Monday, February 17, 2014

Dog Tales: "Old Age Is Not for Sissies"

In my family, the bon mot used in the title is attributed to my Uncle Bill, my late father's youngest and only surviving sibling. Others have attributed it to Bette Davis. Whoever said it first, it's a sentiment William will attest applies to dogs as well as humans.

My valiant William, who is just days away from his official sixteenth birthday, recently suffered a recurrence of old dog vestibular disease. While his first bout with canine vertigo was totally debilitating, this one could be described as disorienting. The first time it happened, he just lay still and didn't attempt to stand for ten days. This time he was agitated, constantly moving and unable to lie still for more than a few seconds before getting up and walking around again. Much of the time, he walked in circles, with one hind paw planted on the floor like a compass needle while the rest of him drew a circle around it. During the previous episode, I had to feed him Ensure with a turkey baster to keep him nourished. This time, he was ravenous, wanting to eat several times a day and eagerly scarfing down favorite kinds of dog food. His newfound appetite delighted me, but there was a problem. Lowering his head to the food dish made him dizzy, and a few times he toppled over. So I would lift the bowl and hold it at a height that was comfortable for him. Sometimes, while he was eating, he would start revolving. When that happened, I would move around with him, keeping the bowl at his mouth so he could eat while he turned.

On a run out to Greenport for more dog food, it occurred to me that I should buy William an elevated feeder so he wouldn't have to lower his head to eat. Bound for ShopRite, I detoured out to PetSmart on a mission to get such a feeder. Once there, I considered but rejected an adjustable feeder with two bowls suspended from a center post. It seemed too unsettling for an already unstable dog to have to eat and drink from bowls that hung in midair. I finally narrowed it down to an arch-shaped feeder of not very appealing design, but it seemed sturdy and less likely to intimidate William. Because it wasn't adjustable, I wanted to be sure the height was right, so I took the feeder off the shelf, set it on the floor, and reached down to test if the bowls were at the same height as when I held a bowl for William. With that gesture, I knew I wasn't buying that feeder or any other.

William has eaten from the same bowls, positioned in the same spot, in the same house for more than fourteen years. It wasn't fair, in his old age, to make him change something so basic in his life. Besides, I realized that the act of holding the bowl for my beloved dog as he ate was precious to me. It was a service I owed to the being who had shown me that I was capable of unconditional love.

I put the feeder back on the shelf and bought instead a bag of William's favorite Blue Buffalo salmon treats. (I'd been in the store so long, I figured I couldn't leave without buying something.) 

Now, after a few days and some vet-prescribed Meclizine, William has pretty much recovered from this bout with vestibular disease. He is back to eating unassisted from his bowls on the floor, he isn't walking in circles, only listing a bit, and we don't have an awkward elevated feeder taking up space beside the dinner table.


  1. Wow. Poor William. Is there such a thing as old man vestibular disease. I have some of the same symptoms, especially walking in circles and needing to have my food bowl raised to my mouth!

  2. When Lulu needed her food bowl elevated, I couldn't find what she needed either. So Lulu's bowl now rests on a paperback copy of "The Art of Eating" by M. F. K. Fisher.