Geriatric care is a topic that has become very near and dear to my heart. Having a geriatric animal (or four) is emotionally taxing, and expensive. Despite that, I want to be able to say I did everything I could to make sure those last years, months, days, and hours were well lived.
This topic will be broken up into four blog posts.
4. Pain Management
Merriam-Webster says the definition of enrich is "to improve the quality of (something)." When discussing enrichment specifically for geriatric animals, it is important to keep the brain active, especially when the body starts to slow down. The Shape of Enrichment, Inc has created five categories for enrichment. The five categories are not mutually exclusive. The categories are social, cognitive, physical habitat, sensory, and food. I likely won't address all of these, but being cognizant of all five is important.
Sniffing-walks which I try to do daily, even if it is only for 5-10 minutes. Buzz loves to get out and check the pee mail, see if any new animals have visited, and it's good for both of us to breathe in some fresh air! I usually take him out alone.
Food toys use to be a huge part of Buzz's life. He LOVED to play with his Tug A Jug and especially chew on Kongs. Now that his mobility is limited (and he took a few too many headers into the floor after losing his balance following a toy on the floor) I had to find a different toy to stuff. The JW Megalast Bone has been a great alternative! I stuff it with canned food and freeze it. It can't roll away from him, he still gets to chew, and I can still control his diet.
Store visits are an option again now that Buzz is strong enough to walk on linoleum! We used to go to stores so he could look at the fish. He LOVED looking at the fish. Now we go so he can look at the small animals and check out the treat/chew aisle. Last time I took him to a store, we were in there for about half an hour. He had SO much fun! When we got home, he just crashed out--mission accomplished. That was a mental and physical stimulation visit! Social enrichment is typically part of store visits. I don't make people pet him, but I do encourage it now rather than discourage it. He had a very nice lady love on him for at least five minutes last time we were out. She pet his ears and told him what a good boy he was. It was really neat to see someone appreciate him like that.
Play isn't something Buzz has ever done much of. Occasionally he will show interest in a toy of Gabby's and when he does, I take advantage of that. He's much more likely to play with a toy if Gabby has already been playing with it. Just this morning I had a toy out with a gazillion squeakers. When he saw how much fun Gabby and I were having, he just had to join in! So we played the game where I put it on his head and then release him. He throws his head back and tries to catch the toy. Other variations of play are retrieves and holds. He will do those with enthusiasm for food!
Training is one of our favorites, now that I've thought of ways to modify most of the behaviors he knows. We'll often sit on the floor and do nose target/foot target discrimination games (where I feed him for every single correct response, because why not). A week or two ago he wanted to work on the pedestal while I had Gabby out. Standing on it was hard, so he elected to sit on it instead. It was so hilarious! We work on stand to down (because sit to stand is hard) and when he's in the underwater treadmill at work, he loves to practice his spins in both directions.
Resting places are changed as frequently as I remember. I move his bed around to different locations in the apartment and I rearrange the blankets on it almost daily. As much as that doesn't sound like a big deal, it's an indicator of his cognitive state that he can find the new location of his bed. Oh, and he prefers to be near people while he's resting so he spends a fair amount of time resting on some part of me when I'm home. Yesterday, he fell asleep on my feet as his bed is currently in front of the couch. He can't seek out other animals to cuddle with but is so happy when Gabby or Rasza choose to curl up next to him.