Eight tips for traveling with older dogs

For original article click here

  • Kyrie, a 12-year-old borzoi, taught her owner some valuable lessons about traveling with senior pets on a recent cross-country trip. Photo: Christie Keith

    Kyrie, a 12-year-old borzoi, taught her owner some valuable lessons about traveling with senior pets on a recent cross-country trip.

    Kyrie, a 12-year-old borzoi, taught her owner some valuable lessons about traveling with senior pets on a recent cross-country trip.

    Photo: Christie Keith

Photo: Christie Keith

Image 1 of / 1

Image 1 of 1

Kyrie, a 12-year-old borzoi, taught her owner some valuable lessons about traveling with senior pets on a recent cross-country trip.

Kyrie, a 12-year-old borzoi, taught her owner some valuable lessons about traveling with senior pets on a recent cross-country trip.

Photo: Christie Keith

If long car rides make you stiff and sore, imagine what it’s like for a dog who clocks in at 93 human years.

That was the challenge I faced after deciding to bring my 12-year-old borzoi, Kyrie, on a cross-country trip. (In case you’re thinking that doesn’t add up to the old “one dog year is seven human years” math, it’s just an average. Giant breed dogs, like borzois, age more rapidly than smaller dogs.)

If it were a short vacation, I’d have left Kyrie home with a trusted caretaker, as I’ve done in the past. But this was no short trip; Kyrie, my year-old Scottish deerhound, Rawley, and I are spending the summer in Michigan.

The upsides include the fact that we’re on four gorgeous country acres, in a house that’s on a single floor and has no stairs — perfect for Kyrie’s arthritis, which had prevented her from using the stairs to the backyard at our San Francisco house.

There was only one downside, and it wasn’t minor: the trip.

I made some mistakes, got quite a few things right, and most importantly, got her here in one piece. But some of those mistakes definitely gave Kyrie and me some challenges, and I thought I’d share some of the lessons I learned with other dog-owners contemplating a road trip this summer with a dog in his golden years.

1. Listen to your dog

The biggest mistake I made was thinking I could set a schedule to exercise, feed, walk and give water to my dogs during our five-day journey across the country.

For example, I had planned to walk Kyrie every two hours, to help keep her from getting stiff in the car. This turned out to be a terrible idea, as she would no sooner get comfy in the back of the car than I was waking her up and dragging her out to stand in a grassy rest area while big rigs whizzed by on the Interstate.

She’d look at me as if to say, “Are you out of your mind? Can I go back to sleep now?”

By the end of the second day, I was keeping a close eye on her restlessness level. If she seemed uncomfortable, we stopped. If she was sleeping happily, we drove.

2. Keep things as familiar as possible

Old dogs do not get over stress as easily as young ones do, and things that Kyrie got over in an hour in her puppyhood can set her back for days now.

That’s why it’s important to bring your dog’s familiar bedding, blankets, food, bowls, treats and toys on your trip, as they help him feel safe, and reduce stress.

Every night when we got to the hotel, I left Kyrie and Rawley in the car with my friend Dawn, who’d come along for the ride and to give me a hand with the dogs. I would make the trek back and forth to the car, lugging dog beds, bowls, food and blankets. It was all worth it, though, to see Kyrie trot into the strange room, take a nice, long drink from her water bowl, then settle down on her orthopedic dog bed with a little sigh.

3. Protect their joints

Eight or 10 hours in a car isn’t good for anyone’s joints, as I learned every time I got out of the car at a gas station. So it’s a good idea to provide memory or orthopedic foam bedding for your senior dog while traveling, instead of a simple dog travel mat.

Like me, Kyrie was extremely stiff when she got out of the car at night, and I’d walk her slowly around the hotel grounds until she’d loosened up a little. This let her settle down more comfortably once we got into our room.

Kyrie spent most of the night on the same memory foam bed that was in the car, but she also got on the bed with me for an hour or two every night. This was a problem because jumping up and down was hard on her — especially down, when she’d usually give a little cry on impact.

I realized that being on the bed was important to her; it kept her close to the most familiar thing of all in her life, me, which she seemed to find comforting. So if I had it to do over again, I’d bring some kind of portable ramp or stairs to help her get up and down safely.

4. Choose your accommodations with your dog in mind — and have a back-up plan

Who needs books anymore, right? I have my Trip Advisor, Yelp and “Around Me” iPhone apps. Surely that’s all I need?

Wrong. It’s been a long time since I used an actual book, but you’d have to take “Traveling with your Pet: The AAA Petbook” from me at gunpoint. It has comprehensive and, in my experience, completely accurate information not just on which hotels accept dogs, but what size and type of dogs they accept, if they’ll take more than one per room, and what they charge to allow a pet.

Sure, we had reservations at every stop along the way, all made before we hit the road. Which meant nothing because we had car trouble twice, once in Nevada and again in Salt Lake City, and our original schedule was out the window before we made our first stop.

When we realized we’d never make it to our first hotel, I started searching my apps for alternatives. But the hotels I called often didn’t accept pets, or didn’t accept big or multiple dogs. So I grabbed the AAA book from of my suitcase, and all our problems were over.

At every stop, the expectations we’d formed from the information in the book matched what we found at the hotel.

For example, I wanted to know if the rooms opened to an interior hallway, or led directly outside. I started out preferring the second, but ended up liking the additional security offered by the first; if my dog is going to push past me to get out of the room as I come in the door, I’d rather they were in a hallway than a parking lot.

The listings also include things we humans want to know, like whether the hotel has a restaurant, as well as things those of us with old dogs need to know, like whether the rooms are on the ground floor and if not, is there an elevator.

Your dog’s needs may be very different from mine. Maybe you have a very tiny dog, and have more options with hotels than someone traveling with two giant breed dogs will. What’s important is that you select a hotel that works for your dog’s needs and yours, and have resources at the ready to find alternative accommodations if your plans are derailed.

5. Protect your dog from the heat

We had terrible weather on the trip, including fog, snow, icy rain and temperatures in the 30s. But the only really bad day for Kyrie was an unusually hot day.

Although my mini-van has rear air conditioning, Kyrie was still uncomfortably warm when the sun came streaming in while we drove. It was the first time I understood the benefit of those little shades that attach to car windows with suction cups; if the weather had stayed warm, I’d have stopped and picked a few of those up.

We mostly had cold weather, but if you’re on the road with a dog during the warm months, don’t think you can stop for a leisurely lunch while your dog stays in the car. Old dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke than young ones, but animals of any age can become uncomfortably or even dangerously hot inside a car, even in the shade with the windows cracked.

Dawn and I took turns staying with the dogs in the car when we stopped for gas, food, to use the rest room, or when I made one of my 10,000 Starbucks pit stops. (Note to Starbucks: You need more stores in Nebraska and Wyoming along the I-80 corridor.)

If you travel alone, consider systems like those used by police K-9 units. Some display the car’s interior temperature on a portable monitor you can carry into a restaurant or store, while others blow the car horn, turn on a fan, roll down the windows and/or page you, even at a great distance, if the temperature exceeds a safe range.

6. Stay calm

This trip was hard on me, and I was pretty stressed out. It was difficult — impossible, to be honest — to stay calm when things were going wrong, but when I noticed that my dogs both reacted to my moods with what I can only call hyper-vigilance, I made a major effort to at least appear serene.

If you’re traveling a long distance with an older dog, pay attention to how your anger at other motorists, annoyance at the price of gas, or frustration at delays affects her. Every stressor you can eliminate will make the trip easier on your dog, and yelling at the guy who cut you off isn’t actually going to help you or hurt him, anyway. Chill out for your dog’s sake.

7. Talk to your veterinarian before you go

My veterinarian, Dr. Lea Del Rosso at Balboa Pet Hospital in San Francisco, was one of my most valuable resources in planning this trip. She set me up with prescriptions I might need for Kyrie that I’d be able to fill anywhere in the country. She investigated health issues related to being out of the Bay Area, and recommended some changes to Kyrie’s preventive health plan.

Let your vet know where you’re going, and ask for his or her advice on how to protect your pet from the stress of travel and risks related to your destination. Be sure to get supplies of your pet’s medication, if any.

One final health tip: Although rabies vaccine requirements vary from state to state, it’s still wise to bring your dog’s rabies certificate with you, and make sure he’s wearing his license and rabies tag.

8. Give your dog time to settle in

Short road trips are easier on old dogs than long journeys. So if you’re heading up to Tahoe for the weekend with your elderly pet, watching out for hot temperatures, bringing his familiar bedding, and avoiding road rage may be all you need to worry about.

But if, like me, you’re driving a long distance, realize your old dog isn’t going to bounce back overnight, no matter how restful and idyllic your destination.

For example, Kyrie’s arthritis symptoms were worse after we arrived, and she wasn’t able to enjoy the outdoors or her walks for several days.

Most disturbing to me, she showed signs of cognitive impairment when we arrived at our rental house. She injured herself badly trying to jump over a brick wall that she could have, and previously had, walked around. She also had trouble remembering where the door was, or her water bowl, and seemed depressed and confused.

Today, she’s trotting around our four acres, sniffing the new smells and napping on the shady deck. She runs eagerly to the door for her walks and is eating, drinking and sleeping normally. She’s definitely happy.

However much more time we have together, I don’t regret bringing her here. I just wish I’d known all the things I learned on the trip before we left.

For original article click here


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