I tend to like numbers.  Numbers are good for assigning an objective value to a concept or to a more tangible reality.  They help you keep track of progress, or keep you honest about progress.  They keep you from running out of gas, if you don’t ignore the gauge, and they allow you to make choices with better precision and accuracy.  Numbers are generally a very good thing, although they can also be used to mislead us when we take for granted that all numbers are factual and comprehensively represent the claim being made.

So, age is “just a number”.  I’ll keep telling myself that.  ; )  It is a meaningful number in some ways, but when taken for granted, it can mean that effective decisions are missed because the number is considered too old or too young.  Every measurement revolves around a distribution, usually represented as a mean (or average) with a +/- range of uncertainty.  For human age, is 80 old?  is 90 old?  When the doctor treats a 90+ person for a heart attack, does he avoid using pharmaceutical methods based on age?  If the numbers show that a certain pharmaceutical treatment should not be used for people over 80, should it not be used for a 90+ year old who is in much better condition than “average”?  What are the risks and benefits?  I love numbers, but numbers shouldn’t keep us from evaluating, for example, using our more subjective thinking processes to decide whether the model fits.  Sometimes the risk outweighs the benefits, and the decision should be made between physician, patient, and family.  But it will be up to the physician to offer any alternatives that may exist, and to help the family understand the risks and benefits.

The same applies to our Newfs.  Age is a number.  In many veterinary clinics, decisions made for a Newf approaching, or in, his geriatric years may be different due to the inherent risks that come with aging.  With aging comes ups and downs, and it can be hard to tell when a trend is developing, or whether something has occurred that will be short in duration without need for medical intervention.  As they grow older, you may make your choices differently.  An aging or geriatric Newf, with an aging circulatory system and liver may not tolerate medications as well.

When the issue with Parker’s foot developed, I opted for antibiotics, and at one point an antimycotic, to aid in the time required for healing.  The closer he gets to 12, the more apparent it becomes that the duration of a treatment can present its own challenges.  As the course goes into its 2nd, or 3rd, week, and his energy overall seems lower, it can be hard to tell whether the treatment is responsible or whether it is a matter of aging.  When his energy returns quickly within a few days, I assume that the treatment is probably responsible.  This same thing happened with Brit when she reached her elder years.  So, decisions to use a pharmaceutical treatment must take this into consideration.

The remaining issue for Parker is scratching the backs of his elbows.  Old skin can’t take the punishment of those toenails very well.  He must sometimes wear boots at night or when I can’t be there to help him supervise himself.  Things were going quite well a few weeks ago, and both elbows looked good, one almost completely healed.  Then along came a few fleas, hitchhiking from a neighbor’s yard, and we were in the mire again, trying to keep him from scratching while eliminating the problem.  He’s had a couple of other backslides, one a few days ago, so that one elbow again looks bad.  The next step for me is to find someone who will make some custom boots.  The only ones large enough to fit him still allow him to do bruising through the boot.  The front cover needs to be rounded and more rigid.

However, his energy is bright, his coat is bright, and the sparkle is in his eyes.  He has enjoyed some swimming, which always boosts his physical condition as well as his morale.  He got a good morning massage on Monday, and was on the bed before I could get out on Tuesday, feeling a bit rambunctious.

Last night brought cause for worry though.  He woke us at 4 a.m. with some light, persistent whining.  This was unusual for Parker.  He will usually tell you exactly what’s on his mind; he doesn’t leave any room for you to wonder.  I sat up in bed and Greg and I talked about what could be the problem.  Greg took him outside, thinking maybe he needed to relieve himself.  While he was outside, Greg refreshed the water bucket.  With aging, his demands for food, water or going to potty can be stronger without much notice.  When he came back in, things still weren’t “right”.  We talked about their evening meal, and wondered whether he was getting enough calories.  Perhaps he was hungry.  For one thing, old digestive systems don’t utilize nutrients as well as younger ones.  After the humans worried out loud for a while longer, Parker laid down and went to sleep.  So, the humans went to sleep for a little while longer too.  After Greg left for work, Parker laid in the hallway and began barking occasionally.  Could this be that geriatric aging issue, an indication of cognitive decline?  Or was he ready for breakfast?  Well, he’s always ready for breakfast!  Human #2 got dressed and made her way into the kitchen to prepare breakfast.  There’s never a time when I more fully have their attention than when I’m setting up their dishes for breakfast or dinner.  Parker seemed very keyed into being close this morning.  After breakfast, he was still staying close.  His enthusiasm and energy seemed good.  Then I woke up!  What day is this?!  It’s the 7th day of the week in Parker’s calendar!  And even better, the 7th day of the week has been followed by a day of swimming often enough to raise the expectations even higher!

We will keep him guessing, though.  He will be going swimming tonight instead of tomorrow.  Wouldn’t want him to become overconfident in a number.  ; )  And he will keep us guessing, hopefully for a lot longer.

He’s at work with me now, and everything has gone back to normal, a typical Friday.

Happy Friday  from the Bigfoot Club!


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