By Rodger Barr DVM
Caring for and managing the aging greyhound is both an honor and a privilege. Returning the favor for the “no strings attached devotion” you have received from this noble creature is very rewarding. Virtually unchanged for centuries, this exquisitely designed servant of man has never asked for much. We now have the opportunity given to us by advances in nutrition and medicine, to lead these loving companions into their latter years with dignity and comfort. With heartbreak lurking behind every corner we march onward, steadfast in our desire to serve the object of our passion. When the end comes, we mourn our loses, take a deep breath and prepare for the next challenge. Few people understand this mission, and fewer are strong enough to carry it out repeatedly. The fact is that although many individuals adopt greyhounds, only a handful deserves the title of the PROTECTOR OF THE HOUNDS. They are the dedicated folks who never consider exiting the cycle no matter how much it hurts when another one passes. In return, their lives have meaning and souls are served! This is not an elite fraternity, anyone can join. The criteria are, you must passionately adore the breed. Along with this adoration, the Protectors objective is to preserve and defend. You should be willing to stretch the limits of your comfort zone, and realize that there is always one more hound out there that needs your assistance. The job is never done, and even though the work can be difficult at times, you thrive on it. You must know your limits of pet ownership, in order to avoid diluting out your love and care giving. Lastly you must spread the WORD and do it so convincingly that those within earshot wonder how a dog could have such an impact on a rational human being.
My goal in presenting this article is to offer a common sense approach to some of the likely conditions you will face with your older greyhounds. The hope is to provide you with the knowledge necessary to minimize illness and reach solutions rapidly and efficiently.
When your greyhound becomes ill, being precise with your description of the problem is critical. Nothing that an aging Greyhound does or fails to do should be ignored when giving a complete history to your veterinarian. Any change in behavior or routine can be the key to the mystery, and assist in the ultimate diagnosis. Failure to mention that one, seemingly unimportant, fact may result in the loss of a beloved pet. If that small detail were known, the puzzle may be solved, and the greyhound could go on happily for some time
The question is often asked, “Now that my wonderful pet has reached the golden years, what should I be doing differently than when he or she was younger?” Firstly, those of you who are aware of my position on exercise will not be surprised when I say you must “CURTAIL THE RUNNING IMMEDIATELY.” These are dogs who were bred to run, that does not mean they have to run to be happy! They are dogs; and they don’t always know what’s best for them. That’s your job. An older greyhound who is allowed to run, often spells disaster. If you’ve owned an older greyhound now or in the past, allowed running and had no problems, you’ve been lucky. Eventually this practice will catch up with you and it’s your greyhound who will suffer.
Weight is often a concern for the owner of an aging greyhound. As they age, many greyhounds tend to lose weight for a variety of reasons. When this trend is recognized, and it’s easy to see on a short haired dog, the problem should be evaluated. This is best done with blood chemistries, fecal exams, x-rays etc. Extremes are to be avoided. Just as it is important to avoid weight loss, it is also important to avoid excessive weight, especially with advancing age. Rear leg weakness and an inability to get around comfortably is the fate of all older greyhounds if they live long enough. When excessive weight is factored into the equation this tends to accelerate the deterioration. Rear leg weakness is second only to cancer as the most common cause of euthanasia in greyhounds. Prevention, as in human medicine, is the key to longevity. When a greyhound reaches 10 years of age, it is wise to do blood chemistry profiles at least every 6 months. If problems are detected, those tests may need to be repeated even more frequently. In this day of dramatic advances in medicine, diet, and technology, many known conditions that in the past would result in the loss of a loved one, may now merely require a diet change a tablet or an injection and life goes on...
Diet in the elderly greyhound is a controversial subject. I personally believe in maintaining an animal’s normal diet unless a problem develops that requires a dietary adjustment. I don’t routinely recommend that owners switch to a low protein senior diet just because a dog celebrates another birthday. There is no hard and fast rule on diet, my only suggestion is to use a good quality food that minimizes by-products and maximizes palatability. Stools should be appropriate, firm not runny, and your pet should look good on the chosen diet. Fur should be shiny and slick. Energy levels should be appropriate for the dog’s age and breed, although this can be hard to evaluate in many of our laid back couch potato’s. Proper dental care promotes more than just sweet smelling breath; it provides an avenue for excellent health and a long life. It is a well known fact that the greatest flaw in the retired racing greyhound, for a variety of reasons, is their propensity for severe dental disease. These foul mouths can lead to heart, kidney, and other organ difficulties. The amount of bacteria coursing through the blood of a greyhound with a bad mouth is mind boggling. This common source of disease is completely avoidable. If your greyhound’s teeth are brushed daily and properly, you will need very little professional care when it comes to oral health. If you are a religious tooth brusher or you own a greyhound that will not allow you to brush teeth no matter what you try to do, you can skip over the next series of thoughts. If on the other hand, you are the owner who adores their pet and spares no expense when it comes to paying for regular yearly dental prophylaxis, but can’t seem to get it into your routine to brush daily, it’s time you wake up and smell the _______. The time has come for you to assume your moral responsibility and care for your greyhound’s teeth the way you know you should. Your dog, who by the way would do anything for you, needs your help. No longer can you SAFELY continue to anesthetize your hound yearly or even more often to have their teeth cleaned. The risks are too great to continue this practice. Daily brushing, if done properly, will allow you to avoid the danger of anesthesia and keep your pet happy and healthy. “You can do it”.
It is not unusual for aging animals to require surgical procedures both major and minor. When it comes to planning these procedures, the order of the day is DO NO HARM. Now I grant you that some risks are unavoidable regardless of age, but the primary goal is to manage any and all situations both surgical and medical, in such a manner as to minimize these risks. Many procedures on the geriatric hound can be performed with a local anesthetic and manual restraint, laceration repairs, certain skin tumors, some eye procedures etc. Whenever possible, general anesthesia is to be avoided in the aging hound. When anesthesia is deemed necessary, preliminary blood work, intravenous fluids and proper monitoring equipment must be used in order to assure a successful procedure.
No discussion on the geriatric greyhound would be complete without the mention of bone cancer. An unexplained lameness in any greyhound should be evaluated. If the lameness is in an older dog, cancer is always one of the primary considerations. Prompt evaluation is highly recommended. All options benefit from early diagnosis.
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is a form of senility that usually starts out very slowly. It can be as subtle as changes in sleeping habits, forgetting which side the door opens on, bathroom habit issues, confusion, changes in greeting patterns etc. When CDS is suspected, your Veterinarian has a survey you can fill out. With the completion of this survey, a trained professional is able to tell you if your older dog is exhibiting symptoms of CDS or not. If this condition is suspected, there is a drug called Anipryl that often helps. The drug should be administered in the morning, and can result in an increase in appetite and or hyperactivity. I have rarely seen any side effects from this once daily drug. Often improvement is detected within 7-14 days, with maximum results taking as long as 3 months.
With aging comes reduced rear leg function in the mature greyhound. Pain or weakness in the rear, knuckling of the rear feet while standing or walking, stumbling on surfaces that never before presented a problem, incontinence( urinary and fecal) all these characteristics can be the symptoms of a common Greyhound ailment, Lumbo Sacral Stenosis (LSS). When dogs are diagnosed with this condition, it is often necessary to alter their routines; no longer can they go out for walks with the others. Exercise should be abbreviated and preferably on soft grassy surfaces. Small adjustments can make a huge difference, and allow the good life to continue. NSAIDS pain relievers such as Rimadyl or Deramaxx (there are many to choose from) can help. Injections of corticosteroids into the Lumbo-Sacral space can provide some prolonged relief for advanced or refractory cases. Despite the need to alter your routine, all parties can be happy and enjoy life with modifications.
The use of antioxidants has gotten a lot of print lately thanks to “baby boomers” looking to prolong their youth. These products may help, and certainly don’t appear to cause any harm, what have you got to lose? Glucosamine/Chondroitin supplements, used to improve cartilage health in fighting arthritis also fits into the category of those drugs that may improve the quality of life and appear to be harmless at the very worst.
Living with and managing the aging greyhound can be extremely gratifying and challenging at the same time. A useful tip for coping with the challenge of sharing your life with an aging greyhound is being consciously aware of your old dog’s shortcomings and adjusting your expectations accordingly. You must know that what was normal only a few months ago is likely to be impossible today. If stairs have evolved from a simple daily task to an obstacle, get a baby gate and make certain that when stairs are to be attempted you are there to assist. Learn to zig when your dog zags. Make the best of the situation and enjoy the pleasures of that unconditional love we all seek. Reacting to your greyhound’s twilight years in this fashion is undoubtedly more pleasant and enjoyable than living in the past, regretting the present and dreading the future.