Helping our Senior Boat Dog Keep his Sea Legs

Hastings is by far the most popular member of our little family. He gets a 90% stop and talk rate at the marina, regardless of language. We even have people dinghy over to us to ask how Hastings is. He’s that amazing! At 11.5, he has been showing his age, and after a tough recovery from surgery to remove an aggressive malignant tumor, we knew we had to make better accommodations for him. (Please note, while I mention various products, I have no affiliation and am not compensated for my opinions.) 

Mobility Onboard
After his surgery for a torn ligament in his knee over a year ago, we added SeaDek to both the dinghy and our cockpit. This looks great, and provides a cushioning effect for all our old joints. We were told he had an 80-100% likelihood of snapping his other knee ligament within 6 months. 15 months later and he has had no further ligament issues. It is a little annoying to keep SeaDek clean; it would be easier if we had unlimited water and didn’t rebuild carburetors on it. I use a water spray bottle, dish soap, and OxyClean once a month and it does clean up. It’s not effort free, but it is worth it.

Hastings loves his SeaDek!
Toe Grips
Even before the lump removal surgery, Hastings struggled to get up from naps. He couldn’t walk at all on the hard floors in West Marine and and had to be carried through the treat aisle at PetCo. I worried about him sliding around on the decks and falling into the ocean. I worried the sliding around would hurt his ligaments. After his surgery, it got even tougher for him. He was reduced to three paws for 5 weeks and simply couldn’t get up. Sometimes he would even growl in frustration when we tried to help him. He’d just lay in the same spot all day; forsaking his favorite breezy spots and even ignoring dinner prep. We looked into carpeting, but it’s expensive, harder to clean, and hot to lay on. I found “toe grips” online and by golly, they work! Dogs extend their nails when they are trying to get better traction. This works great on dirt, but doesn't do anything on hard floors. These silicone grips slide over his nails and give him the extra traction he needs to get up and stay steady. Now he’s up and about, finding the shade and breeze, and is back to his supervisory duties. He can march through PetCo and pick out his own treats again (he’ll take one of each, please!) These grips do wear out eventually (between one and three months), so we’ll be ordering him extra sets to get him through the Bahamas. Toe Grips
Close-up of the toe grips.

Hastings can get to all his favorite spots with his toe grips - even this slick fiberglass
Enjoying a dinghy ride over Biscayne Bight's sandbar
Life on the edge (you can just see his little blue grips - they're stopping him from sliding off!)
Walking through the treat isle at PetCo. He'll take one of each! 
Lounging at the helm
Watching the world go by - his toe grips mean he can get up and change his vista on a whim
Life Jacket with Handle 
Hastings had a full leg bandage after his surgery which made him somewhat immobile. The bandage had to be kept dry. We were really struggling to get Hastings in and out of the dinghy on 20-30 knot days with rough seas while keeping him dry and everyone nervous breakdown free. He wasn’t mobile enough to go potty on deck, so we needed to make transport to land work. Back in the good old days, we’d heave him and he would scramble by himself. Since his arm has been bandaged, he wears the life jacket in the dinghy and we lift him by the handle. Handing him off the stupid old way exposed everyone to the rolling wet waves for more time and was a general bad business. This RuffWear lifejacket is comfortable, has good flotation, and the handle is great for dog overboard recovery (thankfully we have not tested this). We’re now pros at the dog hand off in high seas.
It might be a little humiliating, but it works!
Cooling Pad
Hastings loves his cooling pad! I don’t know how it works other than magic, but it feels cool to lay on. We are experiencing temps of up to 87 degrees in Miami, in the winter. He loves to lay on it, sandwiched between his bed and our pantry seat. (This is also his "safe space" - dogs love to have a fort that they can wedge in and feel safe.)
Hastings loves his cooling pad!
Nexcare sensitive skin medical tape
When the surgeon removed the lump from Hastings's elbow, there wasn't enough skin to close the wound, and it was up to time to contract the skin and heal by itself. For a month, he went to the vet twice a week for a bandage change. At that time, Hastings was able to have a smaller bandage that left his paw free for use. Unfortunately, the bandage slipped every time he walked. We would have to fix and change his bandage 3 times a day, and the movement caused chafing on the wound that was trying to heal. More bad business! We couldn’t use regular tape on his fur (it would be painful to remove!), but this sensitive skin tape holds the bandage in place and peels off without hurting him on pulling his hair. Now the bandage stays in place during walks. Without the constant shifting and chaffing of the bandage, his wound is healing much faster. In fact, it is down to a tiny size and he'll be bandage free soon and ready to swim in the Bahamas. He's excited!
Pain free medical tape holds his bandage in place. Hastings is a very compliant patient. (Yes, it was 42 degrees yesterday with 30 knot winds. Sweater weather in Florida!) 
Potty Talk
Hastings preference is to go to land. If we are on a passage or there is no land in sight, he will go on the deck without encouragement. Sometimes it’s too rough to let him go on deck, so I have tried and tried and tried to get him to go in our shower. It’s fiberglass like the deck, and the pipe goes to the ocean, like the deck. However, he is humiliated and incensed by the suggestion, shuns pee pads, encouragement, and demonstrations. If we are on a passage and it’s rough out, we usually “heave-to”, which is a process of adjusting the sails to stop the boat. This makes the motion onboard much calmer and we walk him on a leash to the deck.

Food Onboard
Hastings has a wheat allergy and is on a limited ingredient diet. If he has wheat, his skin gets itchy and he gets ear infections. We buy a limited ingredient dry kibble from a pet store or order it on Amazon and have it delivered. He has tried about 10 different brands of dehydrated and freeze dried food. He has hated them all, to our great consternation and expense. We finally bought Halo freeze dried kibblets, 100% chicken, and he loves it! The other foods all tried to incorporate vile weeds and yuck berries (aka vegetables and fruits). Just give this dog his chicken! 

Conventional wisdom tells us that dogs should eat the same thing every day, however, this dog gets bored easily. He usually gets a few morsels of our dinner, and we switch out his wet/ treat food every few days. So he’ll have the freeze dried giblets for a few days, then roll salmon, then some tinned chicken. He has 24/7 access to his dry kibble. (We have a 13 gallon sealed tub to keep his dry food fresh after opening the bag). In prep for 4 months in the Bahamas, he’s getting a wide variety of everything he’ll eat.
Sometimes Pirate Patrol gets tiring!
We have made a lot of accommodations to help Hastings keep his sea legs. He loves boat life and loves his Independence!

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  1. Hastings is lucky to have both of you :-) I'm so glad he can make it down the treats aisle on his own now.

    1. Sometimes, at the dinghy dock, he stands next to the brand new Avon dinghy with the shiny 20 hp Honda, as if to say, I could be luckier if I had a nicer dinghy. :-)

    2. And of course, we are the lucky ones to have such a sweet dog who just keeps putting up with us. He's the best!

  2. I didn't realize Hastings was a senior dog. Our Sally lived aboard from the time she was 5 until she was 18 (give or take). When she started to lose her footing, we bought throw rugs and placed them all over the boat. It worked well (and helped keep the floors clean) but the Toe Grips are brilliant. I wish I would have known about them!

    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

    1. Sounds like Sally had a great life! The toe grips are amazing- it's really given Hastings a lot of freedom.

  3. Dog friendly boats are the best! When Mark bought our first boat, a monohull, he had his pups in mind to pick the brand and then, we bought a catamaran just for them. Much easier dog boats. :-) Those toe grips are interesting. Hastings is so lucky to have you guys as owners. I didn't realize he was 11.5 years old. Our dogs unfortunately didn't make it past 10, but they loved the boat life and the beaches. We had a cool mat as well and life jackets with handles, which were great in rough conditions. We actually only used them if we needed to lift them on and off the boat for some reason, like a rough anchorage.

    We had a floating doggy ladder as well, but rarely used it, since we didn't want to create a habit of our dogs getting in the water easily. We didn't want to encourage them to "leave" the boat, while we would not be around.

    1. The things we do for our dogs, eh?! Luckily for us Hastings doesn't actually love swimming, so he'll never purposefully go in the water. He does like wading at beaches at sandbars.


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