Follow along with the transcript below for episode: The Joy of Senior Pets With Dr. Julie Buzby
[00:00:08] PF: Welcome to Happiness Unleashed with your host, Brittany Derrenbacher, presented by Live Happy. November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month, and that makes it the perfect time to talk to Dr. Julie Buzby. Julie is an integrative veterinarian with a special place in her heart for senior pets. She’s here to talk with Brittany about some of the misconceptions we often have about senior dogs and why, in many cases, a senior pet may be the best option for adoption. So listen in as she and Brittany talk about what senior pets can do for us and what we should be doing for them.
[00:00:41] BD: November is National Senior Pet Month. So let’s just dive right into this topic that is near and dear to my heart. Dr. Buzby, why are you passionate about helping senior dogs?
[00:00:54] JB: Oh, man. I just love senior dogs for so many reasons. I am an integrative veterinarian certified in animal chiropractic and veterinary acupuncture. So the majority of my patients at this point in my career are senior dogs. People are coming for mobility management, pain management. So I get to spend my day with them. I mean, just inherently, they just are so sweet. They’ve lived through so much. They’ve seen so much. Their little sweet, gray muzzles, like they just have such an expressive unconditional love oozing out of every hair follicle.
But I think the other thing that is in the back of my mind is they have, for the most part, lived with these families for a long time, a decade or more. I’ve heard so many stories over the years of how they have been there for their person through a bad divorce, through the loss of a spouse, through the loss of a child, through whatever tragedy life might bring. That dog was their rock and provided unconditional love. Whenever they were – whatever emotional state they were in, they could count on the dog to be there for them. I just respect that, and they just play such an important role as a family member. I just appreciate and love them for everything about them.
[00:02:16] BD: For the purposes of this conversation, just so listeners have background on many of the topics that we’re going to be covering, what age are dogs considered seniors?
[00:02:27] JB: That’s a fabulous question, and the answer has evolved over for the years. So when I graduated from vet school, there was this big senior at seven campaigning, going on by one of the major companies in our industry. We now know there was just, I think, a study out of the Texas A&M University Vet School, I think, in 2019 that really kind of put things in perspective.
There’s this linear – well, there isn’t a direct linear correlation that just kind of always goes up on this trajectory evenly, this line that goes up on a graph. We now realize there’s more of a line that goes up, and then it plateaus off. So it’s not just, hey, multiply by seven, and you have your dog’s age. Of course, we all know that larger breeds, giant breed dogs tend to have a shorter lifespan than smaller dogs.
So to answer the question, I would say small dogs, maybe 10-plus. For a senior medium-sized dogs, eight to nine. Large breed dogs, giant breed dogs, six maybe and seven for large breed dogs. So it just varies by the dog’s height, weight, breed.
[00:03:33] BD: Right. When we’re talking about integrative vet care, how do you describe that? How would you describe what integrative and holistic approach for our pets? Like what does that mean?
[00:03:48] JB: Yes. So I’m not sure this is the appropriate universal definition, but I’ll give you my definition. So holistic care, for me, is alternative. It’s alternative to Western medicine, chiropractic, acupuncture, Chinese herbs. The list goes on. Then, of course, Western medicine, we think of the traditional medications, surgery, just everything that the standard veterinarian trained by a US or even foreign veterinary school probably delves into.
So as an integrative veterinarian, I like to integrate both. So for my patients, so many times, my patients come to me, and I’m “the last resort.” Like, “Can you help our dog? We’ve already done what we can do.” So I don’t throw Western medicine out the window. A lot of my patients are still on medications. Or let’s say I have a dog that has a cruciate tear. I still consider surgical therapy, like a surgical correction of that knee to be like the gold standard treatment.
Not everybody opts for that based on budget, the dog’s age, the dog’s status. I respect that, and we work around all kinds of parameters because every single dog and every single family is different. But I still do recommend medicine and surgery. That’s the point. Then I integrate all the additional wonderful tools that I am blessed to have in my toolbox and kind of craft the best thing for each individual dog using the best of all the worlds.
[00:05:24] BD: I love that this is becoming a more normalized conversation for our care for animals. In the therapeutic work that I do with humans, I believe in a holistic mind-body-spirit approach. So I love that this conversation is extending out into our fur babies. We have a special needs dog here named Samson Supernova, and he goes every month to get acupuncture and laser. He’s on a bunch of different like Chinese herbal supplements, all supplemental care that helps with his congenital breathing problem. So it supports his system holistically for the entirety of his life, and I view it as like a upstream prevention method.
[00:06:05] JB: Well said, yes. I mean, one of the things I learned in my chiropractic training is we’ve got like an iceberg of symptoms, and the tip of the iceberg might only be 10%. So 90% of the iceberg is under the water developing, and maybe we don’t even – well, we don’t. Maybe a very in-tune pet parent might see little glimpses and, hopefully, bring them to the attention of the veterinarian.
There’s so many times that I couldn’t even begin to count them of where someone has said to me like, “You know, I don’t even know what to make of this.” Or, “This is probably silly but –” Then they tell me something that’s like a really big clue for me, especially thinking in the traditional Chinese medicine box. So any change, anything you note, it’s worthwhile to bring to your vet’s attention.
But back to our analogy, if we wait until we’re at the tip of the iceberg with symptoms, it’s so much harder to successfully treat and address, manage, possibly reverse that. So when we’re working in the preventative realm, that is 1,000% for human and veterinary health where we want to be.
[00:07:16] BD: Why do you think that this is so important and unique for caring for senior animals?
[00:07:23] JB: Well, I do think it’s appropriate across the whole spectrum. However, senior dogs tend to have the issues with pain management, with mobility management. I’m a huge believer that mobility is a dog’s greatest asset. They’re made to move. They’re pack animals. They travel. So I just think those are the dogs that we see more commonly for it. Also, these modalities just really can work wonders for pain and mobility. They just seem to be really perfect for those conditions. Ideally, vast majority of situations don’t have any side effects as well, which is really nice compared to maybe more traditional Western medicine.
[00:08:05] BD: Yes. This month being all about adopting a senior pet, what are some of the unique rewards that we as humans can experience from adopting a senior dog and for caring for senior pets as a whole?
[00:08:21] JB: Right. So what I tell people when I recommend adopting seniors is you know what you’re getting. If you get a puppy, you don’t really know what you’re getting, both in terms of like size and look and personality. Things aren’t fully developed. So you might get an idea. But when you adopt a senior, you get what you see.
For so many of us that have busy lifestyles, with family travel outside the home, working outside the home, I think just a senior dog slips right into family life so much easier than a puppy or young dog that you may have to still house train and keep them from chewing your furniture. They’re just so much more high-energy. I mean, that’s its own reward in and of itself. Don’t get me wrong. They’re so much fun. But a senior dog is like more of your ready-made pet, ready to go.
I think senior dogs – I just was having a conversation last week with someone who said that they adopted this senior. Well, it was a middle-aged dog, but it had been in the shelter for a long time. He said, “My wife and I had agreed that we were not going to sleep with this dog. We have other dogs.” They have a bunch of dogs. “We had other dogs we slept with. This dog we were going to train to not sleep with us.”
The wife came home from a late-night work shift, and the dog was under the covers, like snuggled in on the pillow next to the guy. She said, “What happened?” He said, “He just looked at me with this look, and he was like – it was gratefulness. Like you could see the gratefulness on this dog’s face, and I just scooped him right into bed.”
All my animals have been adopted. It seems a little crazy, but I truly think like they’re grateful and senior dogs all the more. So there’s this altruistic piece as well. Yes, here’s all the benefits for the people. But if we just think about senior dogs who’ve maybe been in a home their whole life, that’s what they’ve known. Then for whatever tragic reason, they now found themselves homeless in a rescue or a shelter. Just to say, you know what? I’m going to give this dog a life. For whatever many months or years they have left, I’m going to just adopt this dog and give them that security of living out their golden years in a home full of love.
[00:10:38] BD: I’m so glad that you use the word grateful. I really wanted to pick your brain about this because this is November. What a time to be talking about gratitude and thanks. I believe that senior animals can uniquely teach us. Teach us about gratitude and thanks. Why do you think that senior animals are able to uniquely model that to us, this gift of gratitude and thanks?
[00:11:05] JB: I keep ascribing these human traits to animals, and I’m not sure that’s a wrong thing. I mean, we just talked about gratefulness. So now, I’m going to bring up wisdom. I feel like senior dogs have – just like people, when they get gray, and they’ve got some inherent wisdom just from living life. I feel like senior dogs might get that, too, where they’re just like older and wiser. That can translate, I think, into that gratitude. So I don’t know that I know the answer to your question. I just know that I have experienced it personally.
[00:11:37] BD: Yes, yes. We used to have a house full of seniors. They all recently over the last couple years crossed over the rainbow bridge. But that period of time in my life where we had seven, eight seniors in our house was the calmest, most peaceful, loving container that I have ever experienced.
Now, we have a lot of younger dogs, and the energy has shifted. But I love this conversation that we’re having because there is – often, the seniors are overlooked in shelters. They’re overlooked in rescues. I think this conversation kind of shifts that narrative. What can we expect differently from adopting a senior dog that maybe has been a misconception?
[00:12:27] JB: I think people assume maybe even subconsciously it’s too painful to adopt a senior dog because they’re going to die soon. I mean, I think that’s in the back of people’s minds, and that’s too painful to go through for myself or maybe for my kids. I mean, one of the things that we laugh about as veterinarians is like for the most part, dogs don’t come in with perfect records. So you don’t even know their age. I mean, we don’t really know. I’ve had so many people adopt what they thought was a senior dog and just have many, many, many, many, many more years together.
For the most part, in my experience, I’ve been a vet for 25 years, people adopt a dog, a senior even, and have years together. So granted it’s not an entire lifespan, but there’s no guarantee in buying a puppy or adopting a younger dog that you’re going to have all those years together anyway.
So I think dogs live in the moment. It’s one of the best things about them, and we can learn from that. I think it would just be great if people didn’t just worry so much about the future and just embrace the present and say whatever time we have left, and I’m just going to say in the majority of cases, I do believe that that’s years, we’re just going to soak up the love and time together. I just can’t ever – I can’t think of a case where anyone’s ever done that and regretted it.
[00:13:50] BD: Right. Never. Talk about imparting wisdom, that loving presence and being present in the moment with our animals is something that is just uniquely modeled to us and those reciprocal relationships. But, also, like what a gift? What a karmic gift to give back to an animal in that way and care for them in their last years of life and make sure that they are given the most love that they could experience.
I want to shift a little bit into the care perspective because this is something that you know a lot about. What is your advice to folks that might go to a shelter, adopt a senior dog? What are some of the biggest tips you have in caring for a senior pet?
[00:14:34] JB: Thank you for letting me talk about this because it’s important. So number one is veterinary care. With younger animals going to the vet, once a year is probably fine, unless they instruct you otherwise. Senior pets, you need to be there at least twice a year because things change.
I mean, even if it’s not senior at seven, and we do the multiplication times seven, still the lifespan is accelerated. The years are passing by, accelerated compared to human life. So you wouldn’t go to the doctor every five years or seven years. Important to go to the vet, so they can get a tip-to-tail complete exam and blood work at least every six months. That’s just a way that we can be ahead. We talked about preventive medicine. We can be ahead of changes. We can stay ahead of concerns and always more likely to have successful outcomes when we catch things early versus late. So that’s number one
We may need to make some changes in the home for senior dogs, depending on their ability or special needs status. This can be everything from using a nightlight at night for a dog. I think that’s a real help for senior dogs who might struggle at night if they’re up and about. One thing that senior dogs can experience is a little bit of doggy dementia with age. One of the ways this manifests is like a disturbed sleep-wake cycle, so they may be a little bit more up at night, and nightlights can help with that.
If they struggle on steps, I like to recommend putting a strip across the front of steps to really demarcate. Sometimes, depth perception can be an issue. So putting a strip, a brightly colored strip, a white strip, maybe even a strip with a little grip on the front of each step can be a help. I’ve had clients like remove the legs off of their couch or put the [inaudible 00:16:24] on the floor to help them get up and down more easily. Certainly, ramps and steps. So those are some potential home modifications.
Then finally, use it or lose it. Like these dogs need to be out. They need to be getting the stimuli to their brain of life in the outdoors, the smells, and the sights, and the noises. So even if the walks have to get shorter and doing like more frequent really tiny walks, really short walks, that’s fine. But they still need to be in the outdoors. They still need to get their exercise to maintain whatever mobility and muscle mass they have.
[00:16:59] BD: Yes. Going off of mobility, there’s a product that we’ve used in this house over the last couple of years, and you developed that product. Can you tell the listeners more about that?
[00:17:12] JB: Yes. So ToeGrips is my passion because as a veterinarian, I get to help one dog at a time. Because my appointments are very comprehensive with the holistic medicine added into the Western and the exam, they’re usually like an hour-long. So there’s only so many hour-long appointments I can get in in a week. But ToeGrips have allowed me to really have an impact on senior dogs around the world, and I’m so thankful for that opportunity.
They are non-slip nail grips that go on the tips of dogs’ nails and give them traction on hard surface floors. The biggest thing we deal with is skepticism. People see them and think like, “Oh these little things, what could they possibly do?” But if you understand that a dog’s natural mechanism for traction is to engage the nails like soccer cleats, that’s why you don’t see dogs slipping on carpet or on grass because that works. But hard nails can’t grip hard floors. So just by giving them a little grip on the nail tips, voila, we have dogs that can get up off the floors and walk on the floors with traction and confidence.
[00:18:16] BD: Our holistic vet recommended this product to us a few years ago, and one of our younger uniquely able dogs uses it as well. He’s actually afraid of hardwood floors and transitional spaces. They have really helped boost his confidence and his mobility when he’s running around the house. So, yes, thank you.
[00:18:36] JB: I love that. Yes, confidence. I mean, we’ve talked about doggy wisdom and doggy gratitude. Doggy confidence is a very real thing. Early on in the development of this product, I was talking to a veterinary colleague whom I love. She’s like a brilliant veterinarian and wonderful bedside manner. But I was talking about how ToeGrips have really impacted my patients’ confidence. She kind of laughed, and she’s like, “Confidence? Why would I care about my patients’ confidence?”
It broke my heart because it’s a real thing, and confidence directly ties into quality of life. So these dogs that have to live in fear in their homes because they’re afraid of slipping, they’re afraid of getting like a slip and fall injury, especially if they’ve experienced that, and they’re like afraid for it to happen again. We’d need our dogs to be able to live in a fear-free environment, and slipping is a very real part of that, so.
[00:19:29] BD: I love to hear that you experience the confidence. Yes. I mean, and that’s part of the holistic care, right, is to think about more of those outside-the-box supplemental things that we can do for our dogs to have the best quality of life, the best joy in life. I mean, mobility, that’s been a huge part of this conversation, especially with senior dogs.
In your experience with senior dogs and with folks that adopt them and bring them in, can you talk about the special benefits senior citizens can receive from adopting a senior pet?
[00:20:03] JB: That is something that I just find fascinating to pair that up, right? So first of all, I think they can identify, right? I mean, there’s some sort of root hope that comes from saying like, “Here’s the senior dog, and I’m going to rescue them.” But it comes to – it begs the question that I’ve seen on bumper stickers like, “Who rescued whom,” right?
So senior citizens often are more associated statistically with loneliness, and a pet is the best solution for that issue. I mean, you’ve got a 24/7 unconditional love in fur living with you. Also, we know that people with pets are more likely, especially dogs, to be active. So it gives them a reason to get up in the morning. They’ve got to get the dog out. It really can give them a purpose in life that may be flagging for a senior citizen who’s retired and maybe not as engaged as they once were with a community. Now, they have a reason to be engaged, and that dog can even help them make friends, break into friend groups in their neighborhood or community. So it’s the perfect win-win.
[00:21:11] BD: I love the language that we’re using in today’s conversation; gratitude, thanks, confidence, purpose, loving presence. It just so illuminates the gifts that animals bring into our lives but, uniquely, in this conversation, senior dogs.
[00:21:29] JB: Then there’s the physical benefits, right? So we know statistically that having a dog in your life provides some distinct physical benefits. One of which is lower blood pressure, which can be good for people. So I was thinking about my Chihuahua who’s a little terror, but we love him to death.
So my mom is a senior citizen. She’s turning 78 this month, and she has high blood pressure. My son and the Chihuahua stayed with her for a week, and the Chihuahua just wanted to be on her lap, and she was like petting the dog all week. At the end of the week, she had a routine wellness exam, and her blood pressure was the lowest it had ever been. We’re all like, “It was Beanie.” So for sure, physical benefits as well for all of us and especially senior citizens.
[00:22:12] BD: Every episode, I like to ask our guests, and this is probably a difficult question for you because you’ve had so many animals in and out of your life, both personally and professionally. But we like to share a story of an animal that has done magic or healing in unassuming ways in your life. So could you please share your favorite story of an animal that has helped transform your way of seeing animals and interacting in the world?
[00:22:41] JB: Yes. So I could really go on with lots of them, but I will pick Zeke, who was a black lab. Well, he was – he looked like a black lab mix. We DNA-tested him, and he didn’t have any black lab. He had Chow and Shepherd and all. He had like nine things. We adopted him years ago for one of my sons who has ADHD and is just like a restless – like he’s just a ball of energy, and he had night terrors, and he would sleepwalk with that.
We adopted Zeke not thinking like, “Oh, let’s solve the night terrors with the dog.” That wasn’t the plan at all, but it just happened that we adopted Zeke. Zeke bonded with Daniel, and he started – it was like the other story I told. By like the third day, he was in bed sleeping with Daniel, and Daniel’s night terrors stopped. They stopped like instantly, and he never had them again.
[00:23:37] BD: What a gift. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. Let’s say we have listeners at this very moment that are considering going to a shelter and adopting a senior dog or a senior cat. What’s your call to action for them?
[00:23:53] JB: My call to action is I’m going to go on out on the limb and say I stake my reputation and name on the fact that you would not regret it. You will not regret it.
[00:24:04] BD: You heard it here. Dr. Buzby says go out and fill your life with so much joy by adopting a senior pet this month. Thank you so much, Dr. Buzby, for coming on the show, and imparting so much wisdom, and sharing such beautiful stories about your work and all of the magic that you bring into your community.
[00:24:25] JB: Thank you for the opportunity.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:24:27] PF: That was Brittany Derrenbacher talking with Dr. Julie Buzby about the joys of adopting a senior pet. So, Brittany, I really enjoyed that conversation. I know this is a topic that is near and dear to your heart. As I was listening to this, I’m like I have to know what resonated most with you.
[00:24:44] BD: Well, first, I have to share that I was so excited to even like say her name, Dr. Buzby. How fun is that? All week, I was like, “I can’t wait to say her name.”
[00:24:54] PF: That’s terrific.
[00:24:56] BD: But the biggest part of the conversation for me that stood out is just, and this month is so important to talk about, the gratitude. Senior animals bring so much gratitude into our lives and are so thankful for just being given a space to feel safe and to feel cared for and loved and seen. I think that is such a magical gift. So any opportunity that we have to illuminate that I love senior and special needs animals, that is, obviously, our specialty here at Luna Bell’s. But any opportunity that I think we have to encourage people to go out and bring that gift into their homes and continue like bringing that good karmic energy into the universe, let’s do it.
[00:25:43] PF: I love it. I love it. Yes. That’s – it’s such a powerful thing to bring in a senior pet. I know you and I have talked about when I first got involved in rescue, that’s what I did. I did the seniors, and I saw a lot of dogs over to the other side. It was heartbreaking, but there was also something so rewarding, knowing that this animal, oftentimes, they’ve been dumped because families don’t want to deal with the decline of a dog. Or who knows what led to that situation.
But to know that that dog died with love, and that’s how I feel. Like no animal should have to just die alone and unloved. I know that as heartbreaking as it was for me, there was a satisfaction and a joy in knowing that that animal was being ushered over properly.
[00:26:28] BD: It costs a little bit upfront for senior animals. Yes, there is maybe a shorter time that we’re spending with them. But the gifts that they bring into our life far outweighs any type of vet care or monetary situation that you might be in with senior pets. I look back at all of the animals that have been in our lives that have lived long senior lives, and I don’t think about any of that stuff. I just think about how much I loved them, how much they taught me, how much they brought into my life, how much joy they brought into Matthew and I’s lives. That outweighs everything.
[00:27:04] PF: Absolutely. Well, that was a great interview. There was so much to take away from it. If our listeners want to learn more about you, the work that you’re doing, learn about Dr. Buzby, we’re going to have all of that on our landing page. They can follow you on social media and learn more about the ways that pets enhance our lives. So anybody can go to our website at livehappy.com. Click on the podcast tab, and you will see Happiness Unleashed there. Just click on that, and you can join us.
Brittany, thank you, again, for another fantastic episode, and we will see you back here next month.
[00:27:35] BD: See you soon.