Older dogs and slowing down

I posted this here because I’ll probably talk to the vet about it, and I was hoping for a mix of facts, opinions, and experiences.

So, Haplo’s getting up there. He’s 16. He’s a small dog, though (a Westie) and they tend to live longer than bigger dogs. Some of you may remember that we had a bout with heartworms about a year ago, which he came through just fine. He can’t hear well and he’s losing his vision, but he’s quite lively and his quality of life seems excellent. He had his senior physical maybe a month ago, maybe a little longer, and came out very healthy.

Since it’s gotten cold this year (and I mean within the last few days) he’s really slowed down, though. Not in the mornings, but in the evenings when he comes in from outside. He usually stays outside while I’m at work - he likes to sleep in the sun even when it’s cold, and he has a nice bed under his porch and one out in his sunbeam. The cold has never really bothered him before. He does, however, have to go down a set of steps (a normal-sized flight) when he goes out and come up them when he comes in.

A few days ago, I came home early from work around noon and gave him the chance to come in, as I often do, and he didn’t want to, which he often doesn’t. So I asked him again at 3 before I went running, and he said no. (Sometimes he comes in, sometimes he’d rather stay out. I usually let him decide.) My dad was coming over for dinner at 6 and loves the dog, so I went to bring him in and he came to the bottom of the steps and just stood there, shivering. It scared me a bit because I’ve never, ever seen him do that before - he just doesn’t mind the cold. So I called him and he came up the steps with me, slowly. (He’s never particularly liked the steps because he’s kind of a little dog, so he usually goes up them in one big rush - this time he went more step by step.) Yesterday again he didn’t want to come in - he didn’t have trouble with the steps but he seemed to be moving slowly. Today I went home on my dinner break to let him in before it got dark (it only seems to be bothering him once the sun goes down) and even with the leash he just would NOT climb the steps - I had to carry him.

He doesn’t really like being carried, which is why I haven’t done it before now.

Is my poor little doggie winding down? He doesn’t seem to be in any pain when he doesn’t want to go up the steps - he isn’t favoring any particular leg, he doesn’t chew at his legs or anything, none of that, and in the morning he’s bright and skippy. Could it be arthritis?

The goggie could well have some arthritis. He’s also getting up in years. Hey, my largish dog–German Shepherd/black Lab–is 15 now. She’s definitely slowed, and according to the vet, that’s just to be expected.

A few ideas…your little guy is easier to carry but if he dislikes it, you can always buy a handled sling to help support him. I like this one because it’s easy to use. My aging pooch finds it helpful getting up stairs and it’s a security thing for her when she goes down stairs. She actually does okay on her own but I think she fell a few times and her confidence was shaken.

I can’t find one right now but her favorite aid is a padded cloth harness that stretches all the way under her chest and belly, then clips in a handle-thingy that runs along her back. (It’s bright red, her Hero Dog vest, since it very vaguely resembles spiffy outfits that assistance dogs wear.) Anyway, it gives her plenty of support from beneath and basically gives me a handle, like on a suitcase, which is very easy to grasp and pretty much carry her if needed. I’ve only needed that kind of lifting power a few times but it’s been a godsend.

Also…could your pup’s eyesight be deteriorating? Part of my dog’s reluctance about stairs was she’d developed cataracts. She can still see but depth perception was a problem. I tacked down dark stair pads that contrasted with the light wood so she saw them better, and put a thick white rug piece at the base of the stairs for the same reason. They helped. Might be something to consider.

But good on ya for letting the vet look him over. And good luck. It hurts to see my sweet girl slow down. Each day is a blessing now. I had The Talk with the vet quite a while ago. She assured me that when the time comes, I’ll know. Let your vet provide some guidance because most of them really, truly want what’s best for the pooch. But don’t give up on him too soon. I almost put my wonderful pooch to sleep but the vet persuaded me there was a chance the problem was an ear infection, not a stroke. So…here we both are, almost a year later.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you and beam good vibes your way.

Oh, his eyesight has been deteriorating for probably a year now - hadn’t considered that as a stairs issue, since it hasn’t bothered him before, but you never know. Thanks for the sling idea - he might be more comfortable and secure with that, I’ll have to try it.

I’m just concerned that he’s in pain or unable to regulate his temperature.

We fostered a little terrier mix earlier this year. He too, was not great with the steps up and down off the back deck. We started him on arthritis supplements, which did seem to help. Even though he was not real happy with being carried up and down the steps, he got used to the routine.

You may also want to consider giving him glucosamine if you are not already. My one dog, now deceased, started to really slow down around age 13, and it was stiffness and slowness getting up. He was also never very fond of stairs, but that got worse, and he stopped jumping up on things. I tried glucosamine. For him, it made a tremendous difference in his quality of life in his last years. He became much more agile, even returned to his former couch-jumping and food-stealing ways.

Just the glucosamine you get at the grocery store for people?

Consider that he may have had a Senior Moment. My parent’s older dog who is 14 is having these occasionally. She’ll shiver, or space out. 16 is very respectable for a pup, so you’ll have to remember that things may not be so clear-cut for him anymore if he becomes disoriented.

I use big tablets that I get from the vet for my Duncan, but my understanding is that it’s basically the same stuff.

Yes. Animal grade is cheaper though, and some brands come flavored for dogs. One inexpensive source is www.smartpakcanine.com. I used to use them for supplements when I had a horse (that is to say, their horse division, smartpakequine.com).

I think it really must be the stairs. I went after work to let him ou tand he wouldn’t get up out of his bed - not for a treat right in front of his nose, not for nothin’. I kind of dragged him out on the leash and went through the house instead of out and down the stairs and the minute he realized we weren’t going out and down the stairs he was fine - moved fast, suddenly seemed interested in things, etc. I wonder if maybe he fell or something when I wasn’t around and now he’s afraid of them? I can put him out in the morning by taking him out through the house (scaring the bejeezus out of the cats) and out the front door and around, if that’s what he needs me to do.

ETA - when he wouldn’t get out of his bed, even with a stretch and a yawn, I really thought maybe he was dying. He’s never done that. Perked right up when we went towards the kitchen, though. I think I should call the vet tomorrow and try to get in.

During the not-stroke incident, while Da Pooch was still recovering her balance, the meds could really knock her out. I came home at lunch to pill her, take her out, etc…and she didn’t wake up, not even when I called her name repeatedly. Okay, ears. So I stroked her head several times. Patted her side and shook her. Still nothing.

Then I fell apart, thinking she had died while I was away, she’d died alone, stroking her silky fur, telling her how much I loved her and how sorry I was…then she woke up, blinked at me a few times and yawned. Poor canine was puzzled but polite as always while I hugged her and cried more all over her fur, rejoicing she was alive while sternly instructing her to never do that again. Being deaf, it was all just more incomprehensible primate nonsense to her.

BTW, a belated endorsement for glucosamine. Mine takes a combo tablet of glucosamine and chondroitin. They make movement much easier and less painful for her; really put a lot of spring back into her step. The vet’s office sells some but they’re kind of pricey. Hello Again’s site looks really good!

Hi Zsofia,

Here’s to hoping Haplo’s feeling better soon.

Regarding Glucosamine, we give both of our dogs Jointguard. We buy it through http://www.horsesuppliesdirect.com.au/webcontent-2.htm?jointguard who are based in Australia, so not sure if they will ship to the US.

Sounds a lot like it. (winding down and/or arthritis) A more recent thing is the recognition that pets might require painkillers for such issues.

My late cat, had her for 16 yrs and she was at least a year old when she adopted us, got to where she slept on the heating vents and had trouble getting/jumping up and down the last few yrs of her life. My old dog, who died at 12 yrs and was a bigger one, 50 lbs or so, got the same way. And was blind in one eye by then.

Yes, your pet is “winding down”, getting old, going to die soon. Only thing you can do is make it’s last yrs or mths as pleasant as possible. (and that includes the option of putting it out of its misery as indicated)

My view is as long as they are still enjoying any degree of quality of life, let them go.

Once it becomes apparent that they are suffering more than enjoying, time to consider helping them along on their path to death.

My cat was literally climbing trees and basking in the sun up until 2 days before she died. When she went, it was quick; just all of a sudden stopped eating and was unable to jump up on the couch or bed anymore and just like everything shut down at once. I made her a little bed and decided I would take her to the vet to be put down if she was still alive when I got home, but she wasn’t; had dragged herself under my bed and died.

So I say, as long as your dog seems to be ok and generally enjoying life, let it be and do what you can to foster that. But don’t be one of those who hangs on to the obviously miserable and dying pet for your own emotional attachment.

There are ramps available at pet shops and online that fit over steps. The one we got for our Lab didn’t work out too well (too narrow for a big dog) but might be fine for yours.

Opinion is pretty mixed on how much glucosamine/chondroitin and various additives do for osteoarthritis (“wear and tear” arthritis), either in people or dogs. There’s not a whole lot of convincing evidence the stuff has much effect. I still give our Lab a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement, but from what I’ve seen the real difference came when we found a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug her stomach could tolerate. The benefits have been amazing. If the problem really is related to arthritis I’d spend my money on the NSAID.

I realized today when I let him out (no problems this morning) - it’s his back. Has to be. Every time I’ve seen him for the past few days in any mood his tail has been down, and that would explain why he has no problems walking places but fears the stairs and hasn’t been jumping up on the couch.

I’m going to try to call the vet although Fridays are tough there - if he’s hurt his back some other way or something, he needs to see them, and anyway they can advise me on something for the pain no matter what’s the matter with him. But back instead of legs would totally explain the symptoms. Think about how much a little dog uses his back climbing steps!

I like the ramp idea. If he doesn’t like the steps, then make it so he doesn’t have to climb them!

God, my poor puppy - took off work to take him to the vet and some bitch rear ends me! Just a tap, but Hap gave the saddest pain yell. He whimpered when I picked him up to put him in the car, and here at the vet his back legs are sliding out from under him on their slippery floor. There is definitely something wrong with my sweet puppy.


My dogs and I are wishing all the best for you and Haplo. Hopefully it’s something a little medication can fix.

My elderly pooch and I are beaming positive thoughts toward you and Haplo, Zsophia.