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Tips on helping an elderly dog stay mobile, pain-free

Helping an elderly dog stay mobile and pain-free is a pet owner's toughest job

A Siberian husky.

A Siberian husky. Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Q Our beloved husky, Krypto, is more than 13 years old. He has had Valley fever for over a year and has been taking compounded meds (fluconazole) for eight months. He is very thin, although he eats a lot and has a good appetite. He drinks gallons of water every day. In fact, when the vet took a sample for analysis, it was almost all water. He pees a lot, too. If the water bowl is empty in the middle of the night he will howl next to my bed to let me know to refill it.

His main problem is his weak back legs. He cannot walk well and often sits down to rest. But he still loves to ride in the car and go to the park with his dog friends, but now he will sit more in the shade. Lately, I have had to carry him back up the hill to get to the car. Also, sometimes he has difficulty getting through the pet door to go outside and pee. He has had some accidents inside the house.

He eats good quality, high-protein dry dog food supplemented in the evening with canned dog food. I am trying a supplement called Joint Care. I don't know if it will help, but it is not hurting.

Krypto does not show any signs of being in pain. He wags his tail, loves to be petted and sits with his head up and ears perked when I talk with him. It is just his walking that is difficult and might be painful. They should make strap-on wheels for dogs like Krypto.

What can I do for him? I have never had a dog die. We got him as a puppy. If he stops eating or seems to be in pain, I would consider having a vet come to our home to put him to sleep, but we are not there yet. When would I know it is time? Why do you think he is drinking so much water?

— Darlyne, via email

A Helping a pet toward the end of his life can be difficult, especially if you are a first-time pet parent. Krypto's general demeanor, appetite, elimination and overall energy will play a part in your decision on when to let him pass over, which is often referred to as the journey to the Rainbow Bridge.

Some dogs will still look happy and wag their tails around their owners, even though they are in a lot of pain. If you think your dog is in pain, ask your veterinarian to prescribe medication to make him more comfortable. If his excessive thirst is not related to his current medications, he could be developing another health problem.

The good news is there are rear-support wheelchairs for dogs that may extend Krypto's mobility and reduce his pain. I also once found an alternative veterinarian who gave my dog acupuncture treatments for hip dysplasia. It reduced pain and extended his mobility — and his life — for six more months.

The decision on when to let a pet go is by far the most difficult decision every pet parent will make. Sadly, I don't think the decision ever gets any easier, so trust your gut. Look at your dog's quality of life and watch for a sudden loss of appetite or disinterest in participating in life as signs it may be time to let him go.

Q Our 15-year-old male cat has started pulling tufts of fur from his legs with his teeth. He pulled fur from a two-inch spot. Any suggestions?

— Mike,

Tucson, Arizona

A Poor guy! Cats may pull out fur because they itch. Do you use a monthly flea preventative? Sometimes, people don't treat their indoor cats, but the cats still can get fleas.

Most often though, the cat is an over-groomer. This is typically an anxiety-based behavior that results in pulling, chewing or excessively grooming their fur, leaving bald spots on their bodies, especially on their abdomen and legs. Grooming is a behavior that relaxes cats, so if they are stressed or anxious about something, they will groom more often and with much more force.

While there are over-the-counter calming supplements for cats, over-grooming also can be the result of pain. I suggest visiting your veterinarian to determine which it is so that you can properly treat his condition.

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