whats it like owning an older sheltie? Well, there are somethings that some sheltie parents have to deal with; they cant move as fast...so if you have any big and/or young dogs. they cant keep up as well, and it could be a fall risk. If you have hardwood or linoleum flooring, that also might be a fall risk where they cant get a grip. You might have to deal with failing senses: your dog might start losing their hearing, which at times, can be incredibly frustrating and sometimes you feel like your always yelling. Their sight may be going in which case theyre reluctant to move, or go far or do stairs because they can only see shadows or shapes. Their smell maybe going so they find it hard to find food. If theyve lost some of their taste (or smell too) their food might not be apetizing and they may walk away without eating. (again, frustrating). And finally touch; if they become brittle, thin, or painful, touch might be annoying or even painful to them. If they have lost some other senses or sleep in a deep sleep, touch may frighten them...sometimes they may even growl, or bite.
But thats not all. Its not all doom and gloom. There is nothing more rewarding than taking care of someone who needs you. There is also nothing more stressful, heartbreaking and difficult...especially when your "patient" doesnt know youre trying to help.
Taking care of Heidi has been trying. Because of my heart condition I have always been "the patient", and now being the caretaker is a very different role for me.
Heidi started becoming "old" when she started to develop arthritis around 6. That ended our agility career together. But that was OK, she became a therapy dog and my hiking buddy instead. Then she started losing muscle mass, especially in her hind legs. No one could explain why. She was always active, running after her toys, running at the beach, no trouble with stairs, etc. We took hip xrays and they too showed arthritic changes, but so did her back. We still didnt really slow down. Then, I got sick. Ive wasted almost 5 years being practically bed ridden...and Heidi has suffered. Suddenly, she lost 6lbs. But it wasnt fat, it was musculature all over her body. As of right now, shes frail...breakable even. But I still make her do things so she doesnt just slip away from me. She still does stairs (mostly, sometimes she cant go up, so I carry her). She also plays with my 20 mos old puppy Joy. Heidi still loves fetch. But again, things came up. She started drinking. And drinking. AND DRINKING. And what happens when you drink? You pee. Shes now had about 3 or 4 accidents in the house and a few at the vet clinic. She was diagnosed with pituitary cushings disease, which means she has a small (50/50 benign or malignant) tumor on her pituitary gland in her brain. It caused both of her adrenal glands to become twice as big as usual. They are responsible for making the cortisol hormone in the body which causes her to pant excessively, drink/pee excessively and become ravenously hungry.
Shes on meds now, but she needs another blood test next week. In speaking of older dogs, she woke up yesterday morning laying in her own urine. Then today about a half hour before I got on the treadmill, I put her out and she peed. Then she came in and had an accident in the house. I had to hide it from my mom cause it was in her exercise room! So for right now, Ive been diligent and vigilant on taking her out very frequently as to not have accidents. Shes also drinking alot still, so I have her sleeping on a pee pad.
The other thing shes doing, and I dont know if its related to the cushings or whether she is starting to get CCD (Canine Cognitive Disorder, or "doggy dimentia") but she starts becoming "antsy" around 3:00pm when she eats at 5:30. This only happens if we're down stairs. She paces, whines, growls (in a talkitive way, not aggressive) and barks. She'll carry on like this till she lays down for about 5 mins, and then gets back up and starts all over again. It. Drives. Me. NUTS. So now we just stay upstairs until I get on the treadmill down stairs and she settles on the carpet. (or in tonights case, she pees!)
But speaking of the senses again, there are things we can do to make their lives easier and more comfortable. In the case of sight, I make sure I use my hand signals that she learned as a puppy in obedience school. I have to make sure the room is well lit, and have to raise my voice (because her hearing is also going) but sometimes I get frustrated and go get her because its easier. This usually happens every night at bed time. I scoop her up into my arms, kiss her on her head and feel the frustration melt away. She has no problem with taste or smell as she eats like its going to be her last meal, lol. Joy is an even faster eater so Heidi feels the competition! But then comes the drinking... almost emptying the whole water bowl. And then about an hour later, the peeing, and sometimes she doesn't make it outside. Yesterday I found her laying in a puddle of her own urine. Then last night she had an accident in the house. This may be the hardest part; don't get me wrong I never get upset with her, as I know she can't help it, but it's hard on clean up. Right now it's 234 am and I was up so I got her up to pee. All she wanted to do was drink. She finally went after the drink but I'm sure she's going to have to go again.
Finally, there's touch. I'm going to write my next blog about massage for seniors. This can be most beneficial when you know what you're doing. Again, massaging and touching can be painful so gentle petting is most often recommended, but I'll give you some extra tips next time. This is the time I enjoy most with Heidi. I massage her in her bed while she rests or if she proposes me while I play with Joy. She used to hate massage and was a terrible demo dog during my schooling for my SAMT degree, but now that I know what she wants, she really enjoys it.
So it's a lot of work but extremely rewarding to have your dog smile at you to see her thrive at the age of 13 1/2. Seeing her run down the hall after a toy. Watch her eat with gusto. And finally see her climb her Mt Everest, the stairs. We celebrate her joys in life, but collapse in tears when she falters and her true age shows. Sometimes I think I'll be ok without her. But those thoughts are rare. Sometimes I have the darkest thoughts about ending my own life to be with her when she goes. But those thoughts go as quickly as they come. Its just hard thinking about losing my baby.... The very air I breathe. But that's the nature of the beast of sharing your life with a dog....