Your Aging Bichon

by Anne Jones RN, BSNE

We all love our Bichons, consider them family members and hope to have them with us forever. Though we know that some day we will have to say goodbye, we don’t like to think about it. This article is intended to help you see that there are ways you can delay the inevitable!

Tucker at 15 runs up the stairs but will not walk down them. Sassy is a born couch potato and has spent 14 years insuring that the sofa is well used but runs around like a puppy when she goes out into the yard. At 16 years of age, the oldest man in the house can outrun his owners when it is time to be brushed or to have his ears cleaned. In fact, he is quite active and athletic. His mother lived to be 19 but she was quite senile her last 3 years. He shows no signs of senility but may not see and hear as well as he used to. These are healthy Bichons but not necessarily “old” Bichons. Old age comes at different times for different dogs, depending on their genes and their general condition.

To insure your dog has a healthy life, he needs to be fed a balanced canine diet, to have moderate exercise, and provided with plenty of fresh water to drink. It pays to be conservative in treating parasite problems and to avoid extremes in dealing with them. Heartworm preventative is essential but flea prevention is not needed unless you have a serious flea problem. Vaccinate according to law but ask your veterinarian about new schedules for vaccines that may allow them to be done every 3 years instead of annually. We further recommend that no boosters be given after age 12 years. Always separate rabies vaccine and the combination shot by at least 3-4 weeks!!!! It may cost more for two visits but these little dogs do not need to have their immune systems stressed by giving both at the same time.

When a health survey was done among members of BFCA, the average lifetime was 14.5 years, including the dogs that had died early due to disease or accident. Many breeders reported Bichons living to age 16 -18 and a few have lived to see their 20th birthday. Unfortunately not all Bichons come from healthy backgrounds and many do die far too young. There seems to be a critical period between 11 and 13 that these dogs may succumb to disease if the condition is not treated.

As the dog grows older, he is exercising less and therefore may need less food or to be fed a “senior diet” that is designed for the older dog. An overweight dog cannot be a healthy dog and the stress on his system will almost certainly shorten his life. Please do not “kill him with kindness”. One frequent cause of pancreatitis is table food and fatty human foods are the worst!

Diseases that occur with some frequency in Bichons are first and foremost allergy, followed by bladder stones, luxating patellas (weak knee joints), eye disease and diseases of the endocrine system. Early tooth loss and gingivitis (gum disease) can cause infections that spread to the kidneys, liver or heart and these can kill if not treated properly. There are articles on this web site about most of these conditions and they should be studied and the advice in them used to help your dog live a longer and healthier life.

Cataracts cannot be cured but they may be successfully removed if the dog is in good health (you may wish to do only one eye at a time). A blind dog can still be a contented dog if he is kept in familiar surroundings. Heart murmurs should be monitored and the dog treated by a veterinarian if progressive heart disease occurs. An understanding of the endocrine diseases can help you to be on the lookout for early signs of diabetes or Cushing’s Syndrome. A dog having seizures needs a complete health workup because there is probably an underlying cause of the seizures that needs to be treated.

As mentioned, senility can occur in Bichons but it can be treated if the dog is in good health otherwise. Symptoms include getting days and nights mixed, walking in circles or set patterns, soiling the premises, seeming to “forget” owners that they have been attached to and a general appearance of losing touch with reality. The generic form of the drug to treat senility may be less expensive and just as effective as the name brand product so ask your vet about it. Your dog may have several more years as your family pet with treatment.

Many older Bichons have skin growths that are unsightly but otherwise probably not dangerous. Have your veterinarian check them to be sure there is nothing indicating a need to remove the growth. If not, just don’t worry about them. If the dog starts to chew or bite at the growths, then you need to watch for signs of infection or bleeding and have the vet check them and possibly remove any that are bothersome. However putting an older dog under anesthesia for removal is probably more dangerous to him than just leaving them alone if they are not infected or inflamed.

One condition that may occur in an older dog is vestibular disease, a condition of the middle ear. This will cause the dog to reel like a drunken sailor with head cocked to one side and eyes shifting around because he cannot focus. He is extremely disoriented and dizzy as well as nauseated. The onset is usually quite sudden and dogs used to be destroyed when they developed these symptoms because both owner and veterinarian thought he had had a stroke. Actually strokes in dogs are extremely rare so do not accept this diagnosis but seek a second opinion if you are told your dog has had a stroke. The vestibular problem may resolve within two weeks and any treatment will be simple and inexpensive unless there is something more serious, such as a tumor or deep infection.

Another problem that can be seen in Bichons is collapsing trachea. The trachea or windpipe is a ring of cartilage in the throat and it may weaken and can collapse on itself at times. This can eventually be life threatening if it blocks the air from being taken in. You need to discuss this with your veterinarian to see if medication is needed. Signs will be a clicking sound when the dog takes a breath or signs of choking that indicate the dog cannot breathe. Try massaging the throat to see if this helps. If not, this is a medical emergency.

One of the most important things you can do to keep your dog young and healthy is to spay or neuter early in life. If it has not been done, later is better than not at all to prevent mammary cancer in the female or prostate cancer in the male.

We hope you and your beloved pet will have at least 16 years together. We would like for you to report any major health issues to BFCA to help us to track which inherited illnesses are occurring in the breed. Our aim with this web site is to do our part in keeping Bichons happy and healthy. The rest is up to you!

Dogs 0-20 pounds age at the following rate:

Dog’s Age Human
5 years
6 years
7 years
10 years
12 years
15 years
20 years

The average life span for Bichons is 14-15 years but many live to 16-17. A rare few have been confirmed to live to age 21 or 22. That’s OLD!