next few hours it may be over, and they return your pet’s ashes. Everything happens too quickly, there’s no proper closure, and you still haven’t gotten over your shock,” she narrates.
“Instead, a pet memorial allows you to grieve, to accept and have proper closure. Invite your dog’s human and dog friends to come to the memorial to bid farewell. Dogs have feelings too; they, too, would like to pay their respects and say goodbye. They grieve too.
“Lay flowers, sit around and chat about your dog’s life like how we do at a human wake. Then after a few hours or the following day, have your dog cremated.
“Many owners have told us that they were so glad that they held a memorial for their dog because it gave them proper closure. Even in death, we should treat them with dignity and respect.”
It’s what our dogs – who’ve been with us through good and bad times – deserve. :)