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By Kathy Nicklas-Varraso

My first Cairn lived to be nearly nineteen, so I know a little about life with an elderly Cairn. With my Cairn, the changes came so gradually that I never realized how much he had slowed down until I got my second Cairn (as a six-month-old puppy). I thought the puppy was on speed or hyperactive or something. :-)

First off, be very observant. See where your older Cairn is having difficulty and made some modifications where necessary. When Buckie had a hard time leaping onto the sofa, I got a wedge shaped pillow to help make a ramp for him. I eventually taught him to sit and wait at the stairs so I could carry him up and down. We stopped taking runs and took nice, leisurely walks.

Your older Cairn may have arthritis or just some simple joint pain. A soft bed in a warm spot can help ease that morning stiffness. Once Buckie got too old to jump on the bed to sleep with us, we got him a sheepskin dog bed and put it near the heater. He slept much better there and seemed less stiff in the morning.

Older dogs often require more water than younger ones, so perhaps a larger water dish is in order. Of course, more drinking leads to more trips outside. If you don't have a dog door, you may have to get up in the middle of the night with your dog for a potty stop.

You need to really think about how far you are willing to go with your older Cairn. Some folks cannot stand the idea of a blind or incontinent dog, and feel that euthanasia should be considered relatively early in the process. Others feel that euthanasia should not be considered at all.

You really need to evaluate your own feelings, balanced with the needs of your family and your own personal comfort level. My own personal feeling at the time was that as long as Buckie could go about his normal daily activities without a lot of pain, we would not consider euthanasia.

(Read: as long as it was only inconvenience to me, and not pain to Buckie, we would treat everything we could)

The last year of Buckie's life was comparable to caring for a very elderly relative. He was incontinent and dribbled during his sleep, which seemed to embarrass him. (I bought some of those pads from a nursing home supply place, and changed them daily). We made sure that we didn't move the furniture once his eyesight began to fail. We spoke greetings when we came in the door, since we couldn't count on Buckie's seeing and recognizing us. His medication schedule was almost laughable, although he took all his meds without complaint.

Be prepared to spend a lot of money. You will become a regular fixture at your vet's office. Cataracts, kidney problems, heart problems and all the aches and pains of old age require a lot of medical care to keep under control. Have a frank talk with your vet about what you are prepared to do, and what you think is excessive. (I refused a pacemaker for Buckie, and allergy testing when he was past eighteen. I did allow heart medication, pain medication and a special diet.)

Your old dog may require softer food, more frequent dental cleaning and extra attention to his gums as he ages. Keep a close watch for abscessed teeth - they can poison your dog and make him very sick.

Like an older person, your older Cairn may be uncomfortable with strangers or children. Give him a quiet warm place, which is out of the way so he can retreat when he feels overwhelmed. Warn over-enthusiastic children to leave the dog alone.

An older dog will not have the stamina of a younger one. Keep play sessions/walks on the short side, since your Cairn probably won't quit playing on his own.

Remember that Cairns are rather stoic as a group. Your Cairn may be in a lot more pain than you think he is. Speak up and ask about pain relief from your vet. A baby aspirin a couple of times a day can make your Cairn's life a lot more comfortable.

Enjoy the time that you have. An older Cairn may not be as frisky as a younger one, but he will probably be a lot more snuggly and appreciative of gentle petting. You'll have the coziest hot water bottle on Earth, and every day can be special. Don't worry about knowing when the end is coming. You'll know when it's time, and take comfort in the fact that you've had a good long time together.


Mama to Amanda Rose, age 7, but not an old lady


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