I remember when Mojo, our beloved 120-pound German shepherd-malamute-rottweiler-wolf mix, was a senior. Like so many dogs, his back end had become weak. In Mojo's case, the issue was degenerative myelopathy, a cruel disease that causes progressive nerve damage and can leave dogs paralyzed. Each weekend, we drove over an hour each way for Mojo to get physical therapy that included a water treadmill, balance board exercises, stretching, and more. At home, we filled all expanses of slick tile with a variety of mismatched carpeting. The overall effect was that a rug salesman had exploded in the house. We didn’t care so long as Mojo was more comfortable. When he could no longer stand up on his own, we used a sling to help him up. And when the day came that he was clearly done enjoying life, we helped him with the last kindness an owner can give.
Now, with Sierra at age 14 and Bodhi at 13, I find myself in an all too familiar situation. Bodhi too has degenerative myelopathy, to the point that he drags one back leg when he walks. Sierra has had a number of medical issues over the years, two of which resulted in surgeries, and one of which is ongoing. I’ve laid multiple runners down in the kitchen so Bodhi can get traction. I purchased a set of FitPaw inflatable bones, and am having each dog practice balancing exercises to help with muscle strength. Both dogs get a variety of daily supplements, some of which they’ve taken for years, along with some newer ones. We still go to the park so the dogs can walk, run, and have big fun, which they are thankfully still both able to do (running and fast walking is actually easier for Bodhi than walking slowly).
Unfortunately, neither dog can comfortably jump into my SUV like they used to. With Mojo, I had used a ramp. He never loved using it and neither did I since it was a heavy, unwieldy beast, but it did the job. Most ramps are so narrow, though, that with the way Bodhi’s back leg swings out, it would be hard for him to manage. After doing a bit of research, I ended up purchasing a set of foldable stairs that can be set up at the back of a vehicle to make it easier for dogs to get in and out. The first set I bought was lightweight yet sturdy, and had rubber traction with a cute paw print pattern. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too narrow for Bodhi. The second set is wonderful. It weighs only 12 pounds and has a faux grass type of material for traction. I can load the dogs in at home, bring it along to our park visits, and then use it to help the dogs up when we’re done. Here’s a video to show you how nicely it works. (Excuse the mom-just-got-out-of-bed look.) I don’t, by the way, have any connection with this company; I’m just sharing in case it’s helpful.
As dedicated dog parents, there’s so much we can do to help our dogs as they age. Besides the necessary vet visits and medications, there’s physical therapy, acupuncture, water treadmills, herbs, supplements, and so much more. I would argue that keeping our dogs engaged mentally is also important, through training, puzzle games, and other methods. And we should make our homes as senior-dog-friendly as possible as well. I’d love to hear about what you’ve done to help your senior or infirm dogs be more comfortable as they age. The more we share, the more we can help our dogs. __________________________________________ You can find my books, recorded seminars, and more on www.nicolewilde.com. Aspiring and professional trainers can find my one-to-one coaching service at Dog Trainer’s Friend. And if you’re interested, you can view my photography and digital art online.