Senior Dog Blog

How My Dogs Have Changed Me by Ann-Marie Fleming

31 August, 2015

Lately I have been evaluating my evolution as a dog parent and when I compare my current self with my past self I am blown away by the difference. I remember in detail that moment when I first made the decision to have dogs of my own. I was finishing up University and wanted my own four-legged family. Having had family pets growing up there was no shortage of love for animals and I laugh at how I thought love was all you needed to be a good parent. Don't get me wrong, love is a major part of being a good parent, but it is definitely not all there is to it.

Looking back, I understand that there really is no substitute for experience. As a dog parent, everyday is a learning experience and I personally have come such a long way on many fronts thanks to my dogs and the lessons they taught me.

In the beginning I did so much wrong. In fact I cringe at some of the things I used to do such as leave my dogs outside while I did my grocery shopping. I'd attach their leashes to bike rack while I went inside and thought nothing about the risk of dog theft. I was completely naive about dental care, fed them food I would never touch today, never heard of cancer in dogs and had no idea of what to expect as they got older. Fortunately, I'm a quick learner and over the years as I became more mature, more responsible and more educated in caring for my dogs, I became a better and better parent.How my dogs have changed me

What I am most proud of is how I learned to care for my dogs in their senior years and how I changed during this phase of their life more so than at any other stage. As my dogs were growing up I felt an undeniable bond with them like nothing I had ever experienced before. That bond strengthened even more during their golden years and I was forever changed because of it.

My dogs started to struggle when they reached about 10 years old. It was gradual at first, but by the time 12 came around Churchill, my french bulldog, was having some serious mobility issues that was causing incontinence and was diagnosed with a heart tumor. Mackenzie, my pug, was becoming challenged by arthritis making walking difficult. Despite the obstacles age was throwing at them, there is something remarkable that happens during this stage of life. Yes, their dependence on me grew as they needed more assistance with their mobility and overall care, but something changed in me as well. 

The more I cared for them, the more I loved them and the closer we became. I learned that I am really good at helping them continue to enjoy their golden years which we did to the fullest. I found a side to me that I never even knew existed. A me that put aside my own needs to make sure they had everything they needed to be happy and healthy, a me that saw the importance of every moment together which I treasured and a me that discovered a greater purpose in life making all the regular stresses so insignificant next to their needs. Life became about so much more than myself. And seeing how my efforts made such a positive impact on their lives changed who I was as a person. I loved who I was because of them.

Mackenzie and Churchill were also the inspiration behind Dog Quality. Their challenges and all the lessons we learned together gave birth to a business that has become my passion, allowing me and my team to help older dogs all over the world. And now through Dog Quality, and as I continue to bring senior dogs into my life, the learning and evolving never stops.

How my dogs have changed me

After Churchill passed away Paige, also a french bulldog, entered my life and I grew even more as she became a part of me. Being with her as she fought and eventually lost her battle with cancer earlier this year was one of the hardest times in my life, but I have never felt closer to another dog as I felt to her during this time. My current family, Lily (10 yrs), Milo (12 yrs) and Winnie (4 yrs) continue to shape me and teach me and I can honestly tell you that I learn something new about myself and about my dogs each and every day. My dogs, past and present, have not only taught me how to be a better parent, but they have taught me how to be a better human being.

As a result of my experiences I now know that I will always have senior dogs in my life. I like who I am when I am taking care of them. It is because of this that I see their golden years as an incredibly special time when you are most connected to your dog. I'm not saying that it's easy because growing older is challenging, but I am saying that it is unbelievably special and a time with your dog that will fundamentally change who you are as a person. Embrace this time together, learn from it and grow - you'll love the person you become. 

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Prosthetics - Improving Mobility for Dog Amputees by Ann-Marie Fleming

31 August, 2015

Prosthetic devices for people have been around for many years, but it is still a relatively new field in the pet world. And just as prosthetic leg devices have helped people get back their mobility, it is now doing the same for our dogs which I happen to think is amazing. Recently I had the privilege of speaking with some experts within the world of dog prosthesis and learned a great deal about the importance of having this option available to improve mobility for dog amputees.

Not all dogs are candidates for a prosthetic unfortunately and a lot has to do with how much of the limb remains and the expectations the owner and doctor have for the dog.

Dog Prosthetics

"There are a few factors involved in a patient being a "good candidate." The first question is if the referring veterinarian's and client's goals for the patient are achievable goals. Next, there are residual limb requirements to be able to attach a functional prosthetic. There needs to be at least 30-40% of the radius/ulna remaining for a forelimb prosthetic device and at least 50% of the tibia/fibula remaining for a hindlimb prosthetic device, although, having the entire tibia/fibula remaining is ideal," explains Shawna Anderson, Registered Veterinarian Technician and Case Manager with industry founder Orthopets based in Denver, Colorado.

The residual limb requirements had me thinking back to all the dogs I have seen with amputations and I cannot recall any of those dogs having any portion of their limbs remaining. This I have learned has a lot to do with how these surgeries are conducted. In the human world they preserve as much of the limb as is possible, but in the animal world there is a tendency to remove the entire limb even when this is not necessary. 

 "Some veterinarians are still unaware of the prosthetic devices available. If a surgeon consults with a prosthesis professional then they can tailor their surgical procedure to ensure that the dog has the right type of amputation for the prosthesis needed. It's a much easier transition for the patient if we can adjust the amputation to the prosthetic," describes Jeff Collins, CEO & President of K-9 Orthotics & Prosthetics based in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The level of awareness, however, does appear to be improving because the number of dogs being helped by prosthetics is increasing indicating that surgical methods are beginning to evolve.

There are of course numerous medical reasons why a full limb amputation may be necessary, but when this is not the case then we as dog parents should speak with our veterinarians prior to the amputation so the surgery can be handled in a way that gives our dogs the best chance of success with a prosthetic device. 

Dog ProstheticsI have personally seen dog amputees and they can do quite well on 3 legs, but long term the impact of compensating for this missing limb can take its toll. Just as humans do when we have an injury, dogs will also compensate with their healthy limbs, but as they get older those healthy limbs can suffer as a result of taking on the weight no longer supported by the missing limb. Prosthetics can be a preventative measure so that when dogs do reach their senior years they are not dealing with joint problems caused from overcompensating.

According to Jeff Collins, "Getting a prosthetic onto a younger dog can allow it to act as a prophylactic. While the prosthetic has a functional purpose, it is also a prophylactic preventing further damage to the contralateral limb."

In the case of dogs that have a full amputation which excludes them as a candidate for a prosthetic device, Mr. Collins recommends using an orthotic on the opposite leg to prevent that joint from breaking down and creating hyperextension problems as they get older.

A prosthetic is not an off-the-shelf product. Each device is custom fit for the dog and requires a team approach involving patient, vet and prosthetist.

"All devices require a "break in period" to allow the patient to acclimate to the device. We understand why we are putting this device on their limb, but dogs do not. So, we need to take time to introduce it to them and ensure they are identifying the device with something positive, such as going on walks or getting a treat. Adjustments are also a normal part of the process and should be expected by all parties involved. Even though the device is custom fabricated to each patient's limb, we are still placing a foreign object on them and we will need to make minor adjustments to get that perfect fit. Once we have a well fitting device, we are able to slowly work them up to a full-time schedule which is considered AM-PM; off at night like a pair of shoes. This is when the real fun begins for them! This is when off-leash activity can typically occur and they can get back to what they loved to do pre-injury," states Shawna Anderson.Dog Prosthetics

While being able to physically bring your dog in to get fitted is very effective, prosthetics can also be fitted at a distance by obtaining an intricate mold of the amputated leg and measurements to understand the portion of the leg now missing, which the device needs to replace. The greater the height required of the device, the more complicated the process can be.

But what about senior dogs that have amputations late in life? Good news - they too can benefit from a prosthetic limb. As Shawna describes, "We definitely do not see age as a disability. We have many geriatric patients in orthotic and prosthetic devices and they do very well. Their learning curve may be a little longer, but they recognize their improved mobility in their devices and learn to love their devices." 

The future for prosthetics is very bright. Not only are veterinarians becoming more aware of what is available for their patients, but the technology to create the artificial limbs is accelerating. One of the most promising areas surrounds 3D printing which could conceivably one day be used to create device components and possibly entire limbs, but it still has a ways to go before that will happen.

According to Orthopets owner and founder Martin Kaufmann, "Currently, the state of the art material to use in the fabrication of an orthosis or prosthesis is polypropylene and laminating carbon-fiber. The polypropylene is extruded in sheets creating a strength and molecular alignment superior to 3D printing capabilities. Carbon-Fiber lamination exceeds all other materials for the ability to create complex shapes with the least amount of strength - to - weight characteristics. No 3D printed materials to date can match these characteristics. Above and beyond this, having the choice to match the most appropriate material selection to the individual patient is critical and not obtainable when considering a 3D printer solution." 

At the rate that technology advances, the evolution of prosthetics will continue to move forward creating more opportunities for improving the quality of life for our dog amputees. What also gives me great confidence in this field is understanding the people behind it, many of which are involved because of personal experiences and a genuine love of dogs. They strive to improve not only the devices, but also the awareness within the veterinarian community to ultimately help more and more dogs in need. I for one will be keeping an eye on this industry and should the situation ever call for it, I will be sure to discuss the option of a prosthesis with my veterinarian. 

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs. 

Knowing when it's time to say goodbye by Ann-Marie Fleming

30 July, 2015

As dog parents one of the most difficult things we face is making the heart breaking decision to say goodbye to our dogs. I get asked quite often "How do I know when it's time?" - this is such a difficult question to answer so I will attempt to do so drawing from my own experiences.

One of the reasons I wanted to be a provider of dog incontinence and mobility products is to help prevent unnecessary euthanizing of dogs. Too often people would assume that if their dog started having accidents or if they were having trouble walking that it meant it was time to put them down. Over time and as we increase awareness, people are now seeing that these conditions can be be managed and in some cases even treated; allowing dogs to live wonderful, happy lives. I believe that pet parents are becoming much more informed these days and my hope is that the percentage of euthanized dogs for these reasons has been dramatically reduced. So it goes without saying that I will never ever say goodbye to my dog because they may need help with incontinence or their mobility. 

I strongly believe that our dogs tell us when it's time. One of the most difficult times in my life happened when Paige, my French Bulldog, became deathly sick and was in ICU for a week being treated for a rare form of lymphoma that was causing her liver to fail. The majority of the week we were not seeing any improvement and I remember thinking that any minute one of the specialists was going to sit me down and tell me to let her go. I feared this so much because Paige still had such a light in her eyes and every time I saw her she looked at me as if to say "I want to go home". There was nothing in her that was saying that her fight was over and it was time to say goodbye. She was not ready to leave and I was so scared that they were going to make me decide against what my heart felt.

Fortunately I didn't have to make this decision since Paige bounced back enough to come home.She was only home for a few weeks before the cancer became too much for her little body and when it started to fail I no longer saw that light in her eyes and I knew 100% what she was telling me. She could not fight anymore and now it was time for her to be at peace. While I am still heart broken I am grateful that I let her go when she was ready.

Mackenzie was my first Pug and lived until he was almost 16 and had a long list of medical conditions including a stroke and a long term infection. Since Mackenzie was the biggest food monster I have ever known, I told myself that when he stops eating I will know. When he did not fully recover from his stroke, which left him unable to walk or stand on his own, my vet gave me the "talk" about putting him down, but he was still eating like a horse, enjoying his long drinks of water and wagging his tail so I knew it was not time. With some support from me to help him with his mobility we were able to still enjoy our time together.

Eventually his infection became untreatable since it had mutated into a super bug and he stopped doing what he loved to do which was eat. I hung on for a miracle but it quickly became came clear that to hang on any longer was for purely selfish reasons because Mackenzie was telling me it was his time. Again I knew.

Churchill was my first French Bulldog, my little protector and as I have always said, the love of my life. He had back problems and when I had him tested to see if he could handle an MRI in hopes that we could find a way to improve his mobility, they discovered a tumor in his heart. Inoperable, we chose to live life to its fullest knowing that our time together was limited. He like Paige had such a zest for life that he fought so hard to stay with me and when he could fight no longer, he died in my arms at home before I could even bring him to my vet. Knowing who he was I think he was right where he needed to be when it happened.

Every loss is absolutely heart breaking, but there is some degree of comfort when you feel certain your decision to say goodbye is the right decision for your four-legged family member. We always need to find the balance between not giving up too soon and not holding on too long, which is not always easy because we want nothing more than to have more time together. We can only do our best to look out for them and read the messages they are sending us. Don't be influenced by those who do not know your dog like you do. You know your dog best and may be the only one that can truly understand when they are telling you it's time. Trust yourself and you will make the right decision.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs. 

Dog Quality - Positive Changes to Help More Senior Dogs by Ann-Marie Fleming

24 July, 2015

This year at Dog Quality we are going through considerable change as we continue to grow and pursue more ways to help a greater number of senior (and physically challenged) dogs around the world. If you have known us for a while then it's probably no secret that we sell out of our products quite often and for the longest time, no matter how much we increased our production size, we often would sell out well ahead of receiving our shipments due to the long production cycles. We are confident that the changes we are implementing will allow us to get ahead of demand once and for all so we can help you take care of your four-legged family.

I get asked quite often what it's like to run a business and I can honestly tell you that while there is stress, for me the hardest part is letting down our customers. I use our products with my own dogs so I see first hand the difference they can make in the lives of older dogs. When we sell out and we have to tell dog parents that we won't have the item they so urgently need for several weeks and sometimes even months, I feel like we have not only let our customers down, but that we have let their dogs down as well and this is what keeps me up some nights. 

My goal has been to make changes to help ensure that we can address the inventory issues while continuing to improve the overall quality, and I wanted to share these changes with all of you.

One of the biggest changes, which had been many months in the making, is to bring 100% of the assembly of our Dogger stroller in-house to create our first Made in Canada product. In order to do this we have had to buy rivet machines and special equipment as well as hire new people to make this possible.

I believe this change is necessary for two big reasons: 1) When we were receiving completed units we could only fit around 400 Doggers in the shipping container, but by having everything shipped to us as parts, we can fit more than double the number of parts in the same shipping container which will help us to better manage the volume.

2) While we have always tested each and every Dogger ourselves before shipping, we will now be able to control the quality even more since we will be the ones looking at every single part from as small as a washer, to as big as the frame pieces, to ensure that every component inspected and assembled by us, meets our quality standards otherwise it does not get used.

The downside of making such a big change is the short term pain, which in our case has happened in the form of a longer than usual production cycle and I expect a longer than usual assembly cycle while we refine our process and become production experts. 

I know how difficult it has been for those of you that have been waiting months for our Doggers to arrive and I thank you so much for your patience while we work through these changes. 

The other big change we are in the midst of making involves our Washable Wonders dog diapers, bands and pads. We are very proud of this product line which continues to reach more and more parents coping with dog incontinence. We have increased every production to try and accommodate the growing volume, but again long production cycles have made it very challenging to keep everything fully stocked, so we are bringing some of the sewing in-house.

We will continue to work with our manufacturer to produce an increased volume of our incontinence products, but we will soon have the ability to manufacture a portion of our inventory under our own roof. This will give us more flexibility allowing us to make more of whichever item is running low while we await larger production shipments to arrive, so that we will hopefully never run out again. In other words, we will have an additional source for creating our Washable Wonders here in Canada to better support you in managing your dog's incontinence. Same great quality, just more of it!

I am super excited for these changes to be put into action which is just around the corner. Our Dogger parts are now here and we have begun the assembly. There will be a period of time while we adjust and refine, but the finish line is just ahead. Our shipment of Washable Wonders has arrived and we will begin sewing in-house starting in early August. Every change feels like a whole lot of baby steps towards a bigger goal, so it has been tough in the short term and even tougher on our customers, but I know it will all be so worth it in the long run.

I have to admit that i've also found the challenges around these changes that much more difficult because of losing my sweet Paige quite suddenly in February to a rare form of lymphoma. She was a big motivation for me personally and with Dog Quality, since our products helped to make her life so much easier and happier. She should still be here with me working towards these goals together, but she's not and that is still something I have trouble getting my head and heart around, but thanks to my amazing four-legged family (Lily, Milo & Winnie), the wonderful support from all of you and the overwhelming desire to help as many dogs as possible globally, I continue to love what I do and wake up anxious to do more.

So this post is one part an update on what we have been working on, but it is also an opportunity to thank you so much for your patience, for your support and for loving your dogs the way I love mine.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs. 


Health Benefits from Loving Your Dog by Ann-Marie Fleming

24 June, 2015

It may surprise you to learn that there has been a number of studies done over the years exploring the human-animal bond with a growing body of research revealing actual health benefits that result from quality time with your dog. In fact the more I read, the more these studies pointed to the need for even more research into this field.

While some question the validity of the studies completed to date, there does seem to be convincing evidence that our dogs do make us healthier. For starters, having a dog usually means that we are more active than if we were without our four-legged family. In one study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) they looked at more that 2,000 adults and concluded that dog parents who walked their dogs on a regular basis were more physically active and less likely to become obese than those without a dog. A slightly larger study which looked at senior adults between the ages of 71-82 for a period of 3 years saw that those who walked their dogs regularly, walked faster and longer than those who didn't walk regularly and had greater mobility inside the home. 

Dogs Make Us Healthier

There has even been evidence showing that dogs can help adults suffering from dementia. By introducing trained therapy dogs into the lives of people with dementia it has been shown that they can stimulate social interaction, ease agitation, improve eating and increase physical activity.

Therapy dogs have also had positive results with cancer patients helping to alleviate depression, while offering welcome companionship and a positive distraction from treatment schedules and worries.

Perhaps the most convincing scientific results are found within the area of cardiovascular health. Several studies have found that people with dogs have lower heart rates and blood pressure than those without. Dogs as stress relievers has often been proven. Research has shown that our levels of Oxytocin (OT), a neuropeptide recognized for its role in bonding, socialization and stress relief, increase when we interact with our dogs. 

I can honestly say that the only time I truly relax and let go is with my dogs, especially when I am petting and cuddling with them. It is the one time I can let everything else go and just be with them in the moment. It's so therapeutic, I don't know how I would get on without them to keep me grounded and to remind me that there are more important things in life than our daily stressors.

My life is very hectic and I think part of the reason why I love senior dogs so much is that by their very nature they have a calming effect on me. Sometimes I feel more relaxed by just watching how Milo takes his time as he maneuvers through life, taking in every smell and every moment at his own pace, never rushing and never taking anything for granted. In fact I would very much like to see research that takes into consideration the age of the dog to see if seniors have a more therapeutic effect on cardiovascular health than younger, high energy dogs.

Overall, I find research in this area, while considered in its infancy, a very important field of study because the more we understand about our dogs and the positive impact they truly have on our lives emotionally and physically, the more society as a whole will come to value and accept dogs in all areas of our lives. With their ability to focus their attention on us, to read our signals often before we know them ourselves and their devotion to us which often sees them putting our needs ahead of their own, it's no wonder they make us healthier.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Anesthesia-free Teeth Cleaning for Older Dogs by Ann-Marie Fleming

16 June, 2015

I am a huge believer in the importance of proper dental health in our dogs. In fact it is one of the best ways we as parents can extend the lives of our dogs. The challenge is that as our dogs get older anesthesia becomes riskier and in some cases, completely out of the question. I have been through this many times with my own dogs - weighing the pros and cons of putting my dog under to rectify serious dental health concerns. I do believe that if your senior dog is healthy and has serious dental disease then surgery is the right way to go BUT once you have had the surgery I have always felt there has to be a better way to maintain their dental health that doesn't require anesthesia.

Milo is a perfect example. He has had 2 dental surgeries in the past 2 years requiring numerous extractions each time and there was no doubt in my mind that he needed surgery to avoid serious consequences of dental disease. The last surgery was less than a year ago and his teeth were already looking terrible and I knew that before too long he would need more extractions, something I had hoped to avoid. At the same time, now that he is 12, I am very hesitant to put him under anesthesia just for a cleaning. I decided to look into teeth cleaning for dogs that does not use anesthetic and I came across a company in my area called K9 Gentle Dental who gave a lot of info on the procedure including videos, photos and many amazing testimonials so I decided to give them a try with Milo.

Anesthesia-free Teeth Cleaning for Older DogsAs for the results, well the difference is amazing. Looking at Milo's teeth I had my doubts they could really be cleaned, but as you can see in the before and after photos, they look fantastic.

If you google non-anesthetic dental cleaning for dogs you will come across opposition to the idea, but this negativity mainly stems from a fear that parents will use this technique in place of dental surgery which is not what K9 Gental Dental is about. In fact the first portion of the session is an evaluation of your dog's teeth. If upon inspection they see a need for surgery they will ask that you take your dog first to your vet for further diagnosis and dental surgery before using their services. Even with Milo they noticed a tooth where the gums were significantly recessed indicating possible problems below the surface and advised me to have that tooth checked by my vet. It was not loose so they were still able to proceed, but I did witness another dog that they could not clean because the issues were too severe and surgery would need to be the first step. They do not charge you if they are unable to continue with the cleaning.

The other objection I have read in terms of cleaning a dog's teeth while they are awake is the belief that a dog will not stay still long enough to allow a thorough cleaning, but when you see the video below you will quickly realize that this is not the case. The technicians were so sweet to Milo and while he channeled his inner pug and was more dramatic than the situation warranted, he was able to stay still long enough for the cleaning. Since Milo's teeth were so bad his treatment took almost an hour which included a couple small breaks, but I know if I have him treated every 6 months that the next time will be significantly shorter. And yes there is a certain amount of stress that the dog feels. Milo certainly didn't enjoy himself, but his stress level was about the same as when someone tries to cut his nails and given the health benefits and level of safety over anesthetic, I felt it was well worth it. 

Milo is a very laid back dog so I asked what their experience has been with high anxiety type dogs (in my mind I was thinking about my Lily (pug) who gets very worked up at times and my Winnie (french bulldog) who is terrified of strangers) but they said that quite a lot of dogs will simply freeze and become some of the easiest dogs to work on, even the highly strung types. You can see an example of this in the video below where a Boston Terrier becomes almost rigid, but seemed fine having them work on his teeth.

A great suggestion they made for dogs more susceptible to stress is to have them come to your home, which they can do for a bit more money. Milo was treated inside a pet store and the whole time there were dogs barking and people coming and going so I can see why for certain dogs being in the comfort of their own home is a big advantage. Also if you are like me and have more than one dog, having them come to your home is very convenient so I will try this next time. I am not sure if Winnie will go for it, but they told me that if they try and she is simply too stressed then they will not continue and I will not be charged.

Check out Milo's experience:

Right now my plan is to have all three of my dogs checked by my vet since I need to have that one tooth looked at for Milo and I believe both Winnie and Lily may need some extractions, but then I will get everyone on a 6 month non-anesthetic cleaning routine to hopefully avoid future surgeries. I believe that if you go into this treatment method knowing that it is a way of maintaining good oral health and not a cure for dental disease then it is an amazing, far more affordable and safe option, especially for our seniors who have a more challenging time coping with anesthesia. I know I felt so much better going in this direction for my Milo and I look forward to having all my dogs treated this way moving forward.

*Special thanks to K9 Gentle Dental for taking such great care of Milo and for allowing me to record his cleaning experience.

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.


Heart Disease in Senior Dogs by Ann-Marie Fleming

28 May, 2015

Up to 75% of senior dogs face some form of heart disease. A scary thought I know but the more that we understand about heart disease and how it impacts our senior dogs, the better we can manage its effects. We can categorize heart disease into congenital and acquired.Congenital represents a very small percentage of dogs and involves conditions that are usually detected quite young. Acquired heart disease includes conditions that typically impact our senior dogs and consists of disease with a valvular cause or disease with heart enlargement.

Valvular Disease: The leading cause of heart failure in dogs is Chronic Valve Disease, also known as Degenerative Valve Disease (among a variety of other terms). This form of heart disease is characterized by degenerative changes in a dog's heart valves resulting in a loss of valve function and a reduction in cardiac output. The most common valve that is affected is the mitral valve (located between the left atrium and the left ventricle) .Over time the mitral valve may begin to wear out and leak, typically indicated by a heart murmur on the left side of the chest. Mitral valve disease more commonly affects smaller breeds.Heart Disease in Senior Dogs

Dilated Cardiomyopathy: Dilated caridomyopthy (DCM) is a condition in which the heart muscle itself begins to weaken, impacting its ability to contract and pump the blood efficiently throughout the body. As a result, the heart over time becomes enlarged as the muscle stretches and the walls thin. DCM develops over many months and even years affecting large and giant breeds more so than small or medium breeds. In its early stages often times this condition goes unnoticed only detectable through diagnostics such as an ECG or ultrasound, but as the heart's ability to contract worsens, symptoms may include loss of appetite, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing and even fainting.

Both mitral valve disease and dilated cardiomyopathy can lead to congestive heart failure; however the majority of cases can be attributed to a leaky mitral valve. The most common sign of congestive heart failure is a persistent cough accompanied by difficulty breathing. Loss of stamina, excessive panting, coughing while sleeping can also indicate signs of heart failure.

The good news is that there has been great scientific progress in heart treatments over the years so a lot can be done with medication. Often times dogs can live for many happy, high quality years. Diet is also an amazing way to help manage heart disease because by keeping your dog's weight in check, you take a significant load off the heart and that can make a huge difference in both prevention and treatment.

The more I experience with my own dogs, the more I see how incredibly important early detection is in ensuring a positive outcome. I have been fortunate with some of my dogs' diagnoses and heart broken with others, but my strategy is to always obsess. We are so close with our dogs that we are able to detect even subtle changes in their behavior and often times these are cues to have your vet run some tests. Some diseases like cancer can be difficult to detect early and can often sneak up and break our hearts very quickly, but what gives me hope in the prevention of heart disease is that if we are watching and have our senior dogs checked on a regular basis we are often able to catch problems very early on and through early treatment we can see amazing results.

 Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

Understanding the Special Bond with our Dogs by Ann-Marie Fleming

21 May, 2015

Lately I find myself thinking a lot about the bond we form with our dogs. Interestingly, new research is finally emerging that is starting to explain the how and why behind the close relationships we form. I remember back to grade 5 when my teacher Mr. K told our class that dogs cannot love; that the only reason they pay attention to us is because we feed them. I remember this so clearly because even at such a young age I knew how wrong he was and how sad it was that he never experienced the love of a dog. Human Dog Bond

Recent advances in canine research has started to produce results proving what dog parents have known for years in terms of our relationship with our dogs. Through specific training researchers have been able to keep dogs still enough to perform MRI's while they are awake and as a result we are now starting to extract, through neuroscience, key information about a dog's brain and its response to various stimuli.

Attila Andics of Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest conducted valuable research where he performed the same neuroimaging experiment on both dogs and humans, where he studied responses to sounds. He discovered that dogs have dedicated voice areas of the brain just as humans do and that dogs and humans use similar brain mechanisms to process social information which helps explain why vocal communication between dogs and humans has been so successful.

Another very interesting study was done by Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist and author of How Dogs Loves Us - A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain. Berns showed that the caudate nucleus, a part of the brain associated with positive emotions, was similar in dogs and humans. Backed by some impressive findings he argued and I am sure we would all agree that dogs empathize with human emotions and experience friendships in a similar way to humans.

In the book titled, Inside of a Dog - What Dogs See, Smell and Know author Alexandra Horowitz describes contemporary research into dog cognitive abilities, which reveals that the way a dog pays attention to us is very similar to the attention we give as humans. In fact, it has been shown that dogs have learned to look at humans the way humans look at humans and in the dog's case they are often more aware of details and changes we are going through that we realize about ourselves. One of the things I miss the most is how Paige would stare at me. Her eyes had so much intensity that they told me how much she loved me without words and science is now recognizing that the attention and gaze they place upon us is quite rare and complex.

I find that bonds form especially deep with senior dogs, perhaps because they are so appreciative of a second chance or maybe it is because they are more vulnerable and respond to us helping them when they need us the most; either way I feel that relationships at this stage of a dog's life reach a whole new level. It's a time when just being with us is a higher priority than anything else.

Part of my love for older dogs stems from the closeness I feel with them and it doesn't matter if you adopt them in their senior years or if your dog grows old with you - that same bond exists. Sometimes I feel it is their neediness that attracts me to them but then I realize that I need them just as much as they need me and that in my mind is a big part of the reason I have been fortunate enough to have a closeness I never thought was possible. 

So the next time you describe your connection with your dog and are met with skepticism you can tell them that science is now behind us in our knowledge that our dogs do in fact love us and our bond with them runs deep. I know you didn't need science to tell you what your heart already knew, but it's nice to have further proof that what you feel is real. 

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.


5 Reasons Why You Should Adopt a Senior Dog by Ann-Marie Fleming

28 April, 2015

Over the years I have been owned by dogs of all ages from puppies to seniors, so I feel that I have a good perspective on all stages of a dog's life. And while the energy of a puppy or young dog can be infectious, I am drawn now to the sweet nature of a senior dog, which makes adopting an older dog in my mind the obvious choice. There are so many dogs in shelters and rescues, but sadly seniors are often the ones that are left behind. I would like to ask that people take a moment to consider the many rewards that bringing an older dog into your home can bring before you immediately decide on a younger dog. 

Here are 5 of what I consider to be the best reasons to adopt a senior dog:

Adopting a Senior Dog
  1. Truly grateful - it has been my experience and that of so many other wonderful parents that when you rescue a senior dog you genuinely feel how thankful they are. Older dogs are more interested in having someone who loves them than in chasing a ball and when they are freed from a shelter or adopted from a rescue they let you know what their new life means to them. You will know instantly that you did the right thing. Not only are they grateful for their new family, but they show this gratitude by showering you with love. It's one of the most rewarding things you can do and your heart will truly thank you.
  2. True sense of self - one of the traits that amazes me the most about older dogs is how well they know who they are. They are past the trial and error stage and have become so comfortable in their own skin that they know what they like and what they don't like. I find this refreshing to be honest. This is not to say that you cannot take them outside of their comfort zone; like all beings they still need to be stimulated, but they will definitely let you know what they think about it when you do. I like to try new things with my dogs to see if I can get them hooked on new activities which happens quite often, but when I ask them to do something they have decided they are not fond of they make no secret of their preference to be excluded. For example, Milo my oldest has made it very clear that he would prefer to not be my first mate on our row boat, but he loves car rides and adventures in the forest :)
  3. Satisfied with the simple things - senior dogs have an impressive ability to appreciate the simple things in life. They live life at a slightly slower pace which allows them the time to stop and smell the roses. In our family we used to be in awe as we would watch Mackenzie my senior pug at the time drink his water and eat his food. He would take his time and savor every moment. It was pure joy! I now watch my current seniors who sniff every blade of grass when we are outside, who sit on the couch and watch the birds for hours and exude utter contentment when participating in lap time - they find peace in so many moments. I often take time to stop and appreciate their perspective because there is no stress, no worry, just being. I try every day to be a little more like them.
  4. Real pro's - while a puppy can certainly be fun, most people are unaware of the challenges they bring when it comes to house training. It can take years with some young dogs for them to truly grasp the concept that bathroom breaks are meant to take place outside. In addition to the potty phase you also have to contend with the chewing phase and what feels like endless energy. With a senior dog you typically have seasoned veterans who know perfectly well where their 'business' should be done and that shoes are for wearing. Many senior dogs still have tons of energy, but it's more paced and I find more fun because they aren't always 'on' so when they are playful it becomes even more exciting! This is not to say that senior dogs are not without their challenges; many do struggle with incontinence but speaking from experience I find incontinence a lot easier to manage than a puppy that isn't house trained. Incontinence is more predictable making it easier to cope with especially with the help of products such as dog diapers and pads. And not all seniors deal with incontinence - I have had seniors that had bladders of steel, but ALL puppies need to be house trained!
  5. You are saving a life - thinking about someone other than yourself can work wonders for your heart, mind and spirit. Sadly many senior dogs are abandoned at a time in their life when they needed their families the most. It makes me tear up thinking of how sad they must feel when all of a sudden their family is gone. When you adopt a senior dog you could very well be saving his/her life because quite often the older dogs are the ones that have the hardest time getting adopted. Just think of the impact you could make on a senor dog's life by opening your heart and your home. 

I promise that if you adopt a senior dog it will be the best thing you ever did. There is something so sweet and so special about dogs in this stage of life that will make your heart swell and leave you feeling overwhelmingly fulfilled. They are hilarious, honest and loyal - you will feel needed, appreciated and above all so loved. What more can you ask for?

Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.

    Dog Obesity - What Every Senior Dog Parent Needs to Know by Ann-Marie Fleming

    22 April, 2015

    Dog obesity is a topic I have written about on several occasions, but given that research shows the situation is getting worse, I feel the need to re-emphasize the seriousness of this problem, especially as it pertains to our senior dogs. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, which conducts a nationwide (US) survey every year, approximately 53% of dogs are overweight or obese, up from previous years. Perhaps what is more shocking from this survey is that 95% of dog parents incorrectly identified their dogs as normal weight. Dog Obesity Rates 2014

    Why is weight so important?

    As the problem of obesity continues to grow so are the medical conditions it often creates such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure and many forms of cancer. In fact obesity has become the number one health threat our dogs face. As parents we all know the challenges our senior dogs face, but were you aware that many of these conditions are avoidable? And even if a condition is not completely preventable, are you aware of how much better their lives could be if their weight was controlled?

    At Dog Quality we have the privilege of speaking with so many dog parents who I know would do anything for their senior dog, but we still see so many dogs struggling because of excess weight. I suppose the rising number of overweight or obese dogs should not be completely shocking given that approximately 68% of human adults are also overweight or obese and if we cannot control this issue among ourselves, how can we help our dogs?

    Well I believe we can because so often we put the needs of our dogs ahead of our own. I also think I understand why so many are not seeing the weight gain even when veterinarians point this out. We are so close with our dogs making it very difficult to see changes because they happen gradually, usually over long periods of time. Here is a trick that you can use to help identify changes in your dog - look back at photos! I myself, someone who obsesses over the weight of my dogs, have often been surprised at weight changes that I hadn't noticed until I looked at older photos that made me see the difference. It can be shocking. Eventually you'll get better at noticing the subtle changes before they become a problem, but sometimes it is useful to look back to better understand if you are going in the right or wrong direction when it comes to your dog's weight.

    Challenges for older dogs

    It is never too late to start making improvements in your senior dog's weight. Yes it is easier to help a younger, more active dog shed excess pounds, but you can also find success even if your dog is a senior - you just need the right strategy. One of my past dogs, Mackenzie my pug, became obese. I was one of those people who didn't see it. And when I did come to accept his weight as an issue I was so worried that it would cause too much strain on him that I let the problem go on for too long until I found a strategy that worked. Mackenzie had an enlarged heart and even a tiny bit of exercise caused him to hyperventilate. His problems however were made exponentially worse because of his weight so it was critical that he lose the excess pounds and he did! To break the cycle diet became the number 1 priority.Dog Obesity

    I had tried every low calorie food I could find, but the only food that worked for him was Hill's Reduced Diet (RD) which is purchased through most, if not all, veterinarians. Before Mackenzie could even begin to exercise we needed to make activity easier for him and with his new diet the weight started dropping. Then I would walk him in the morning and in the evening when it was coolest, starting with very short distances and increasing the distances gradually over time. The combo of the low calorie diet and exercise helped him drop 11 lbs! The new and improved Mackenzie blew me away. His energy went way up, he was much more mobile and I feel like this extended his life by years. He never hyperventilated again! I should mention that even with a low calorie food you have to be very careful about portions. Just because it has less calories doesn't mean you can feed them even more :)

    My obsession with keeping my dogs skinny stems from the amazing transformation I saw with Mackenzie all those years ago. I vowed to never let one of my dogs become overweight again. He really showed me how difficult the extra weight made his life and how much better it could be just by shedding those extra pounds; a benefit that helped him throughout his senior years. With so many medical conditions out of our control it is empowering to know how much we can improve or prevent problems by helping our dogs maintain a healthy weight.

    While Mackenzie is no longer with me I continue to fight the weight battle with all my dogs. I'm not going to pretend that it's easy because it's not, especially if you have food monsters like I do who act like they have not eaten for days. So while it is always a challenge, it is more than worth it and even if your dog would prefer a bottomless bowl, they will thank you by having more energy and by being healthier and happier.

    A trick I do now that has been working great is I give my dogs a mix of kibble and green beans which allows me to keep their kibble portions under control and still leave my dogs feeling full without the extra calories. I also learned to cut out all soft food which has so many calories. It's just plain kibble for my dogs and if softening is needed, I simply soak the kibble in warm water.

    So no matter what age there are always ways to help your senior dog reduce that extra weight and I promise that you will have a healthier and more energetic dog in no time! Once you see the difference this can make - you will be forever changed.

    Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.


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