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Caring for the Senior Dog

In This Chapter
  • Understanding what it means to own a senior dog
  • Identifying age-related health changes
  • Keeping your Boston comfortable as he ages
  • Coping with the loss of your dog

You and your Boston Terrier have enjoyed a long and fun-filled life together. You watched him mature from puppyhood to adulthood, loving him and training him to be a well-mannered dog. You cared for his every need, from filling his belly to taking him to the veterinarian for regular checkups. In return, he looked up to you as his leader. He has been your best friend.

The time will come when you realize that your Boston isn’t as spry as he once was. He doesn’t dash to the door when visitors come to visit or leap from his bed when you pull out his favorite toy. He’s slowing down and losing the spring in his step. He’s getting old.
As he ages, your Boston will require some special treatment. Though you can’t stop the aging process, you can do some things that make him comfortable through his senior years. The remaining days with your dog can then be filled with fun, love, and caring until the time comes to say goodbye.
For more information about the topics covered in this chapter, pick up Senior Dogs For Dummies by Susan McCullough (Wiley). The book is chockfull of advice to help you care for your aging pet.

Knowing the Signs of Aging

Generally, small dogs live longer than big dogs, and your Boston Terrier is no exception. By the age of 8 years old, your pup has reached his senior years. Though he will likely live until he’s 11 or 12 years old, he will begin to show some signs of aging, including

  • A loss of strength and flexibility
  • An intolerance of cold and heat
  • An increased susceptibility to certain diseases
  • A gradual deterioration of organ functions
  • A little gray around the edges — just like his pet parents!
Because of his increasing frailty, you need to protect him from environmental stressors, such as allergies and temperature fluctuations. You need to pay greater attention to his health problems, like coughing and weight gain, and take him to the veterinarian more frequently to screen for abnormal body functions. As he ages, you also need to slowly change his diet, provide a comfortable living environment for him, and give him adequate and appropriate exercise.


Keep a closer eye on your Boston as the years pass. Watch for signs of disease acquired in old age, including sudden weight loss, appetite loss, diarrhea or vomiting, increased thirst without a change in activity or urination level, excessive fatigue, limited mobility, or coughing or excessive panting. If your Boston exhibits any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Age-Related Disorders

As your Boston’s body ages, it begins to break down and show signs of wear and tear. His movements may become more deliberate, he may gain weight, or he may become hard of hearing. You’ll notice subtle changes in your pup’s personality and behavior as his birthdays pass.
Following are some common age-related afflictions that you can look out for as your Boston ages.


Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes stiffness in the joints, just as it does in humans. Age and wear cause the joints to break down, which can be quite painful when your Boston tries to get up from a nap or walk across the room. As he ages, you may see him walk more slowly or hesitate before he moves. If you suspect arthritis, consult with your veterinarian.
An X-ray of the affected joints will confirm an arthritis diagnosis. Your vet will likely prescribe an anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medication to ease your dog’s stiffness and discomfort. She may also recommend alternative treatments, such as massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic work, to relieve pain or stress. Ask her, too, if dietary supplements will help slow the degenerative process.


Be aware that your Boston may be sore when you pick him up. If he yelps, make note of the painful area and select a different area to hold the next time you lift him. Make sure your vet is aware of any yelping because that can signal more serious problems than arthritis or simple aches and pains.

You can change your Boston’s environment to make it more comfortable for him and to ease the pain that arthritis can bring. Buy him a cushy bed that’s soft and supportive, keeping it away from cold drafts to keep his joints elastic. Move his food and water bowls closer to his bed so he doesn’t have to walk as far for food and drink. If you let him on the bed or couch, help him up by providing a ramp or stairs. Do whatever you can to make his life easier.


Just because he’s aging, however, doesn’t mean you should stop exercising him. Continue to take your Boston on walks and let him play in the warm sunshine. He may not walk three miles, but moving his body will help him feel better.


Just as treatments for human cancer continue to improve, scientists are making advances in treating canine cancer, too. Chemotherapy, radiation, and oncology care can be expensive, but cancer no longer means a death sentence like it once did! Lives are being saved every day, thanks to early detection and therapy.
Cancer can occur at any age, but it frequently presents at an older age. It is one of the most common health problems senior dogs may have. Abnormal cells grow out of control and damage healthy tissue, affecting normal body function. Common canine cancers include tumors of the skin and subcutaneous tissue, mammary glands, bone, lymphoid tissues, blood-forming organs, and mouth, though virtually any site may give rise to tumors.
Every lump and bump does not mean cancer, but it should be evaluated by a veterinarian for proper diagnosis. She will either remove some tissue from the lump with a needle or perform a biopsy to determine whether it is benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). If it is malignant, you and your veterinarian can discuss the pros and cons of treating your dog.


Older dogs frequently suffer from impaired hearing. As they get older, the sound receptors in their ears degenerate, causing gradual hearing loss. It may seem like your Boston is ignoring you, but he’s not! It’s likely that he’s a little hard of hearing.
If you suspect that your Boston is losing his hearing, take him to your veterinarian to rule out an ear infection or generalized neurological disease. If he’s otherwise healthy, you can manage his disability by using signal commands instead of verbal commands. You’ll also want to watch him carefully when he’s outside because he won’t be able to hear approaching cars or other dangers.


Dogs who are going deaf may be easily startled. Depending on your Boston’s temperament, he may respond aggressively to surprises.


Diabetes mellitus is an abnormal increase in blood sugar levels that is usually caused by an insulin deficiency. Though it is treatable, diabetes can affect your Boston’s health and cause long-term complications if left untreated, including blindness, infections, weight loss, pancreatitis, and death.
The cause of insulin-dependant diabetes is unknown, but many factors contribute to its appearance in dogs. Genes, obesity, infection, and inflammation of the pancreas may all play a role in developing the disease.
Watch your Boston’s food and water intake. Clinical signs of diabetes mellitus include increased appetite and water consumption, increased frequency and volume of urination, and weight loss. If these signs go unnoticed, sudden blindness may occur because of cataract formation, or diabetic ketoacidosis (ketone buildup in the blood) may develop, resulting in lethargy and vomiting.
If your Boston develops insulin-dependant diabetes, your veterinarian will recommend that you adjust his diet to include food that keeps his blood sugar level constant. You may also need to inject insulin under your dog’s skin twice a day. Your veterinarian will develop an individualized plan for you and your dog.

Eye disorders

Older dogs frequently suffer from cataracts, a cloudy white spot, or opacity, on the lens of the eye that interferes with vision. As a cataract forms, it causes lens protein to leak into the eye, which triggers an immune response and inflammation. A veterinary ophthalmologist (eye doctor) can remove the cataract, but most dogs handle gradual vision loss quite well, provided home furnishings are kept stable so they learn how to weave through the room and avoid obstacles.
Nuclear sclerosis, an age-related change in the structure of the lens, also causes a cloudiness of the lens, but it doesn’t affect the vision or produce any inflammation. Your veterinarian can determine whether a cloudy eye is from a cataract or nuclear sclerosis.
Glaucoma, a buildup of pressure inside the eye, also comes with age. An eye with glaucoma is often swollen and enlarged, and looks red and weepy. If left untreated, it can cause blindness by destroying the retina. Several medical treatment options are available. Your veterinarian can recommend the right one for your Boston Terrier.


If your dog starts to lose his vision, make his treks though your house easier by getting on your knees and making any necessary accommodations. Avoid moving furniture, placing new objects in his path, and leaving doors open. Remove sharp objects or other dangers that can injure him, and put up a baby gate at the top of the stairs to prevent falls.


Dogs who are going blind may not appreciate surprises, and as a result, they may respond fearfully or aggressively, depending on their temperament.

Heart problems

Your Boston’s heart pumps blood through four different chambers. It uses valves that open and close to control blood flow through the heart. All these movements create normal heart sounds.
As your dog ages, his heart valves become so worn that they fail to close completely with the beating of the heart. Blood flows backward through the partially closed valve, creating an abnormal heart sound called a heart murmur. Small dogs, like Bostons, frequently suffer from heart murmurs. It doesn’t cause death, but it should be closely monitored by your veterinarian.
Poor dental care can cause some heart murmurs. When a dog’s teeth aren’t brushed and cleaned properly, tartar builds up. Bacteria from the tartar sheds into the bloodstream, and it can attach to the heart valves and cause leaks or murmurs. Good oral hygiene — brushing your dog’s teeth daily, and having a veterinarian check and clean his pearly whites regularly — prevents tartar buildup, which lessens the chances of your senior dog developing a heart murmur. (Jump to Chapter Looking Good for details on how to brush your dog’s teeth.)

Kidney disease

Though the kidneys can be injured at any time in the dog’s life from infection, injury, shock, or an attack of the immune system, geriatric dogs can suffer from chronic kidney disease, which is the gradual deterioration of the kidney function. It is often incurable, but you can manage the disease through veterinary care and diet.
Kidneys eliminate waste products from the dog’s blood stream and regulate the body’s water content. When the kidneys fail, the entire body shuts down, leading to serious illness and death.
If your senior Boston has unusually bad breath, becomes dehydrated, drinks a lot of water, and urinates frequently, he may have kidney disease. Call your veterinarian, who will examine your Boston and perform blood tests to determine whether your dog’s kidneys are functioning properly.
Prescription diets available from your vet will help your dog’s kidneys to perform at their best. Monitor the amount of water your Boston drinks, too. Depending on his activity level, 15-pound dogs require 20 ounces (2 1⁄2 cups) of water per day; 20-pound dogs require 24 ounces (3 cups) of water per day. Call your veterinarian if your Boston is drinking a lot more than that.


As dogs age, they become less active and generally require fewer calories than they did as puppies. Their metabolic rate (the speed at which the body burns calories) slows, and if they continue to eat the same amount, they will gain weight.
Weight gain can lead to a host of adverse health effects, including diabetes, susceptibility to infection, shortened life, increased pressure on vital organs and joints, and decreased energy. Obesity also exacerbates problems brought on by arthritis. As your dog ages, you need to keep his weight in check.
To keep off unwanted pounds, follow the same weight-control principles as for all other animals (including humans): Decrease his food intake and increase his exercise. Talk to your veterinarian before changing his diet or taking him for a run. She may recommend a senior diet for your dog that has fewer calories or encourage you to reduce the amount you feed your dog. She will also recommend an appropriate exercise routine.

Urinary incontinence

Older female dogs often develop a loss of voluntary bladder control, or urinary incontinence. As she ages, she loses the ability to hold her urine, so you’ll find puddles in her bed, or you’ll see urine drip from the vulva with her unaware.
Take your Boston to your veterinarian for a complete examination and diagnosis. In some cases, you can manage your dog’s urinary incontinence with oral medication; in others, you’ll need to put some doggy diapers on your Boston to keep the mess under control.

Handling Your Senior Boston with Kid Gloves

When your Boston reaches his golden years, you’ll want to do whatever you can to keep him comfortable. He may not eat as much or play as much as he did when he was a pup, but he still has a lot of love to give. Keeping him comfortable on a cushy bed, taking him for short walks, and visiting your veterinarian will ensure that he’ll be happy and healthy during the sunset of his life.

Veterinary visits

As with elderly people, some senior dogs require more frequent visits to the doctor. New health issues crop up more often, and it’s always better to get a professional opinion, even if it seems like a minor ailment. It could be the beginning of a more serious problem.
When you take your Boston to the veterinarian, load him gently into the car, hooking his harness into the carrier or car seat, and making sure that he’s safe and comfortable. At the office, remember that his hearing and sight won’t be as keen as it once was. Be aware of intimidating dogs who may frighten him.
When your Boston reaches his eighth birthday or so, schedule a veterinary visit for your geriatric dog. Your dog’s doctor will perform some screening exams to check your dog’s bodily functions, to look for signs of disease, and to establish a baseline to measure against as he ages. Tests may include a urinalysis, blood work, and chest X-rays.
If the doctor gives your elderly Boston a clean bill of health, you won’t have to return until the following year (unless you notice something out of the ordinary, of course). But if the veterinarian sees signs of health problems or diagnoses your dog with a particular disease, plan to bring him in more often.


Throughout your Boston’s life, nutrition is a key component in his overall health and vitality. Food provides the carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals that help your dog create enough energy to tackle the world. When your Boston gets older, he doesn’t need as much energy anymore. He’ll require fewer calories to keep him going. Feeding him the same amount of food you did when he was a teenager or adult will cause him to put on unwanted pounds, which could lead to a variety of health issues.
Talk to your veterinarian about what type of diet your Boston should be eating. She’ll most likely recommend one formulated for senior dogs, or one that is lower in calories than an adult diet.
Forgo the treats, too, for more healthy alternatives. Instead of giving her biscuits and goodies from the dog bakery all the time, do so sparingly and intersperse crunchy vegetables among the high-calorie choices. Don’t forget: Treats have calories, too, and they pack on the pounds just like his regular diet!


Make sure that your Boston drinks plenty of water. If you notice that he’s not drinking enough, add some water to his food bowl, or mix his dry kibble with some canned food. Sometimes older dogs can be fussy about their water bowls, so make sure that your Boston’s bowl is clean and full of fresh water at all times. If you see that your dog isn’t eating or drinking enough, contact your vet.


All physically able dogs need exercise, even the older ones. Getting up and moving helps him strengthen and tone his muscles and tendons. It improves cardiac condition and it keeps his digestive tract functioning as it should. It also keeps his weight in check.
Your Boston may not be able to hike five miles like he once did, but he will enjoy a leisurely saunter around the block once a day to keep his mind and body stimulated. Strap on his harness, attach the lead, grab some pickup bags, and stroll to the park, letting him sniff and investigate all along the way. Even on short walks, bring along some water in case he gets thirsty or needs a break.


As your dog ages, follow his lead when it comes to physical activity. If he wants to lounge around all day, that’s okay! If he wants to play fetch for only 20 minutes, that’s okay! The point is to keep him moving, even if it’s less frequently than before.

Bedding and sleeping area

There’s nothing like a cushy bed, especially if you have stiff joints or aching bones. As your Boston ages, he’ll enjoy a big, comfortable dog bed with a soft blanket and his favorite plush toy. If you can, place a cushion or bed in all the rooms where your Boston relaxes. Make sure that it’s washable, just in case of an accident.


Because dogs with arthritis may not be able to jump on or off beds and couches like they once did, purchase some soft dog stairs or stack pillows from the floor to the bed or a chair for easy access. Sometimes your Boston would rather cuddle with you than curl up in his own bed!


In general, Bostons don’t require too much grooming, and seniors are no exception. With his short coat, he needs daily brushing with a slicker brush to pull away the dead hair and with a bristle brush to make the coat shine. He needs monthly nail trims and baths to make his coat smell fresh. And he needs regular eye and ear checks to inspect for any infections. Maintain a regular dental-cleaning schedule, too, because you want those pearly whites to stay healthy so he can eat!
Grooming time offers a perfect opportunity to look over your Boston’s body for abnormal lumps, growths, or sore spots. As you’re brushing him, feel all over his body and watch how he reacts. You’ll know if something doesn’t seem right.

Bidding Adieu to Your Boston

You’ve raised your Boston since he was a puppy. You housetrained him, cared for him, taught him how to sit, and saw him through good times and bad. You shared adventures and built wonderful memories together. When he was a puppy, you never imagined the time would come to say goodbye. Suddenly, it’s right before you.
One of the hardest things to do is say goodbye to a beloved pet. The thought of losing a companion is very painful, and as your Boston reaches the end of his life, you will have to decide when it’s time to let him to go.

How to know when it’s time

In some cases, it’s easy to know when to let your pet go. If he has a serious medical condition that takes him to emergency room, the decision might be made for you, or if his kidneys fail or he has heart failure, you know it’s time to say goodbye.
Other times, the decision isn’t so easy. It’s really up to you to determine what you can watch your dog endure. Some people can’t stand to see their dog lose his eyesight or his ability to climb a flight of stairs. Others don’t want to see their pet in pain or suffer through a terminal illness, like cancer. At the same time, some pet owners don’t want to let their pet go. They’d rather wait until the dog dies from natural causes. As in life, your Boston will rely on you to make the best choice for him.
If your Boston has lost control of his urinary and bowel functions, refuses to eat, can’t walk, or just seems completely disinterested in his surroundings, think about putting him down. Why let him struggle to cope with everyday life? Discuss the situation with your family, and then consult with your veterinarian for advice. She will evaluate your Boston’s condition and help you make the ultimate decision: whether to euthanize him.

What to expect

Although the decision to put your dog to sleep can take days or months, the act of euthanizing him takes only minutes.

Leaving your pet in your will

If you die before your Boston, who will care for him?
Believe it or not, many people neglect this detail when they’re preparing their wills, and their beloved pet winds up in an animal shelter.
Talk with your family and friends, and decide who will be a suitable caretaker if you pass away before your dog. Perhaps your sister or son is willing to adopt your Boston. Maybe you have a friend who already has a brood of Bostons, and she would be happy to welcome another.
After you decide on a person, talk to your lawyer and include your pet in your will. You may also decide to specify that a certain amount of money go to the person caring for your Boston to cover the costs of food, veterinary care, and other petrelated expenses.
At the clinic, you will be shown into an exam room or office-like setting. After you say goodbye and give your Boston one last hug, your veterinarian will inject a large dose of barbiturates into his bloodstream, which causes his brain to stop functioning. He will lose consciousness, his heart will stop beating, and he will stop breathing. Some veterinarians administer a sedative before injecting the barbiturates to calm the dog and reassure the owner that the dog won’t suffer or feel afraid.
Euthanasia is a completely painless procedure. Your pup will drift off into a deep, peaceful sleep before his bodily functions cease. One minute, he’s looking up at you or the vet, and the next minute, he’s gone. He experiences no fear at all.
Talk to your vet about whether she can come to your home to euthanize your Boston. If not, schedule an office appointment early or late in the day to avoid having to face a waiting room full of pets and their parents. Let your vet know your feelings and trepidations about putting your pet to sleep, and she’s likely to make the process as easy as possible for you.


Some pet owners want to be with their pet during the procedure, and some don’t. No matter what you decide, that choice is yours, and it will be the right one for you. Either way, your veterinarian will handle your dog humanely and with care.


You will feel the loss of your beloved pet, but he will be set free from any suffering that he may be enduring. Sometimes, euthanasia is the only thing you can do to alleviate the pain from a major illnesses or trauma. If your veterinarian’s prognosis is that your dog will continue to deteriorate, you have little choice.

Remembering your beloved Boston

Before your dog is put to sleep, talk to your veterinarian about what you can do with his remains. Most clinics cremate deceased animals there or at a remote facility. If you want to keep your Boston’s ashes in an urn, or if you’d like to bury him in a petsized coffin, let your vet know. She can make arrangements to accommodate your request.
You’ve likely taken lots of photographs of your Boston throughout his lifetime. As you’re grieving, take them out and look at them. Put them in a photo album, jotting down significant memories or funny stories that pop into your mind. Gathering the keepsakes together helps perpetuate your pup’s memory.

A tribute to cherished pets

This lovely poem offers hope for pet lovers who lose their furry friends. Grab a tissue before you read it because this one’s a tear-jerker!
Rainbow Bridge
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.
— Author unknown
Talk about your pet with family and loved ones while you’re grieving. Share memories and celebrate the time you all had together. Let the tears flow; don’t be ashamed of your pain. Just because your Boston was a dog doesn’t mean he didn’t significantly affect your life! He was a part of your family, and you have every right to mourn his passing.
Some people advocate rushing out and replacing your pup right away. This may or may not be the best decision; only you know whether you’re ready or if you need more time. No matter how many pets you have in your life, each one occupies a special place in your heart.
by Wendy Bedwell-Wilson
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