Friday, 23 May 2008

How do you care for the world's 'oldest' dog?

When David Richardson visited his local RSPCA rescue 26 years ago to choose a dog, he was recommended Bella, a lovely Lab cross who was already, according to the kennel, "at least three years old".

Twenty six years later David is still caring for Bella who, while she only has two teeth left, likes to suck on sweets. Unfortunately, as records are not available, it's impossible to prove that Bella is actually the world's oldest dog, but she certainly ranks high on the list with the record currently held by Bluey the Australian sheepdog, who lived to 29.

At this point, Bella's older than I am in human years, so it's no shock to discover that in canine terms she's around 200! This graceful old lady is seeing out her life, which has already doubled the average life expectancy of the most long-living breeds, in a safe and comfortable home.

So how do you care for an older dog? People are sometimes put off adopting the older dogs in our Rehoming Centres because of fears of endless medical problems and imminent death. However, many of these dogs come to us because the owner has had a change of circumstances (moving into sheltered accommodation, for example) and the dogs themselves are quite healthy and could continue to live a happy life for some time.

Caring for an older dog requires patience and observation. Small health complaints need to be dealt with promptly so they do not escalate; some of the more drastic treatments are too much for an older dog and with early preventative care the recommendation for euthanasia can be avoided. It is worth checking that there is no age cut-off in your insurance policy if you have had a dog from a puppy and he is now growing older.

It is important to note that dogs still require exercise to stay active and supple into their older years. For as long as they can manage it, daily walks should be continued, making them shorter, less intense and yet more frequent as necessary.

Older dogs still need plenty of mental stimulation, so gentle games and toys that require some sustained interest and activity (such as a food-stuffed Kong) could be ways to keep an elderly dog living much longer than you might expect.

Bella has been very lucky to receive two lifetimes of loving care from her devoted owner; can you offer an older dog a peaceful home for their remaining years?

[via BBC News]
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