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Dr. Michael Fox, Published December 09 2013

Pet care: Old, deaf dog with dementia

Dear Dr. Fox: I am writing because I have encountered two heartbreaking concerns with my beloved companion (not “pet”), which I have not experienced with my other animals before. Esperanza is a 16-year-young Spanish water dog. She was born and reared in Spain; yes, she speaks Spanish — bad joke, but people are always asking.

Esperanza is completely deaf. I believe she can still sense the vibrations in my voice as I continue to talk to her. Does she know she is deaf and that she can no longer hear my voice? Has this affected her psychologically? I don’t see how it cannot, but when I pose these questions to other people, all I get is eye-rolls. My vet says that as long as she is healthy, her other senses will help her compensate.

My second concern is that Esperanza has developed dementia. This is so painful. Her main symptoms are confusion and disorientation. It seems especially severe in the evening. She will stare out a window, run around in circles and bark for no reason.

Our vet started her on Selegiline, an antidepressant. She eats one can of Hills Prescription Diet a day. She gets two or three walks a day. I would say she is not in any pain or suffering, but do we know exactly what that means from her perspective? – A.O., Clifton Forge, Va.

Dear A.O.: Your geriatric canine companion certainly knows that she cannot hear, which increases her anxiety. Communicate with hand signals. Her increased agitation at night may be a symptom of night blindness.

The Selegiline is what I would prescribe for the dementia. Adding 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and 1 teaspoon of fish oil to her daily diet may also help neurologically. A soothing and relaxing massage morning, afternoon and evening may help improve your dog’s quality of life. My massage therapy book, “The Healing Touch For Dogs,” has helped many dogs like yours.

Esperanza may soon be a candidate for in-home hospice veterinary care. Check in your community for veterinarians who provide this essential service for elderly and health-declining animal companions.

Dear Dr. Fox: My son, his wife and children (16 and 12 years old) have been transferred to Bangkok for two or three years. They plan on taking their 8-year-old Australian shepherd and 2-year-old cat with them.

I feel the trip will be too exhausting for the cat. After all, it can’t be taken out of the carrier for water and potty breaks like the dog can. I have offered to keep the cat with my other two.

What do you suggest? Is it possible for the cat to make this trip without ill effects? – A.G., Flat Rock, N.C.

Dear A.G.: Since you have made the kind offer to your son and family to take in their cat, I hope they have accepted. Attachment to an animal, rather than considering what is best for the animal, can amount to misguided, selfish love and animal suffering. This is especially true when it is time to give up an animal whose time has come, but for emotional reasons is postponed.

Check out my article on the steps you must take when introducing a new cat into your cats’ environment in “Dr. Fox’s Library” on my website, DrFoxVet.com. Following these steps can help reduce the animals’ stress and lead to the establishment of amicable relationships, especially when cats are fearful of each other and feel their territories are being invaded.

Dear Dr. Fox: We have an 11-year-old Yorkie. About four years ago, he had blood in his urine. We saw it because he is paper-trained.

The vet said he had bladder stones, and two of them were removed. He was put on Royal Canin Urinary SO. He also gets a few strips of grilled chicken breast twice daily. He gets all-natural treats and a dental treat after dinner. He has a heart problem and a blockage of his esophagus, so he is on furosemide. He is also on enalapril.

Twice in the past six months, he was lethargic, could not stand on his paws and was listless and just wanted to sleep. Our vet said it could be neurological. Each time, he was given a steroid shot of dexamethasone. It was scary to see him so weak. Within 24 hours, he was just about back to normal.

I’d like to know if you think he should be on this prescription diet forever? He doesn’t like it or enjoy it. He does love the grilled chicken. Also, should he be on these medications? – P.C., Naples, Fla.

Dear P.C.: Popular toy breeds like your little Yorkie are prone to a variety of medical issues that are genetically linked, costly and can cause much suffering and anxiety for their caregivers.

I wish people would think twice about purchasing these kinds of dogs, especially from pet stores and online puppy mill breeders and markets, instead of finding a local breeder with healthier breeding stock. Then be sure to get a good pet health insurance policy.

Your dog is getting on in years, and his comfort and quality of life are paramount. This periodic collapse could be related to his medication, which he must continue to receive or suffer the consequences of his multiple health issues.

Have your veterinarian find more palatable prescription diet recipes that you can prepare for your Yorkie at secure.balanceit.com.


Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DFoxVet.com.