Thursday, September 10, 2015

During a dog's senior years and end-of-life, wearable technology can be a boon

Homing in on what our pets are doing on a day-to-day basis is important throughout their life, though no other time than while in their twilight or hospice seems more pressing. 

Through the years, being a caregiver to pets – dogs, namely – in their very late age has been a big part of the [peace] work that I carry out each day. 

It can be tough for those sharing life with pets in their twilight or hospice: bladders aren't as trusty; joints, more stiff; health issues more complicated. I am often contacted by families with older dogs to help out during this time when they can't be home due to work or other obligations. Having a hand to ensure their furry friend gets potty breaks, a little tender companionship and most of all, to be the eyes and ears to monitor things is certainly a boon (not to mention the opportunity to have a brief mental break from the situation).

A lot of what goes on in the final months and weeks has to do with being aware of what is happening, as well as being honest with oneself about what is observed: appetite changes, sleep habits, willingness to engage and activity levels tell the story. The latter can be hard to judge if one is away tending to work responsibilities, of course, and few people have the luxury of being able to be home as often as they'd like to keep track. Those that are frequent business travelers come to mind most prominently.

Technology has come a long way in the years since I started as a professional caregiver. That sector has opened up to the pet product market, and wearable technology for pets has seen a surge – a multibillion dollar one – and one product that I had written about a while ago came to mind as I was considering how fortunate I am to be able, largely unencumbered, to tend to my own 15 year-old dog, Gretchen as she meanders through hospice.

The Whistle and other products like it can provide valuable data about how much activity a companion animal has each day (and track changes), helping to flesh out an accurate overall picture about what's going on with them. Information like this can be relayed to the primary vet, resulting in better communication with the clinician, and in the end optimal health management and comfort for the animal. 

Attached to a dog's collar, the Whistle – which is waterproof – tracks physical activity and syncs the information automatically via an app to one's smartphone. 

The app and device are also capable of tracking and communicating information about food intake and medication (by manually logging each in), two things that are vital in monitoring dogs in later stages of life. This is especially helpful if inappetence is an issue, and as is in so many cases, multiple medications are given daily.

We know that pets that are in the midst of a tender time of life fare physically and emotionally better having people around with whom they have a bonded relationship. But while any technology can't replace what that provides, it can enhance and empower their humans to better care for them if used mindfully.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a contributor on MLive -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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