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On Senior Dogs, Aging Gracefully and Quality of Life

On Senior Dogs, Aging Gracefully and Quality of Life

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Felix is a senior dog.

And if we’re being honest, that is one of my least favourite sentences I have ever typed.

 

When we brought this amazing ball of fluff home over a decade ago, I never gave a second thought to the future. I imagined us going on, as we were, forever. For a long time, he supported this notion by being like the energizer bunny.  That changed a few months ago. My sweet boy who had seemed a perpetual puppy noticeably slowed down. Walks were slower. Health issues started creeping up. Just like that, it felt like our happy carefree life together had been compromised.

In my heart, it feels like there was never a time before Felix. It’s like he’s always been here, filling up my heart and my spot on the bed. Pawing at me for snuggles and demanding snacks. He is my constant and I have a hard time acknowledging that eventually – probably sooner than later – there will have to be a time after Felix. It can be hard to know what to do when you realize your days left with your heart dog are finite. It’s almost like you start going through the 7 stages of grief immediately and if you can’t pull yourself out of it, you might lose sight of the most important thing when it comes to senior dogs: Quality of Life.

 

 

If you follow us on Instagram, you might have noticed it’s been a little Felix-heavy lately.

This is not by accident. I’ve been firmly entrenched in the denial stage of grief. “My dog is fine! He’s young and full of life! Look at all the fun things he’s doing!” And that is true, Every single picture has shown Felix living his best life, enjoying the things that make him furiously happy and making the most of every single day. What the pictures haven’t shown is that he not as young as he once was.  I’ve been focused on creating and capturing as many of his happy moments as I possibly can. The dog that I described as “spry” at 14 is showing his age. 15 has been a challenging year.

 

Injuries can be a sad fact of life with a senior dog.

And the fact is, for a while now, Felix has been grappling with back issues. It all started with a limp. He’s 15 and he’s had not one, but two torn CCLs, so at first, the limp was dismissed as arthritis setting in; something we knew was likely going to affect him eventually. But the limp got worse. He started occasionally knuckling under and tripping himself when he tried to move too quickly. His stance started closing in the back and we noticed he was losing muscle tone. We consulted the vet and started doing some physical therapy. He got a bit better, but as long as he was happy, I didn’t worry too much.

And then one day, he simply couldn’t bear weight on his hind legs anymore. We’d stand him up and his hind end would just slide out from under him.

We thought the worst.

 

On the Monday before BlogPaws, we visited the vet, expecting to say goodbye. We did a lot of tests and looked at a lot of options. In the end, the tests didn’t find much of merit. There’s no injury to back, no sign of disc breakdown & no flinch point where he shows signs of pain and yet, the fact remains, he had lost the use of his hind end.

Anti-inflammatories and crate rest were the prescriptions. They helped. Here we are, after 6 weeks of crate rest and things are a bit better. This sweet boy’s hind end is weight bearing. He can walk, albeit labored and clumsy. Some days are better than others. At his best, he’s a happy go lucky boy who is happy to walk a block or so. At his worst, he walks a few steps before stopping for a break.

 

Quantity of life is still there. Quality of Life? That’s the real question.

Is he happy? Is he comfortable? Am I keeping him here because I desperately need him and not because it’s the best thing for him? In talking to the Daddy and several people who have traveled the path of letting go of a senior pet, for me, one thing is clear: I’d rather let him go a month too soon than a single second too late. That day is coming, probably faster than I want it to but, until then, we’ve been doing all we can to give him the best possible Quality of Life.


This post is sponsored by Handicapped Pets who graciously offered to send us a Walkin’ Pets Dog Wheelchair. This post is written with all my love and gratitude, not just for the chance to try out their wheelchair for Felix, but for the help and support they offered as I grappled with Felix’s injury and how to help him, plus their continued support in making sure Felix gets as much as possible out of this mobility tool. 


 

Enter the  Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair.

In a moment of pure serendipity, the day Felix lost the use of his hind end, the folks at Handicapped Pets reached out to me about a collaboration. The signature on one of our e-mails moved me to tears:

We believe that aging, disabled, & injured
pets deserve to live happy, healthy lives.”

 

They had so perfectly summed up what I was feeling. Felix is an old man and his legs were letting him down BIG TIME, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still healthy and happy. I felt like there was hope for Felix for the first time in days.

 

<<insert all the ugly crying >>

After a lot of wine and crying and hours of watching these wonderous dogs in wheelchairs, I knew that if Felix was paralyzed, a wheelchair could restore that lost quality of life. What I didn’t know was that you don’t have to wait for your pet to lose all mobility to start using a wheelchair. Dog wheelchairs are actually a wonderful rehab tool, helping pets with back or leg injuries start moving again – without straining their injury. WHY DIDN’T I KNOW THIS WHEN FE HURT HIS CCL’S?! I feel like we should have ordered a wheelchair 5 years ago. But I digress.

 

Armed with hope for the first time in weeks, we eagerly awaited the arrival of Felix’s wheelchair.

I had a fair bit of anxiety before the chair arrived. Had I measured right? Would it even fit? Would I be able to put it together?? WHAT IF HE HATED IT?! Luckily, the Walkin’ Wheels Dog wheelchair is one of the easiest out there. Unlike many wheelchairs designed for pets which require a ton of precise measurements, with Walkin’ Wheels you only need three measurements to ensure the right fit for your dog.

 

This wheelchair fits him **perfectly**

 

The entire chair is so adjustable! It snaps together using buttons to lock it in place. If you want to adjust the fit, it’s as easy as pushing in one of the buttons and sliding the part to make the chair larger or smaller. It can be adjusted so that your dog’s feet are on the ground and they can walk with some additional support or so that their feet can be suspended in stir-ups, preventing them from dragging or knuckling under.

The chair can come, like Felix’s, with hind wheels only – or it can be ordered with front and back wheels. There are special harnesses for deep-chested dog and belly slings, which we will be trying for Felix that offer more support for your dog’s back. You can get lights for nighttime walks and a cool as heck flag, just for the fancy.

Learning to Walk Again with the Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair

 

 

Like with any tool, there is some learning to the chair, especially for an anxious dog like Felix. We’ve worked so hard to break through Felix’s anxiety and it’s funny to think that 10 years ago, he would have flat out panicked if we had tried to put him in a wheelchair. While he didn’t panic when we introduced the chair, it did take some training and getting used to before he would use it. The first time we hooked it up, he stood stock still, afraid to move. And while chicken chunks and cheese soon eased any hesitancy he felt, learning to step with each paw independently, instead of hopping was a battle we fought for over a week.

 

The Walkin’ Wheels Wheelchair has given Felix his walks back.

He’s still building up his muscles again after the long stretch of crate rest. He doesn’t walk far or particularly fast. He’s not running a marathon anytime soon. He’s still stiff and a bit awkward, but seeing his face as he chooses where to go and what to smell warms my heart. His walks and spending time outdoors is where Felix is happiest. He’d live on the lawn if I would let him.

He’s still an old man and all the reasons we’ll have to say goodbye someday soon are still true. But for today, he’s happy. He had scrambled eggs with breakfast. He’s been basking on his deck while I write this and when I hit publish, we’ll strap on his chair and go for a walk.

For today, the quantity of life remains a question mark, but the quality is certain.

Thanks to Handicapped Pets, my senior dog’s quality of life is still top notch and for that, I’m grateful.

Do you have a senior pet who might benefit from the support of a wheelchair? Check our handicappedpets.com and all of their mobility products. Your dog will thank you.

And bark back! Tell us what things you do to give your senior dog the best possible quality of life. We want to spoil Felix with every good thing we can think of.

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