Friday, July 26, 2013

Savannah, Almost Hospice Care

In taking care of Savannah, my 17-1/2 year old beagley-mix dog, I have learned a few things.

Patience. Boy, oh boy, have I suffered through life trying to learn this virtue.

Now mind you, I am not about to admit to being good at this. I can only confess to learning patience with my kids. I am still learning/struggling with my nephews, 3 and 5 yrs old..(one small step at a time).

Taking care of a young puppy, a playful scratching-your-furniture and tearing-up-your house kitten, and an old almost oblivious geriatric dog are still challenging to even the most saintly person.

Savannah, is old. Like really really old. She is so old that I cannot even think of any of my clients ever having a dog as old as she is. She is one tough bird though. She always has been. Small, compact, fiercely opinionated, stubborn, cunning, and Napoleonic. It is no surprise to me that she is still around. I admire her with every fiber of my middle-aged soul.

She has presented us with a few challenges over the last few years.

She has reminded me to be very cautious with my advice, and to be cognizant that rougher days lie ahead.

She is a big time consuming responsibility and I get exhausted. I cannot make it to be what it is not.

But 17 years. I owe her for 17 years of sticking with me. Three houses, multiple learning institutions that kept me stressed out, gone all day and night, well, the rest of the list is just depressing and makes me feel incredibly old.

We have progressed from not being able to do stairs. Up or down, they are equally treacherous and baby gates went up at both ends. They were abandoned about three years ago. (Reason alone for me to not ever get a dog over 40 pounds again).

Seeing and hearing. Diminished significantly, but not gone. Because of this we keep her in bright reflective clothing, and is now tied out because she will wander and not hear or see you calling or looking for her.

Feeding her has become more of a challenge. She now is offered food of varying size, shape, consistency, and type every 4 to 6 hours to keep her eating and interested.

Here are my list of items to offer;
  • Baby food. Meat flavors.
  • A/D, Max-Cal, or other high calorie options.
  • Chicken, roasted, boiled, baked, and warmed to smell better.
  • Hot dogs. I have to warm and cut into tiny pieces.
  • Every kind of canned food you can find. This the time to be spending $3 a can.
  • Every kind of moist, meaty, cartoon character packaged kind. Or what I call "doggie junk food."
  • Cheese is ok in small amounts. Cottage, packaged, try it.
  • Canned cat food.
  • The options available in the packaged meat section of the grocery store. Truly I am not a fan of these outside of "desperate try to encourage eating times."
  • Snacks. Many of the dog food manufacturers make snacks. Offer these as often as you can.
  • Try the refrigerated section of the pet food store.

These have all worked very well for us. Savannah loves having a selection. I offer something and if it hasn't peaking her interest I switch it out. I want her to be eating a cup of food five to six times a day. She is about 15 pounds. I am incredibly ambitious. She meets me about halfway.

I have had to shrink her world significantly. She once had free range of the house. But her ability to walk has turned into episodes of swimming on the tile or wood. Which quickly throws her into hysterics of fear. OR, she gets stuck in a corner, or behind the couch, or under a table, or anything else that previously was just a piece of furniture or corner of a room.

To keep her calm, quiet, mobile, and stress free we have reduced her free-range area to the side of the stairs. This area is well cushioned, a runner of pee-pads (because JIC happens), allows food and water access, has her accessible bed (had to be changed to very low to the ground), and most importantly she is comfortable here. Best of all I was getting up at 1 am, 3 am, and 4 am. Now I can sleep through the night and she can pee as often as she needs to. I just roll up her bedding and wash it every morning.

Her care has been a constant juggling act. Trying to understand how she feels, what she does and then re-arranging or re-adjusting and watching very closely.

Here is what I have found;
  • She needs to rest, just like I do. Keeping her in a place that she is quiet and comfortable in is imperative.
  • She needs to be getting enough calories to keep her dwindling muscle mass.
  • She needs to be kept up and moving and motivated to do so. I take her out every time she gets up, is pacing, or seems unsettled.
This last statement is key to her longevity. She needs to keep active. She needs to still be involved in her surroundings. I want her to still be a beagle. Nose to the ground, tail wagging and interested in something.

Keeping your mind sharp and yourself engaged in something is one of the keys to staying mentally alert and clear headed. It is the same for us as it is for our pets. Boredom, lack of mental stimuli, or environment void of life is a sure way to the fast track of fat, diseased, and death.

Do I think that Savannah has all 64 colored crayons in her box anymore? Well, no, not all of them,. But she is the equivalent of 95. I don't expect any of us will have all of our Crayolas.

There are times I find her pacing, or circling, looking lost in a fog only she can see. But I have learned that she is always trying to tell me something. She usually needs one of the following; food, water, or bathroom. I offer her each one and if they fail to resolve her anxiety then it is time to sit down next to her and just transfer a little bit of calm reassuring energy to her.

If this sounds silly then think about the times in your life where you were afraid or unsure and think about what you did. Try to relax, take a few deep breaths and just close your eyes and imagine something peaceful. With Savannah I put her on her bed and just sit quietly. No talking, no petting, just me next to her. Within minutes she will get quiet, put her head down and go to sleep. I have been known to do the same with her.

Do I think that this is an easy task? No, it isn't. She is a lot of work and I have to adjust my day, my vacations, and my life for her.

Do I understand why people get so frustrated and confused and ask themselves repeatedly "if their pet is suffering?" Yes.

There have been days where I feared, questioned, thought that maybe she was just a breathing shell of the dog she had once been. And that maybe I didn't need to continue to deprive myself of sleep, and the incessant struggle to address her needs, and try to provide her a life she no longer able to enjoy.

It has been some bleak days. They have been interrupted by days of her following me, wagging he tail at me, and giving me thankful kisses when I pick her up.

I know my dog. I know she is still in there, a little bit more tired, and a little slower, and I know that I will never see her jumping, spinning and playing with the puppies. I know I am saying goodbye to my dear friend, a little bit each day. But I also know that I am not looking for the easy way through life.

I want to feel every ray of sunshine, every purr of my kitties, every squeeze of my sweeties hand, and shed buckets of tears when I have to say goodbye to them. Life isn't meant to be lived in the grey zone. I want euphoric happy and lost-the-love-of-my-life sad and every other emotion in between.

I want to live this one life that I get to the fullest, and spend as much time as I can with the pets and people that I love.

Jekyll, Charlie, and Savannah.

My old girl. Taken 7/25/13.

Headed home troops in tow.

If you have any questions, ideas, or tips to add to this or any other blog please let me know.

I can be found here, at the clinic Jarrettsville Vet@Pawbly, @FreePetAdvice, or

September 2013

Savannah is doing very well. 
This has been going on for almost a year, maybe even longer because she is going slowly downhill.. It has been a long exhaustive process,,,and I keep thinking to myself that I am the vet, so if I cant figure it out how can I possibly help my clients???
Here's what my stubborness has taught me.

There is ALWAYS a reason!!!.

She has a combination of many things. After a year of very careful observation, blood work, urinalysis, drug trials, lots and lots of environmental adaptation, I finally understand what she is trying to tell me.

I feed her smaller meals more frequently, (four times a day), I keep her in a small contained area (easier to pick up the unavoidable bathroom mishaps, I use bleachable drop clothes over pee pads), I also have a great tie out my husband made. It is an overhead line suspended between two trees that clips to her harness. It is sort of like a kids bouncey. It provides some upward support (great for her weak legs), and lets her room around the front yard without me worrying that she will wander off. that provides her some support and gives her some freedom.

Here's what I have noticed. When she is pacing she wants or needs one of the following;
1. To go outside to go to the bathroom.
2. She is hungry.
3. She is thirsty.
4. She is lonely.
5. She is bored.

Here's how I help her.
I offer food four times a day. Or a snack in between. A good food and something that is tempting to eat. 

I try cat food, snacks, puppy food, etc.
I offer water, sometimes I am not sure she can find it easily.
I let her go outside. I have found that outside where she can sniff and walk she is not bored. She doesnt circle or pace. She acts like a dog. She is happy. I spend lots of time with her. Sometimes just sitting on her bed and relaxing with her helps her calm down. I also use a fan sometimes. She loves to have her face in the fan (be careful this can dry out their eyes).
I have also tried the Thundershirt.

Look for infection, joint disease, mental deterioration, hypertension, etc etc,
Go to your vet, take up lots of their time with all of your concerns and start looking for answers. 
They are there, sometimes hidden,, but I will tell you it is the most rewarding gift you can give them. I have gotten a wonderful (challenging yes but soo worth it) year. I am grateful for everyday.


  1. I have a 20-year old JRT and she still acts like a puppy most of the time. She's just now beginning to slow down a little. Her foster brother is another senior and he's more like Savannah: sometimes he's home and sometimes he's not. I'm sure I'll know, when the time is right, and make that awful decision. Until then I just try to enjoy all the time left that I have with them.

    1. Hello Betty,
      How amazing! I hope that Savannah lives as long and fares as well as your puppy has!

      As we all age we all need to just enjoy whatever time we have left with each other. Life is a very short and precious thing.

      All my best to you both!
      XOXO Krista

  2. Have you seen the story of Schoep and his devoted owner? He just passed at the age of 20...and he was a larger dog! It speaks volumes about a person's dedication to their pet when the animal lives to a ripe old age.

    May you have a few years yet with her.

    (also, here is Schoep's story)