This may sound weird or morbid, but for all of my beloved Martha’s 14 years and 2 months of life, I thought almost every day about how wonderful she was and that I would have to say goodbye some day. She developed arthritis in her spine as she aged, and I had many moments with her and conversations with my vet about how to know when it was her time. In early July, she suddenly lost use of both her back legs, was in extreme pain, and wouldn’t eat. That was when I knew.
I had always planned to get another dog, and after she passed I called the breeder of her sire, and asked if any litters were planned. To my surprise, she told me she had two males ready to go, one was “small,” and I drove the hour and a half away to go meet him.
Marty came home with me only four days after Martha passed. He is her cousin, her sire was Marty’s great great great etc grandsire. I swear she sent him to me.
And it’s been bittersweet, realizing how much pain she suffered for a very long time in her last years, months and days, yet having the joy of a loving puppy to help ease the tears.
When Martha was a puppy, I took her to the vet for regular check-ups and weigh-ins. I first met her when she was only four weeks old, and brought her home at eight weeks. I was so excited to watch her grow up and gain weight. She was such a beautiful, healthy puppy.
So you can imagine my surprise and embarrassment when the vet gently informed me that Martha’s remarkable weight gain had gone a bit too far. She was getting fat. It was then I learned that certain breeds are especially predisposed to weight gain. Martha was becoming a Flabrador. What do to?
Changes in diet and exercise help both dogs and humans to lose weight. The techniques are not mysterious or difficult. This article about dog weight loss covers the basics. Martha learned to love a wide variety of vegetables, including bell peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, and leftover salad (with dressing, no onions or croutons, thank you.) I learned (in consultation with the vet) that she could be perfectly happy and well nourished while eating about half or less of the recommended portion size on the dog food bag. The biggest challenge I faced was learning how to resist those soft brown eyes and that sweet face looking up at me whenever food was anywhere around. Drooling was even worse. With practice, however, you, too can learn how to resist such a beggar. No matter how much he tries to convince you otherwise, your dog is really not in danger of starvation. Just say no. And stop looking!
Keeping Martha slim has been a work in progress. She’s at her ideal weight now, at nine years old, and I know that makes it easier for her to get around and stay active. One of the greatest risks for older dogs is excess weight gain placing a burden on the dog’s circulation, breathing, and mobility. Any tendency to arthritis, dysplasia, or muscle weakness is made much worse by excess weight. The challenge of keeping your dog fit and trim is well worth the health benefits. If we could only manage to take such good care of ourselves.
It’s Monday morning and another week begins. Martha ran around like a puppy on Saturday during our group walk on the Migratory Way, and we stopped for a cooling off swim in the river before heading home to the air conditioning.
And yesterday the effects were evident. She was very quiet, didn’t come out of bed for her breakfast until I prompted her, and slipped while jumping up on the couch. She’s had lameness for about a year now, helped by acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and some pain meds. It’s caused by arthritis in her spine, according to the vet, and there’s really nothing to be done but treat the symptoms when they occur.
I have always known she would grow old sooner than me. It breaks my heart to see her in pain. But I’ll let her run like a puppy whenever she wants to, for as long as she can, because that’s who she is and always will be.