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Diary | When pets get old

Posted on 44 Comments 5 min read

There are few things in life that are sadder than an ageing pet.

(Er, if you’re Not a Dog Person, I think I’d prefer for you to just skip this post altogether, rather than commenting to list all of the things in life that you find sadder than that. Seriously, I once unfriended someone on Facebook because they posted a status saying they couldn’t possibly be friends with someone who’d cry over the death of a pet when there were so many dead children in the world who they should be crying over instead. That was the fastest unfriending ever – the easiest one, too. And honestly, I’m not even the kind of person who pretends her dog is a baby, or anything like that: in fact, it really makes me cringe when people refer to me as “Rubin’s mummy” – I mean, he’s a dog, I’m a human? What the hell are you suggesting here?!)


bichon frise on white bedRubin is 13 now: a fact I constantly have to remind people of, because he doesn’t LOOK that old, and, for the most part, he doesn’t really act it, either. And I DO mean I have to remind people about it CONSTANTLY, by the way, although not by choice. There are quite a few people in my life who ask me what age he is literally every time I see them (and they’re not people I see infrequently, either), and every time,  I have to smile through gritted teeth, and try to resist saying, “He’s exactly one week older than he was the LAST time you asked that: WHY IS THIS SO HARD FOR YOU?!” And then, invariably, they get this weird, stricken look on their face, and go, “Oh wow, that’s SO OLD for a dog!”, then there’s a horrible uncomfortable silence where you just KNOW everyone in the room is thinking, “He’s probably going to die soon, then!” and I’m just thinking, “Seriously? This AGAIN? Every single WEEK? Are you actually TRYING to upset me?”

So. Rubin is 13, and while in many ways he’s still exactly the same as he always was, I can’t deny that over the last couple of years, he’s definitely slowed down a lot. He’s not very keen on tackling the stairs any more, for instance, and while he still begs to go for a walk, we have to put him in his pet stroller now if we’re going any further than the end of the street and back. (I PROMISE I don’t treat my dog like a baby. No, really, I mean it…)

Lately, we’ve noticed that he hasn’t been showing much interest in his morning feed, which is unlike him, because he’s always been the kind of dog who basically inhales his food as soon as he’s given it, and then spends the next ten minutes licking the bowl clean, just on the off-chance that he’s missed a bit. He was, however, still eating as usual in the evening, and has continued to beg incessantly for dog treats, which he loves, so we weren’t too concerned, and assumed that his appetite maybe wasn’t what it once was, now that he’s older, and less active.

This Wednesday, however, he refused to eat anything at all. Not his morning feed, not the evening one, not his beloved dog treats… and as soon as I realised he wasn’t interested in his Good Boy Choc Drops, I knew something wasn’t right. We kept a close eye on him all day, and finally managed to get him to eat some treats, and also some lettuce (don’t roll your eyes, he LOVES lettuce, and if that was all he was going to eat, I wasn’t going to refuse to give it to him), but when he still wasn’t 100% by the next morning, we needed to take him to the vet.

the cutest dog in all the landRubin has, as I’ve mentioned before,  a cyst on his neck, which has been gradually getting bigger over the last couple of years. He’s been seeing the vet about this regularly, and so far their advice has been that, as long as it wasn’t causing him any distress, we should just keep it clean (He wears a bandage around it all the time to stop it bleeding, and Terry has to clean and dress it every night: a task which I am incredibly grateful to him for taking on – I’m ashamed to admit that I’m too squeamish to even look at it…), and try not to let him scratch it etc. The only other option, they told us, would be to operate to remove it: which, given Rubin’s age, would be a risk they didn’t advise taking unless there was no other option.

Right now, it seems there’s no other option.

Until recently, Rubin didn’t even seem to be aware of the cyst’s existence. He obviously wasn’t in pain, and was behaving totally normally, so while it was unpleasant to look at (And particularly unpleasant for Terry to have to clean every night…), we were happy to just leave it be, rather than put him through an operation.  Now, though,the cyst has gotten bigger, it has to be drained (by Terry) every morning and night, and although Rubin did regain his appetite by Thursday afternoon, and is back to eating normally again, it’s really obvious to us that we can’t just let him continue like this. On Thursday, then, he saw a new vet, who agreed that the cyst needs to be removed, and who feels it should be done sooner rather than later: if we leave it, it’s only going to get larger, and to affect Rubin more, and obviously the longer we leave it, the older he gets, and the more risky the surgery becomes.

So the upshot is that he has to have an operation.

This new vet wasn’t overly concerned about this: apparently they use a different type of sedation from the place we’ve always taken him, and while there’s always a risk with any kind of surgery, she feels that, as his general health is good, it’s not as huge as risk as we’d assumed. I, of course, am unconvinced: I have a huge fear of general anaesthetic anyway, and it’s not just on my own account – I worry about everyone I know who has to have one, and no matter how confident the vet is that he’ll come through it just fine, I’m completely and utterly terrified. And, I mean, I know it’s the right decision to have this thing removed – it just wouldn’t be kind to allow him to continue trying to live with it when it’s obviously starting to affect his quality of life – but still: I just wish this didn’t have to happen.

Anyway, he goes in on Tuesday morning, and we should have him back the same day, if all goes well. I already had some posts scheduled for next week (I know no one would notice if I took a few days off, obviously: I’m just mentioning them in case you see the posts going up and think, “Wow, what a cold, heartless bitch: her poor little dog is having surgery, and there’s Amber banging on about dresses, as usual!”), but if I do go AWOL for a while, it’s because I’ll be curled up in a tiny ball of terror, rocking back and forth and crying a lot.

I’m sure it’ll all be fine, though.

Er, it will all be fine – won’t it?

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  • Selina McEntee
    September 17, 2016

    Oh love, you have my empathy. Sounds like it’s all pretty straightforward, and this vet knows what they’re on about, but it is scary. Rubin is a tough wee bugger, I’m crossing my appendages that it all goes well. xxooxx

    PS: Rubin is seriously 13? Goodness. But I guess I first started reading your blog when Jessie was just a puppy, and she turns nine this December, so that’s a whole pile of time that has just rushed by!

  • Luana Leghissa
    September 17, 2016

    I’m sure Rubin is going to be okay… I’ll be thinking on him and wait for good news

  • Sandy
    September 17, 2016

    Good luck to Rubin! I’m sure he’ll be fine, I’ve watched the Supervet and they can do all sorts now. ??

  • VictoriaNZ
    September 17, 2016

    Amber, I have been reading your blogs for many years (seriously, must be like, 8 years or something?!?) and I never comment. But I love dogs, and have also shared the pain of seeing a beloved puppy (they’re always puppies!) deteriorate. It is so hard. The hardest thing. I have no advice, only sympathy and virtual hugs. Take care of yourself. As we say in New Zealand, kia kaha (stay strong). <3

  • Anna nuttall
    September 17, 2016

    *Big hug* Amber I saw your status on Twitter last week and was going to ask if Rubin was ok. I’m thinking of you and I completely understand how distressing this is for you – I went through a similar thing with my old dog (he had the same operation, to remove a cyst) and I know how you must feel. I wish I could hold your hand tell you it be ok – and it will be ok. I hope you have some comfort in knowing there people out there who is wishing nothing but goodwill to both you and Rubin. xxx

  • Gillian Abram
    September 17, 2016

    He will be fine. You however, will be a quivering wreck until well after you have him home, and the anasthetic has worn off and he’s back to himself. I know this as my boy has had several surgeries in the last year, and may possibly need more (I find out on Tuesday) to repair a damaged elbow. The one thing I wish I’d been warned about (so I’m mentioning it here in case nobody has told you) that when you collect him, he’s act really stoned (which is kinda funny) but later on, (or it did in my case) he’ll get a massive case of the shivers which looks like he’s having a fit. It’s not, it’s just shivering, solved with a blanket and lots of cuddles.
    I do hope Rubén is ok, and you two as well. XXXX

  • Myra
    September 17, 2016

    It is very sad, but you know you are doing the right thing for Rubin. I’m with you on the “mummy” thing, he’s a dearly loved pet, not your baby.
    Sending Angel hugs ???? and prayers ?????

  • Marty Drury
    September 17, 2016

    Rubin always looks like he’s having so much fun. Whether walking or in his stroller where you just imagine he’s thinking: “they see me rollin'”. He’s a dog elder yet he always seems to have a massive smile going on and a “hello humans!” Friendly face.

    And I’ve only seen photos on your blog.

    That’s the mark of a loving home.

    Hope everything goes okay. Natural that you’re upset and worried. Whatever happens, he’s been granted all a dog could want. Plus he got to be the star of a blog (in his head).

    You’re doing the right thing to help him. Take as long as you need off. Hold onto what he means to you because he’s gonna need that strength. There’s only so much we control in life. All you can do is what you are doing. He has the best care. It’s scary but he’s strong.

    We don’t know each other and I hope I haven’t overstepped the mark. I think we have mutual friends in freelance or journalism circles. I just know how hard it can be.

    Wishing Rubin all the best.

  • Kitty
    September 17, 2016

    Fingers crossed for you! I feel the same way about animals, even reading about what you are going through upset me! Not everyone understands the massive role animals have in our lives and that they are
    members of the family! You are doing the right thing for him xx

  • Kim
    September 17, 2016

    Our dogs really are family to us whether we consider ourselves their “mummys” or not. So it is normal for you to be nervous! Sending prayers for your adorable Rubin.

  • Jessie
    September 17, 2016

    It WILL BE FINE. It will be Amber. And also, I went through a similar thing recently, with my 11 year old (this is an approximate number, he could be 12, he could be 9 or 10) Nero and he had to go under, and I left the vet in tears. The one thing that made me feel better was the vet telling me that they monitor pets constantly while they’re under, so if they see that there is some unwanted reaction, they stop everything and wake them up. Also, they will probably do some blood tests before he goes under (they did this with Nero, found the usual stuff for his age, and carried on with doing the procedure).
    I am identifying with so much of what you write. I HATE general anesthetics, few things terrify me more. And the whole age issue around my dog… well. Let me tell you how many times I feel like slapping people when they refer to my dog as an “old boy”. WTF. Also, there’s those who do that effing stupid (you can see this irks me a tad) calculation of dog to human years…. it makes no sense! What, my dog is 77 now, 99? 125? Shut the F up. My dog is my family, he is not young, he is not old, he’s healthy, he’s wagging his tail, leave me alone. Go natter about the end of life and death and such crap with someone else who wants to be as depressed as you are!
    See? It irks me 🙂 Rubin, wonderful wolf, canine extraordinaire, curl hero, is going to be OK. Just spoil him rotten as soon as he comes out of surgery.

    PS. Terry rocks… he really, REALLY does 🙂

    • Amber
      September 17, 2016

      Haha, thank you for writing this – I’m so relieved to know I’m not the only one who gets annoyed by the age thing! I don’t know why, but some people just seem to really fixate on it for some reason, and will go on and on and on about how OMG OLD he is – it’s to a point where it almost starts to feel like they’re accusing him/me of having done something wrong (I know that sounds stupid, but it’s how it comes across sometimes) – or else they’ll just start acting really sad and sympathetic, like they’re expecting him to just keel over in front of them or something. I think mostly I just don’t like being constantly reminded of it: I still think of him as a puppy, so I hate having to go through the “oh, he’s SO OLD!” thing every time I see some people!

  • Rachel
    September 17, 2016

    Aw, I’m sure he’ll be fine. If the vet hasn’t warned you then she’s sure it’ll go fine.
    I had my border collie Sam for 9 years and he was my baby ? (I wasn’t his mummy), well he was more my saviour. He was an abused rescue and I was in the midst of depression and panic attacks. All my friends laughed because I honestly wanted to be home with him all the time. He was diagnosed with diabetes just as he turned 9 and it was awful, he was so ill and I always think the worst, but the vet said he would be OK if I gave him insulin twice a day. He lasted for a year before his organs started failing. I was a mess, still am if I think about it too much. But since then I’ve rescued two more, Kai who had a hernia which crippled him, so we said bye to him 3 years ago. And Mattie, who I am unashamedly mummy to ? and yes he’s my baby….. most of the time!

  • Merry Coleman
    September 17, 2016

    Poor Rueben and poor you. Thinking of you during this time. This little sign about sums how I feel about my pets.

  • Kitty
    September 17, 2016

    Hi Amber, sending you and Rubin some hugs.
    My fiance’s dog lived to be 18, bless her. Almost every time we’d take her for a walk random people would, completely unprompted, make remarks like “ooh, that’s an old one, not long now…” I mean, WHO SAYS THAT?!?! I did once snap back after someone made a particularly awful remark and point out that the comment-maker was in fact no spring chicken themselves, how long did they have left. Not my proudest moment, but the things some people would say would have my fiance tearing up – his dog was his BEST friend.
    My cat Meeko is 15 now – and I have to admit I have started calling myself mummy when I talk to her and I don’t know why I’ve started doing it and I wish I wasn’t doing it, but it seems to have stuck now. Now that I think about it, I also refer to my mum as her Memaw, and my sister as A.J. (her auntie Jenna)… maybe I should look into some kind of support group for this…
    Anyway, I know how worried I’d be if Meeko had to have surgery – I stayed up half the night watching her last year when she had a cold – so I can empathise with how you’re feeling. I’ll be keeping you all in my thoughts, and hoping it all goes well for Rubin. x

  • Trona
    September 17, 2016

    He *will* be fine, the vet wouldn’t do it otherwise, they generally don’t mess about with things like that. I had a beautiful big akita called kobi which I very sadly lost last year (I’m crying just thinking about him), he had to go through several operations and every single one was terrifying but they never bothered him, dogs just get on with it. Wishing Ruben a speedy recovery! <3

    ps. I highly recommend Lamond Vets in Livingston if you ever need a new vet, they were brilliant with my dog xx

  • Jennifer
    September 17, 2016

    Hugs. It will be ok.

  • Antonia
    September 17, 2016

    Oh, poor Rubin and poor Amber too! (Totally back your play on unfriending that person – how stone cold is that?)

    Ageing pets is always rough. I had a cat, Austin, from when I was 14 years old. Two years ago, he got diagnosed with kidney failure. I thought he was a goner. But all I had to do was learn to see him differently. Sure, he needed medication and I had to give him fluids every day, but he was okay. It’s about quality of life. He couldn’t sprint around anymore, but he still had a truly fantastic life – and it wasn’t even the kidney failure that lead to taking the decision to having him put to sleep. You never stop being worried, but it’s amazing how resilient our furry friends can be.

    And the general anaesthetic is something I understand 100% – I think for people who like control, it’s an utter nightmare, being put to sleep against your will. Another cat of ours had to be sedated for an exploratory procedure and I was beside myself with the fear of it, but she was totally fine. Hell, she dealt with it better than I did! Things are improving all the time, and even just waiting awhile to have Rubin’s cyst removed will have improved techniques that bit more.

    All the best to both of you xxx

  • CiCi Marie
    September 17, 2016

    I would have unfriended that heartless moron just as fast, for sure!! Rubin will be just fine – as someone above said they wouldn’t risk it if not, especially not in an older dog. My heart goes out to you though, it’s a horrible thing to have to worry about. In a few weeks’ time I’m sure he’ll be right as rain again though 🙂

  • Michelle
    September 17, 2016

    Sending Rubin all kinds of luck for Tuesday, he seems like a feisty fella so he’ll be FINE!
    I too would be rocking in a corner waiting for the phone to ring though, write the day off now and start again on Wednesday when he’s home and guilt tripping the hell out of you!
    M x

  • Suzanne
    September 17, 2016

    I aImost didn’t read this as I had an idea of what it might say and I like dogs more than people, for the most part, so I hate thinking of them being sick. I feel your pain. Jake is 14 now and generally slow and sleepy. I can’t even cope with the thought of anything happening to him. Poor Rubin, he’s such a cutie. Vets are amazing, though, so he’ll be back to his lettuce eating self soon, no doubt.

  • Gary
    September 17, 2016

    We have two Shiba Inus: one 14 or 15 and on about 12. They were “puppy mill” rescues who spent their first 6 years in a tiny cage popping out puppies. Both suffer from “old dog syndromes” too. But, our first Shiba lived to be 17. My thoughts and prayers will be with Rubin and his mummy on Tuesday. May Rubin have many more happy years ahead!!!

  • D. Johnson
    September 17, 2016

    I’m sure he will be fine. You have said how healthy he is and the vet agrees. I’ll be thinking positive thoughts and sending prayers your way on Tuesday. May Wednesday find you, Terry and Rubin all snuggled up and happy.

  • Nicki Jacoby
    September 17, 2016


  • Stacey
    September 17, 2016

    Good luck to Rubin! And to you and Terry as well!
    An aging pet is honestly one of the hardest things (not THE hardest thing, but one of) to go through. My pets are my family and I am one of those people who considers them children (without the dressing them up part 🙂 ) I have a dog now who is 12 but mentally still acts like a puppy. Up until a couple of months ago, physically she still acted like a puppy too, but then her hearing went. Then about a week ago, she started having trouble with stairs and getting on the couch. So I know her time is coming up and it breaks my heart. But there’s nothing I can do about it, except for give her lots of extra cuddles (which she hates) and try to not get too mad at her when she sneaks in to eat the cat food.

  • Michelle
    September 17, 2016

    Aww, poor Rubin. I’ve spent the last few years watching a few different family dogs-large breeds- grow old, and sadly, pass away. However, The two standard poodles were both 14 years old, and I did everything I could to make their remaining years as comfortable as possible.

    But Rubin doesn’t sound like he’s anywhere near the end, I promise. In terms of the level of sedation, the vet will not need to use the same med or quantity, to remove a cyst, as they would for an internal organ-related surgery. I really wouldn’t worry about it. After surgery, however, it may take a bit longer to heal around the incision. But there are a lot of products, that work like a liquid bandage, that help with infection and bleeding.

    Also, when dogs get older, their eating habits do change. Its really helpful to sprinkle a little water on dry food to soften it up a bit, if necessary. There are also things like glucosamine and low-dose aspirin, you can give Rubin in the morning, for any pain he may be having in his joints or muscles. Switching from a standard collar to a harness can have a tremendous effect on a senior dog’s life as well.

    Please don’t worry about him, he will be fine! And much happier when the growth is gone.


  • Izabel
    September 17, 2016

    I know it’s unfashionable an’all but I am religious so I am going to light a candle to St Seraphim of Sarov (Orthodox animal saint) for your handsome wee chap.

  • Victoria
    September 17, 2016

    Good luck to a little brave Rubin and to you and Terry!

    I AM a dog person and I absolutely understand what it is like to have an ageing pet, and I’m convinced that it is so unfair that they don’t live long…well, long enough. My 14-years-old cocker sadly passed away last year because of cancer which was untreatable and she lived quite long with it – fortunately not suffering, but I still miss her so much…
    I’ll keep fingers crossed for you and I am sure everything will go well!!

  • Emily H
    September 17, 2016

    So sorry to hear and best of luck to Rubin. And pets are important. I don’t have one, but my mum has a lovely Bichon Frise called Binky that she’s so fond of. She wasn’t even a ‘dog person’ when she got her but now she wouldn’t be without her. It’s painful for us when they’re poorly and anyone who tells you otherwise can take a long walk off a short pier. X

  • Louise
    September 17, 2016

    Hey Amber, I love your blog, but I never comment – until now. You know you’re doing the right thing, and you’re scared because you love him. He’s a lucky pup!! Just give Rubin all the love, and take time to look after yourself xxx

  • Stephen Williams
    September 17, 2016

    Good luck, hon. Hopefully it will all be fine. I know exactly how you feel. Noodle’s only two, and I have to block out any thoughts of “when he gets old.”

  • Erin Burrows
    September 17, 2016

    Thinking of you. It’s so hard when someone we love (human or pet) needs surgery. Disappear into some Famous Five while you’re waiting on him to come out of recovery?

  • Jenny
    September 17, 2016

    Aw it will be fine. I hope everything goes super smooth for Rubin.

  • Erika
    September 18, 2016

    There are never guarantees (50 years of living with dogs tells me this), but it sounds like your new vet has their head screwed on. Rubin is otherwise healthy, so the odds are extremely good. Fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly.

  • Harlow
    September 18, 2016

    I really hope Rubin makes a quick recovery and is back to running on your white floors with muddy feet in no time! I understand how you feel because I am completely apathetic to children and really don’t get the way people undermine how people feel about their pets. I look at my pets every day and can’t even imagine the possibility of them one day no longer being around. However, my husband always says that the most important thing you can do for an animal is give them the best life possible. You and Terry are the greatest and I wish you all the very best in this stressful time. Sending Rubin lots and lots of love <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 !!!!

  • Karen Bell
    September 18, 2016

    From one caretaker of an elderly dog (my beagle is between 16-17 w/kidney problems) to another, you & Rubin will be in my prayers for his surgery & recovery to go smoothly!

  • Sam
    September 18, 2016

    Of course he will be okay. Although they don’t like to operate on older pets, the risks are still very small.

    My old girl (a cat) has had a couple of operations lately, she is 16 and coped fine other than the typical drowsiness.

    Whilst I agree that my cats aren’t my ‘babies’, they are a huge part of my life and I get very distressed when one is ill.

    Rubin will do splendidly and will be licking his bowls clean for a long time to come. Xx

  • Jo
    September 18, 2016

    Aw, really sad to read this. I really hope he is ok. I don’t even wish to know people who don’t understand how important dogs and all pets are to people! My dog had a big health scare couple years ago. I had to take day off work because I thought we might have to say bye ( I was an absolute mess!) but I called in sick and lied as my boss was a heartless, petless freak! Kara dog was fine though. She had big cancer lumps removed. Was super bad for my mum for weeks dressing a huge open wound but she heeled! She’s getting on a bit too now and i do think about what life would be like without her and I can’t bare it! Hugs for you next week. Please post and let us know how Ruben is, all us dog lovers will know how u feel and be thinking about you! X

  • Viridiana
    September 18, 2016

    Best of luck to Rubin! I’m sure he will be ok.I have a 15 years old cat that had surgery last monday to remove a rotten tooth. I was pretty upset but she did fine, she was just a little drowsy for a couple of hours and then she returned her usually hungry self even with stitches in her gum. I also hate being referred as “mummy” , but my pets are part of my family and I love them, it’s only natural to be worried when they are sick and to suffer for them.

  • Erin
    September 18, 2016

    Good vibes to Rubin! I’m sure he will do well. Hang in there!

  • Jules
    September 18, 2016

    Good luck to little Rubin. Scarier for you than him, but a cyst that is quite external shouldn’t be too bad (basing that on my own minor surgery a few years – I know nothing about veterinary science, but I assume it is the same!). And that person who said people shouldn’t cry over pets. Erm, wtf? Had they ever had a pet?!

  • Elizabeth Rose
    September 19, 2016

    Good luck for your little furry one. It’s ok to be a wreck – I really would be as well if I am being honest. I am sure it will all be fine though… it’s just very, very hard to think of the mortality of your pet. And to whomever said that comment about crying over deceased pets… well, I have one hand gesture for you, and it is a really rude one!

  • Moni
    September 19, 2016

    Amber, I’m thinking of you, and I wish you all the very very best, and a quick recovery for Rubin!
    Even though pets are not children, they definitely are family members, and it’s so sad to see them grow old…

  • Kacy
    September 19, 2016

    Oh goodness, I’m so sorry! We adopted our dog at 9 so we kind of skipped right to that bit and I worry about him all the time. We have had him put under for teeth cleaning twice though, and will probably continue to do so until the vet says it’s too risky and he’s come out fine. So yes, it WILL BE FINE. I’ll be thinking of you and your little guy!