When Pets and the Elderly Go Wrong, or How to Avoid the Problem We Had

We spent a lovely afternoon and evening with family on Christmas Eve. There was plenty of entertaining conversation, excellent food, and a free dance and song performance compliments of my niece. As we were loading the car with leftovers and preparing to leave, it seemed that a perfect evening was coming to a close and we would head home to a warm house, and our sweet 12 year old dog, Lainie.

Lainie is an affectionate girl, and a source of comfort to “Grandpa”, my father. Pets fulfill an important role in relieving loneliness in the elderly. Lainie benefits by getting extra treats from Grandpa, and accompanies us on “Grandpa walks” during clement weather.


Things started to go awry when Dad ventured out of the house unaccompanied. I was loading the car and anticipated that I would return to fetch Dad and help him navigate the walkway out to the car. Only Dad decided to reclaim his independence and in the process missed a step and fell. Luckily, his only injury appears to have been a scraped knee. However, it took my husband and brother-in-law to get him onto his feet and back into the house. We then checked Dad out for injuries and patched up his knee.



After we recovered from Dad’s fall, we headed home. We arrived home without incident and got Dad into the house and unloaded the car. Lainie greeted us at the front door, ecstatically wagging her tail and making her usual “I’m so happy you’re home” noises, which are somewhere between a cry and a howl. All seemed well until I went into Dad’s room to prepare him for bed.

A former stray, Lainie suffers from occasional bouts of separation anxiety which manifest as destructive chewing events. Unknown to me, Dad had placed more than just tissues into his bedroom waste can. A large can with a fitted lid resides in the bathroom for soiled undergarments, but Dad’s decreasing mobility meant that he disposed of a few undergarments in his bedroom waste can. Depends contain an odor neutralizer that can fool my nose but not a dog’s. Several pairs of soiled Depends lay in shreds on the floor, their contents spread over the carpeting. It also appeared that Lainie had eaten the Depends, and then vomited it up the material in a corner in the room. I sighed and then cleaned up the mess.


I soon discovered 2 more vomiting episodes, one on an upholstered chair and another on Lainie’s bed. It was at that point that I realized we were going to need to get her medical care. It was 11pm on Christmas Eve. The only vet open at that time was the after-hours emergency clinic on the other side of town.




I let Dad know he could call us if he had a problem, because we couldn’t fit everyone in the car and leave room for Lainie to be sick. I urged Dad to not wait up for us, because depending on what type of care Lainie needed, we might not be home until the wee hours of the morning. I kept my fingers crossed that Dad wouldn’t have any problems because there was no one to call at that hour to hang with him while we were gone.

The emergency vet clinic was not busy and they took Lainie back for exam immediately. The vet returned to report that an x-ray showed more material was in the stomach, and that Lainie might be able to clear the rest of the Depends naturally with some special care at home. We paid the large bill and went home. By then, it was around 1:30am.

However, Lainie’s condition degraded during the day and we were forced to return to the animal hospital early Christmas evening. Lainie then spent the night at the hospital on IV fluids and anti-emetics. We were greatly fortunate that the vets were able to clear her intestinal blockage without surgery. We paid an even larger bill and took and took a tired, but overjoyed dog home on the evening of the 26th.

For follow-up home care, we followed the vet’s special feeding instructions: every 4 hours for 48 hours with a high fiber canned food. Meals were closely followed by walks as the food was designed to quickly move through Lainie’s system and clear the remainder of the adsorbent material out of her body. Lainie recovered quickly and without incident.

Although it would have been better if we had had the foresight to prevent Lainie’s bowel obstruction from occurring in the first place, we were extremely fortunate that we live in a time and place where such excellent medical care is available for animals. It wasn’t the best Christmas I have ever had, but it had a happy ending.

Here are my tips from the experience for those people with pets and elderly parents at home:

  • Keep the door to your parents’ bedroom and bathroom closed.
  • Double check that the door to your parent’s room is closed before leaving for an outing.
  • Don’t allow pets into your parent’s room.
  • Ensure that all trash cans have a fitted lid. Even if you think they should only be used for non-toxic items, a parent with mobility problems or dementia may put any number of items in the trash.
  • Consider confining a pet to a room/crate that does not contain chew hazards if the pet is prone to separation anxiety. Or leave the pet at a daycare/sitter.
  • Keep a healthy emergency fund to cover unanticipated expenses.

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