Taking care of an aged parent and dog go hand in hand. Much of what I learned for my dog came from taking care of my mom and vice versa. At age 88 my mother had dementia and diabetes, one affecting the other quite rapidly, requiring her to be placed in a rehabilitation facility. Some of the workers showed me wonderful tips on how to feed and care for an aged person. Taste buds diminish; so being clever in adding a touch of something sweet to the spoon can help with the desire to eat. Also the ability to chew can lesson, so offering pureed dishes vastly helps.

The same applies for a dog, which may not desire the same food as it previously had cherished. With my almost 18-year old Australian Shepherd Scout, this was true, even though I feed tasty raw meat meals. I add crushed up crackers, tortilla chips, dog treats, anything that I think she would like the smell of and then get her eating desire going. I also puree her meals and serve them to her as she lay down, as her back and leg muscles were giving way. 

Both parent and dog found eating breakfast was not happening in the morning; so altering the normal 3 meals a day rule was fine. Noon was perfectly okay to first eat, then adding another meal as the day progressed. The size of each meal got smaller, therefore more meals a day might be required.

With dementia patients, from the start you should repeat “open, open, open” as you bring the spoon to their mouth, so it remains an automatic reflex when the brain capacity diminishes farther. Again adding a touch of something sweet, pudding, yogurt, ice cream etc. to the tip of the spoon will start the desire to eat. They can easily get distracted, so patience is in order until they come back to the activity at hand. Dogs too can get distracted, so tapping their paw or top of head will bring them back to eating. It was difficult for the rehab facility to take the time needed for feeding, so I made sure I was there at lunchtime, as I work most nights. They were in awe of how much I could get mom to eat. There were separate piles of pureed chicken, turkey or beef, perhaps pasta, veggie of some sort, salad, sugar free juice and dessert. They tried having her eat one pile at a time… not happening! Just like our modern day smoothies with veggies, fruit, nuts, etc. blended together, I too blended all the dishes together adding that sweetness of either the juice or dessert. Ta-dah, spoon by spoon, minute by hour everyday I got it all down. It was my goal and she would laugh when I would say, just one more bite would make me so happy.  For Scout, I also blend the meals together with raw ground meat from Gelson’s or other butcher stores, cooked brown rice or cream of wheat, steamed veggies of all sorts, yogurt, cooked pumpkin or yams, raw or cooked eggs, you name it, blended in my bullet mixer with water or liquid left from steamed veggies or pasta water. It makes me happy when Scout gobbles down her whole bowl of food.

At first mom was in a wheelchair, then confined to bed, without the use of her hands efficiently. This is why spoon-feeding was required, as otherwise the food would drop all over her. I have on occasion put a spoon of food in Scouts mouth to get her start eating, and then pushed the bowl towards her body.

Up until 17 ½ Scout was able to walk on her own, but since then requires a band under her belly to lift her back legs up while the front do the walking. I call her my front wheel drive doggie. It takes diligence to watch when she needs to go pee, poop, is thirsty, hungry or just needs to be rolled over on another side. Luckily my job as dog trainer allows me to bring her wherever I go, but accidents do happen. Such is life! She has given me so many years of unconditional love that it is my pleasure to help her in the twilight of her life. She can still see, has all her mental faculties, eats and eliminates well and loves to sit watching my classes or hanging out at dog shows. Mom too took care of me all my life, making memories along with worrying about the “what ifs”, so it was only rightful for me to be there in her time of need. This is what life is all about, the ebbs and flows, the sacrifices one has to make and the nurturing that is needed along the way. Gee who will be there for me in my time of need…

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