Sweet Bilbo Baggins Dachshund-MacGregor has been diagnosed with dog Alzheimer’s. It’s not surprising, given he’s 105, but it’s still hard to watch his cognitive decline.
Now, to be fair, Billy has always been a dog of very little brain. The runt of the litter, he’s always been prone to seeming a little spacey and doing strange things. But lately, he’s been showing all of the signs of dementia.
We will put food down in front of Billy and he will just stare at it, seeming unsure what to do, then just walk away. This from the dog who has ravenously attacked anything remotely food-like his entire life, who just weeks ago was fighting Oscar for food, who has never ever passed up a meal unless ill. I will find him in a corner, staring at where the walls meet, or I will accidentally close him in a closet because I didn’t realize he’d gone in there to curl up (something he’s never done). He seems lost most of the time. He trembles anxiously all day, often crying to himself, or barking at nothing. He will sit in an empty room and bark. He loses his mind when Callum comes in the room. We always joked Billy was barking, “Hey! I know that guy!” in excitement, but it may be more like, “Hey! Who is that giant stranger in our house?”
He no longer rushes to grab the nearest toy to proudly greet anyone who comes into the house. I find him wandering circles around the kitchen island, or standing frozen on a step, seemingly unsure where he’s going and how to get there. He wakes up in the middle of the night and wanders the house. He roams the bed a million times in the night, unable to get settled, grunting and whining to himself as he makes nest after nest. He is most content when one of us is sitting down and he can snuggle in tightly next to us, wrapped in blankets. He’s always trembling, always cold. In just a handful of months, he lost 1/3 of his body weight, down now to just 8 pounds. His little harness is embarrassingly rigged with rubber bands to make it small enough for him.
Our vet says that beyond his ailing brain, his health is great. She says he is a little energizer bunny and will keep going. He’s a tough little dog. Edward and Billy clearly come from very healthy dogs. Our vet also recently said he will not be surprised if Edward is the rare dachshund to make it to 20.
I don’t know what any of this means for Billy. Dachshunds generally live to 12ish. Ours are little wonders, something the vets comment on every time we take them in. Even little goblin Oscar has rallied so much since coming to live with us. Our vet had never seen a dachshund overcome paralysis without surgery—but Oscar did it! They are Good Dogs.
Billy may live a long time still. Edward has spent his entire life fulfilling his role of Nanny Dog. He has always groomed, cared for, and guided Billy. He knows how to take care of him. I made Edward and Billy promise, way back when we got them in Boston in 2004, that they would live forever. Some days, when I’m losing my mind from the choices and behaviors of very elderly dogs, I think maybe that was a deal with the devil. But generally, I thank them every day for holding up that deal.
When we got home from the vet yesterday, Billy reluctantly ate a little food, got lost in thought in the yard and had to be retrieved, and then… raced to the couch, crawled under it, and emerged with Eddie’s favorite ball, something rascal Billy always likes to steal and hide. He batted the ball around, chased it when Callum threw it, and gnawed on it for a long time. He can’t remember which door he goes to for potty (lately he stands at the closet door in our mud room to wait), but his little brain reminded him of his hidden toy. His little brain said, “You are a tiny stinker of a dog who likes to play toys and get into mischief.”
He’s a Good Dog. For as long as it takes, we will find him when he’s lost in the house and redirect him. We will offer food over and over until he remembers that food is for eating, and eating is for living. We will clean up potty accidents, put up with him barking at nothing, and hold him tightly to ease his anxiety. He is our best buddy and the toughest little runt we know. Just like with everything else in life, we didn’t just sign up for the easy and fun parts—we signed up for the hard stuff, too.
Now let’s hope the other two can pace themselves and The MacGregor Home for Elderly Dachshunds won’t be dealing with three senile dogs at once.