In an earlier post, we shared a video of Buster and her person embracing animal hospice (link.) The purpose of the post was to get you thinking about how you can support animal hospice. The veterinary professionals are certainly an important and required part of the pet care and animal hospice support team, but what can you do if you are in one of many other roles and want to support animal hospice?
“You don’t have to be a DVM or a licensed technician to support a family in animal hospice and palliation; a compassionate volunteer or friend can help in many ways.”
After watching the video, was there anything you saw that could either be improved to help Buster immediately?
Was there anything you may be able to plan for in the future as Buster’s physical condition continues to change as she ages?
One of the first things to notice is how Buster gets up from the lying on the floor. We can see how she moves her front versus her rear legs and notice her core strength. Notice how she puts her head down as she works to lift her rear. See how her rear legs are stretched further out behind her than normal (after she gets off her knees?) Since its possible that Buster could be around and in this condition for a while, it’s important to help her. This may seem like a simple thing, a small thing given a range of medical challenges. It may seem like a small part of a much bigger world, but this is what it’s about. Being very present and honoring every moment.
To compare to what this should look like on a younger, healthy dog note the video below.
It’s important to not get carried away with ourselves in trying to diagnose the issues; let’s leave that to the professionals. Your veterinarian can help with identifying what parts of the dog’s body are the weakest and at the root of the mobility issues. If we can see these weaknesses, we can better support Buster and dogs like her as they age. If you haven’t gone back to watch Buster move in slower motion, try it. I believe you’ll be able to identify where her challenges are and therefore, be able to support her accordingly.
Here are just a couple of ways to support Buster as she’s getting up and down.
- Help ‘Em Up Harness – this harness can be especially helpful on bad days or as Buster gets weaker. Often dogs can remain mobile for longer than expected if they can have a little support getting up from a down position. Have you ever tried to get out of grandma’s chair, it’s tough. Walking around is often easier than beginning the movement (think physics class.)
- Appropriate Bedding – this can be challenging if not done with an eye for detail and strategy. Watch for a future blog post on tips to choose the right bed for any pet, especially an aging senior. The right bedding can offer added support when going from down to standing and can help minimize the damage done by lying still. Older dogs move less, its important that they lie well.
- Trim hair on the pads – Trimming the hair on the dog’s pads is one of the least expensive and easiest ways to support a dog loosing its mobility. Pad hair is similar to nose and ear hair on old men; it never needed trimming before and one day, it’s amazing the garden of hair that’s sprouted. Using simple moustache trimmers or grooming clippers you can shave the hair between the pads. This will allow the dog to better utilize the natural traction and feeling in the pads themselves. I imagine slipping around on overgrown hair must feel like walking in oversized socks on freshly waxed linoleum floors.
- Socks or Boots – Socks and boots are both readily available for any size dog, they are also easy to make out of other household items. The trick with socks and boots is to know which you need and which are worth trying. Many products are poorly made and won’t stay on, only further frustrating the poor caregiver trying to help their dog. On the other hand the right product or make-shift solution can really make all the difference in the world. In a future post we’ll review a few of the options and discuss when boots are preferred over socks and how to know.
- Trimming Nails – So many forget that the nails that used to drive you nuts as they clicked across the hardwood floor are still there and still growing. In fact, nails may seem to grow faster. As mobility decreases, the nails don’t have as much friction with the ground and are not being maintained to some extend by your dogs natural movements. It’s especially important to watch the dew claw as it may grow around and back into the skin. A veterinarian at UC Davis once said to me that she thought walking on nails that you could hear gave the dogs a small shock and was a constant and chronic pain they deal with. True or not, take a look at your less mobile dog’s nails often; a great time to check is during a little massage.
- Yoga mats – In the video, did you notice how dramatically Buster’s movement changed when she got off the smooth surface and onto the rug in the hall? Yoga mats are an animal hospice supporters best friend; they provide just a bit of tacky traction with out being too high or offering too much and causing tripping. Yoga mats or low-pile, rubber backed rugs can be found in any color, making it easier to match any family’s decor. When you consider you don’t have to redo the whole house, just the most common paths traveled by your old friends it’s really an easy too. It’s worth asking at your local yoga studios if they will give you the used mats. Many of them use some mats in-house and they “wear out” for the sport but are still great for an easy to wash dog path.
- Swimming – The benefits of swimming with an animal that is unable to walk or is loosing strength can be magical. I will leave you to find the research yourself to document the great benefits of swimming. I personally have had such great success with my own animals and those of the families Animal RN has the honor of serving. Even if you can’t take them very often, the benefits of the water and the experience on both a physical and mental level are so great – I simply cannot say enough about it. Even dogs you may not think would enjoy the water have done very well with a trained and experienced swim coach. It does not need to be therapeutic (consult with your veterinarian) to be enjoyed and beneficial to the comfort and quality of life for your pets.
The effectiveness of each option will depend on Buster and her family. Above all else respect your pets and their wishes in supporting them in hospice.
Buster’s family obviously loved her very much and supported her well in her senior years. They used great supportive care including home cooked meals, a stroller to keep her mind engaged in the world, valued the precious time with her and loved her every moment she was with them.
“It takes only a kind ear to listen, a steady shoulder to cry on and a helpful hand to change bedding or freshen up a water bowl.”
One of the best ways to support Buster and others in animal hospice is to keep clear logs of changes in behavior, nothing should be written off as “just old age” and to communicate the log contents with your veterinary care team. The licensed technicians and veterinarians will help to keep pain management under control and to assure absolute comfort care. The pet sitters, friends, pet parents, massage therapists, specialists, chiropractors and so many others can all help you advocate for the most important thing, your dog.
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