Most of the big changes we see are in mobility. Their joints become arthritic, and some limbs just don't work as well as they used to. In large breeds, many have a hard time standing for long periods of time, or even getting up into a standing position. We also see vision and hearing problems, though most of the time the owners are more worried about that, than the dog is.
The hardest cases are the ones who have forms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. These dogs are alot like humans afflicted with Alzheimer's. They don't always know what is going on, and can become very agitated and upset by what used to be part of a good experience for them. Interestingly enough, sometimes we get lucky and a formerly nasty dog will "forget" he didn't like grooming, and the final years of haircuts actually go better than ever before. The ones that make me the saddest are the dogs that were the sweetest, loving enjoyable dogs to groom, who now want no part of it. They don't want to be touched anymore, and show us with their teeth.
We do our best to accomodate these geriatric pets. I wanted to touch on some do's and dont's if you have an older pet who needs grooming, as too many times, we struggle with owners on what will be best for their elderly friends.
- Give your dog any prescribed pain medication in the morning before a grooming appointment. We are as careful as we can be, but there will be standing involved in any groom, and as you know, they spend most of their day sleeping at home.
- Listen to your groomer. If they are telling you that Fluffy no longer likes her feet shaved, let them try a different trim. A certain type of haircut is not worth putting stress on your dog. They may not have minded it before, but now arthritis may play a part.
- Give the groomer as much time as possible to groom your pet. Most people think that you should get them done quickly as the dog "doesn't like it" anymore. Leaving them longer during a day allows more time for breaks for your dog. We have to go extra slow with these dogs, they can't straighten out legs like they used to, and sometimes they need support to help them to stand. Nothing is worse than having to rush an older pet's grooming. That said, I sometimes am forced get senile dogs done quicker, as that is the only way to get them groomed at all. Each case is different.
- Get your older pet all the vet care it needs. Dogs with rotten teeth have faces that hurt every time we try to brush them, and sometimes tumors are uncomfortable. We see too many people stop giving medical care because "he's getting old". Older pets need the most veterinary care they ever will in their lifetime.
- Try not to be too picky. Your older pet's finished look is not always going to look as good as it did when he was young.
- Don't insist on keeping his hair long. If brushing is bothering him, sometimes it's best to clip it down.
- Please don't avoid bringing your dog in to be groomed. Many people think they should wait as long as possible, since it's upsetting to the dog to be at the groomers. Actually it's harder on them when their coat has gotten out of control and matted. More frequent grooms will in most cases make it a better experience. Also, incontinence can be a problem, keeping them clean will make them feel (and smell) much better.
- If the sad day is coming when you plan to say goodbye to your pet, don't bring it in for one last groom the day before. At that point, it's just not fair to the dog. I know this seems like a silly one, but we actually get dogs in so they can "look pretty to go to heaven". That does not make for the best day for us, either.
I hope your dogs all age gracefully, and have long lives. They are never with us long enough.