Taking care of a dog with a long-term illness or disease can be overwhelming—and pet owners often don't know how to deal with it.From getting organized to learning how to manage long-term issues, here are ways to deal with a sick pooch while keeping everybody’s stress under control.
Get Organized to Lower Your StressRather than trying to remember everything, find an easy way to keep track of things. This could be a wall calendar where you write down appointments and medications, Google calendar reminders, or even a plain old alarm in your smartphone. Having everything jotted down somewhere means you don’t have to stress about forgetting a crucial medication or an important appointment, and you can focus on loving your dog instead.
Keep Your Pooch ActiveWhen your dog becomes unable to carry on as they did in the past, you can still keep life interesting for them, says Kristi Benson, CTC, a certified positive dog trainer. This will not only better his mood (and yours) but also lower stress and make everyday life much easier. “If you used to do a lot of high-energy activities, you’ll probably have to moderate your schedule and your plan, but with the approval of your vet, there are still many ways of keeping your dog active,” says Benson. “For example, you can make your walks both shorter and slower: an amble instead of a power-walk; your dog may be happier wading for sticks rather than the intense fetch games they used to play.” Adjusting to your pooch’s new physical limitations is also key to help him deal with things properly. “Always plan your outings with an eye on being able to stop if your dog needs a rest, or turn around and head home if needed,” Benson says. “If your dog becomes unable to walk too much, a dog stroller is a fantastic way to allow them to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of their neighborhood.”
Make Staying at Home FunIf your dog isn’t as physically active as he used to be and can't engage in long days out, you can help him stave off boredom by giving more mental exercise. Mental exercise, also known as 'enrichment', is a wonderful gift to give any dog—but is particularly welcome for dogs who aren’t as active, according to Benson. “The easiest enrichment comes from tossing the boring old food bowl, and having your dog work for their dinner,” says Benson. “Stuff-able food toys such as Kongs are wonderful, along with do-it-yourself or commercial food puzzles, having your dog hunt for their kibble in the grass or by hiding it in your home, and so on.” In addition to food toys, you can also use specific training games to stimulate your dog’s brain. “You can sign up for a fun scent course either in person (seeing other dogs and people is very enriching, too, so that’s a double whammy of enrichment) or online and play sniff games with your dog,” says Benson. “You can also enrich your dog’s life by allowing them to experience more: bring them in the car for trips around town, have their favorite people and dogs come over for visits, and so on.”
Help Him Deal with Bad DaysIf your pet has 'bad days' because of his illness, keeping him mentally stimulated when he’s in pain or not feeling great can take the focus off his issues. Any kind of stimulation he’s willing to participate in will help. “Also, make sure your dog feels included and comfortable in your home,” says Benson. “Get a comfortable bed or two and place them in well-used areas so your dog feels like they can join in but still be comfortable and safe.” Illness and aging can both contribute to anxiety in dogs, so if you see an increase in anxious body language and behavior in your dog, Benson recommends speaking to your vet. “You can also cast a critical eye at your home and lifestyle, and identify areas where anxiety crops up and take action to mitigate these things,” Benson says. “If your dog is anxious when you vacuum, for example, put him in the backyard with a chew toy when it’s time to clean; some careful planning can really reduce anxiousness in our dogs.”