My first whippet Nemo lived to be over 16 years old. I learned a lot from him the past few years, and would like to share that knowledge with others. I’ve also gotten wonderful advice from other whippet owners who have had multiple whippets over the age of 15, and for that I’m eternally grateful. Senior whippets are a treasure and in some ways they require almost as much care as puppies.
How Old is a Senior Whippet?
The show ring tells your whippets are seniors, or Veterans, at age seven. This may be true for some breeds, but for whippets it’s a bit silly. I don’t consider whippets to be seniors until they are in the double digits (10 or older). I think the age when they start acting like seniors depends on the individual, for Nemo it was some time between 11-12 yrs of age. Of course whippets with serious health issues will fall in to the senior category at a younger age.
Changes in the Senior Whippet
Your senior whippet will start slowing down a little bit. They may sleep more, and as they get older they will sleep a lot. They may be shaky getting up, especially if they have old injuries or arthritis. You may suddenly think your whippet has selective hearing but in actuality they could be going deaf. Confusion and lapses in attention may occur with increasing frequency as senility sets in. Health problems related to age, like heart murmurs or kidney issues can suddenly appear even with no prior history. It becomes important to really pay attention to physical and behavioral changes in your whippet, and once they start really acting old (for us it was between 12-13 yrs) have a full workup including blood work with your vet at least every 6 months.
Dealing with Deafness
We didn’t realize just how deaf Nemo was until we moved from DC to FL in Aug 2008. He seemed so lost in the new house and didn’t respond at all when called. We realized that he had lots of tricks in our old house to cope with his hearing loss. We quickly figured out that he could still hear or sense clapping. Instead of calling him in from the yard we clapped for him and his head would shoot up, ears up. Now he’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t hear the clapping at all but does sense the vibrations, so it only works if you have a direct line of sight and are within 20 feet or so. I think if we had known earlier how deaf he was we would have tried to train him with something on the collar that vibrated. Now with the senility I think it would just upset him, but I wish we’d tried it earlier. Keep an eye on your whippet for signs of hearing loss. They are so good at coping and covering it up you may not notice until they are really hard of hearing.
Another side effect of his hearing loss was a heightened sensitivity to noises he can still hear. Loud laughter or cheering at football games suddenly sent him running in to the closet, upset. I didn’t understand why these things would upset a deaf dog until my husband figured it out. He thinks that Nemo’s world is mostly one of silence and has been for a few years now. So when he suddenly does hear noises its frightening. We let him go to his safe spot, which is in the back of my closet and that seems to help.
Dealing with Senility
One of the most upsetting aspects of the aging whippet is the personality change. They become more aloof and suddenly sleeping is more important than things they never used to miss, like sitting by the table during meals or greeting you at the door. Episodes of staring in to space are common. Sometimes they seem to get lost or forget what they are doing. Nemo will wander in to the bathroom and stand in the corner, or stand and stare in the yard forgetting that just a minute ago he desperately had to go outside. One big thing that has helped us is the vitamin supplement Cholodin. We started with a half dose because given at the recommended strength it made his temperament too hot. He was suddenly trying to take food from the other dogs and push them around, after a lifetime of being the ultimate Omega dog. He did fine starting on a lower dose and slowly increasing it. Of course with any sudden behavior change you should see your vet, in Nemo’s case a sudden worsening in senility was actually hypothyroidism. You may have to help your dog out if they get stuck somewhere staring often a gentle pat will snap them back in to reality.
It’s All Routine
One thing that becomes extremely important in the older whippet’s life is their routine. Everything they do, sleeping, eating and feeding should be kept to a very predictable routine. Even minor changes can be very upsetting for them. We haven’t been on vacation in over four years, mostly because it would be far too difficult to leave Nemo and he’s very unhappy if we take him with us. He wants his house, his bed, his yard. I realized when I took him to the Eastern Specialty with me in 2007 when he was almost twelve that it would be our last road trip together. For most of the night he stood by the hotel door shifting his feet, like “Okay, this was fun and all, but let’s go home.” Try to keep everything in their life the same, don’t drastically move furniture or change their feeding time.
Don’t Count the Old Dog Out
Whippets, even older whippets, are tougher than many people give them credit for. Don’t be afraid to have surgery done or attempt medical treatment just because your dog is old. All of Nemo’s surgeries occurred after he was 10 yrs old, the latest being a 1lb tumor removed from under his shoulder at almost 14. We did go back and forth about his last surgery, but even our vet has said she’s so glad we did it. Over a year later and he’s still doing great and able to walk without pain. Unless your whippet has a heart problem or underlying medical condition don’t fret about anesthesia. There’s a lot of misleading information out there about whippets being ultra sensitive to anesthesia. Unless your vet clinic is using very old protocols, modern anesthesia is just as safe for whippets as it would be for any other dog.
If you are concerned about the drugs your vet is using, check VASG’s protocols page. It is kept current with the latest methods used and lists any drugs that are of concern for sight hounds. In my personal experience, the only drug I wouldn’t recommend is domitor. It was used to give Nemo sutures and he was completely whacked out for 24 hours after, even losing bladder control. His respirations went so low we almost had to take him back to the e-vet. I also know of another whippet who had a very bad reaction to this drug. Also be careful with pain med dosages, I feel that they are effective with whippets at lower doses than other dogs. I usually ask that they start with a slightly lower dose of morphine, torbutrol, etc so the dog doesn’t end up completely on the other side of the rainbow.
Be Patient and Enjoy Them!
In some ways senior dogs can be more frustrating than puppies. Your dog who has done things a certain way for 13 years will suddenly seem to unlearn everything they know. It can also be upsetting, when your whippet who has slept in the bed with you for 13 yrs suddenly starts sleeping on the floor every night. Just realize that the changes are nothing personal and out of your dogs control. You never know how much longer you have with them, so enjoy every minute. Take some time every day to spend time with them and give them special attention. Remember that it’s confusing and hard for them too.
Is this normal?
- Deep sleep. Yes, seniors seem to sleep more deeply and sometimes can be hard to wake up, actually requiring you to shake them and give yourself a heart attack in the process.
- Loss of appetite. Only if temporary, otherwise not wanting to eat at all requires a vet visit. If your oldster is just being picky try adding something fragrant to their food, like tuna, canned salmon or parmesan cheese. Sometimes their sense of smell weakens and they don’t recognize what is in their bowl as food.
- Sudden bouts of stubborn or frantic behavior. Yes, seniors seem to loose patience and become easily fixated on a goal. Sometimes it’s completely random and puzzling, like when Nemo decided he absolutely had to force himself under my desk several times a day and get tangled in the cords, ripping every piece of equipment off my desk. Who knows?
Older Whippet Tips
- Get a full blood panel (CBC/Chem) and exam every 6 months. Check the thyroid values annually, or more often if there is an issue.
- Check and keep a record of all lumps and bumps, including location and general size. Get a vet’s opinion on any new lumps, or old lumps that suddenly change size, shape or feel.
- Do everything you can to stick to a routine. Let them out and feed them at the same time every day. Don’t rearrange furniture or do any other drastic changes.
- Watch them for signs of exercise intolerance. If they suddenly start lagging or panting unusually hard on your regular walks cut them back, or leave your senior at home.
- Come up with ways to communicate that don’t involve your voice. Many older dogs experience hearing loss or even total deafness.
- Find a diet that works and stick to it.
- Make sure your senior isn’t being harassed by younger family members (human or canine). Provide a place where they can sleep without being pestered.
- If certain things stress them, like nail cutting or tooth brushing, do them less often. It’s better to have slightly long nails that stress your old dog out every week.
- Let them out more often because it’s harder for seniors to hold it. They also have less warning, so may suddenly realize they have to go RIGHT NOW.