It is a sad fact that tens of thousands of family pets are surrendered to shelters each year simply because they are aging. Pet owners surrendering their animals often cite rising veterinarian bills and increased care requirements that come with a senior pet. But giving an aging pet away should be the absolute last resort because it is so traumatic. Senior animals are bonded with their families and being sent to a shelter during a time of need is especially stressful. It just isn’t right. A companion animal shouldn’t spend their last days in the cold, lonely, loud, and chaotic environment of an animal shelter. Our pets should be treated like family. Broadway Barks contributor Liz Mykietyn shares her personal story about caring for an elderly pet and provides some tips for keeping your aging pet healthier longer!

“Come on now, you can do it!” “That’s a good doggy—come on.” “Nice and easy, that’s right. Good doggy!” “Take your time.” “There you go—you got it.” “Good puppy goes potty outside all by himself.” “YOU ARE SUCH A GOOD BOY!”

Sound familiar? Yes, and all in that gushy mama tone, too. Everyone has been there, right? Talking to a new pup in your home. Only this is not my new baby pup I’m talking to. This is my senior citizen pup, Maxwell Smith Mykietyn I. That sounds so formal and fancy, right? Ok, he’s not actually a pedigreed pooch—he’s a rescue mutt from Madison County, Virginia. But he’s MY mutt and I love him. Max is now rounding the bend to 12 people years old. That’s 94 in dog years, they say – the Golden Years of a lifetime. I like to joke that these are his ‘Golden EARS’ because he is part Golden Retriever and he is up there in age.

Seems like just yesterday when I saw Max’s smiling picture on the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) adoption website. He was going to be a featured adoptable dog at an annual fall event in Upperville, Virginia. “Madison” he was called then, named after the Virginia County where he was found wandering as a stray. No tags. No license. No record. No one came to retrieve him. The pretty pup was estimated to be about one year old. The SPCA updated his shots and had him neutered. They did all the standard tests and gave him a clean bill of health.

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I went to the adoption event with Max’s picture in hand. I saw him within minutes of arriving because he was just SO PRETTY. Maybe boys don’t want to hear that, but in this case it’s true. Max has always been deemed a pretty dog by friends and strangers alike. After our vet checked him over and did some research, they decided Max was a mixture of Golden Retriever and Border Collie. He looks like a black Golden would, now with a very grey beard on, with distinct black-and-white Border Collie markings. He is one gorgeous mutt!

My husband and I submitted the application for adoption that day, and a few weeks later had Max in our home for a test visit. He seemed to like us and our other animals. As a matter of fact, he loved to sniff them all with affection. One of my rescue cats, Miss Gracey, didn’t take to him straight away, but these things work out over time.

Max and Miss Gracey

Max and Miss Gracey

Not one year later, Mister Max, my healthy pretty boy, was diagnosed with heartworms. His first two tests had come back negative, and we’d had him on a preventative from the moment we adopted him, but apparently we were too late. He had contracted heartworms during his time as a stray. The good news is that, for larger dogs, there is a process to kill off the worms with an arsenic-based product. Multiple shots are given into the back over the course of a few months at a cost of $300 a shot. There was a minor risk of stroke afterward due to parts of the dead worms breaking up in his heart; however, without treatment heartworms would eventually kill the dog. We took the risk to save our young boy. Months later he was heartworm free. This was a huge relief but, unfortunately, within months of the last heartworm shot, less than two years after Max joined our little zoo, he had the first of dozens of seizures, which became a regular part of our lives. Golden Retrievers are prone to epilepsy.

I believe we should treat our senior pets just like we treat our senior citizens—with love and respect. I sit here now looking at Max, remembering all the scary medical issues, and realizing that he made it to old age despite those obstacles. I’m lucky to have learned a lot about diet and supplements that we can incorporate into our pets’ lives to keep them healthier longer—and happier, too. Once I introduced glucosamine products into Max’s diet, he was bouncing around again for a while there. Here are my top five recommendations for caring for your senior canine:

Dental Care – Dogs need their teeth brushed often, and it is best if you can start when they are young. If your vet recommends a dental procedure, you should save up the money for it. Dental care can help eliminate bad breath, digestive issues, and pain.

Exercise – Senior dogs need to stay active. They obviously can’t run and fetch like they once did, but a nice stroll daily for at least 15 to 20 minutes will help keep their joints limber and provide them with some fresh air.

Diet – Obesity in any mammal causes deterioration of their body. Keep all your pets within their healthy weight range to help prevent burden on their joints and organs later in life. Just like humans, overweight animals can have added heart issues, too. Veterinarians can take measurements to give you the weight range your dog should stay in as well as provide special food to keep your aging pup within that range.

Grooming – As our senior pups lose flexibility, reaching behind themselves to clean becomes more difficult, so we need to help them out. Owners may need to bathe pets more often. Make time to both brush their teeth and their lovely locks at least once a week. For animals that don’t like to go in water, many pet stores have wipes or waterless options now to make grooming your dogs even easier. Or consider visiting a grooming professional.

Supplements – Many supplements are now available for our aging dogs. I have seen glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate products work wonders on my senior pets. They are relatively inexpensive, and once you introduce them to your dog’s diet you will be amazed at the renewed spring in their paws.

Good old Max is splayed out on the cool flooring. I’ll surely have to help him up. He seems peaceful enough, but it’s hard on him, not being able to get up and down easily. I can tell he’s embarrassed sometimes, but I just keep telling him what a good boy he is. We are taking it one day at a time. I love my old man Max and plan to be with him until the end. Time passes so fast, but I am treasuring these Golden years with my Golden pup.

Maxwell Smith Mykietyn I. Photo Credit: Charlene Sloan

Maxwell Smith Mykietyn I. Photo Credit: Charlene Sloan

By Liz Mykietyn

November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month! Adopting a senior pet is a win-win that allows you to gain a faithful companion while also saving lives. Click here to read about the top 10 reasons for adopting a senior pet!