Are you noticing your older dog is having trouble with navigating around the house? Is your dog more nervous when people come over, or during thunderstorms? Are you seeing grouchiness or irritability with a housemate dog? There are various behavior changes we can see as our dogs age. Often this is due to brain aging, but may be worsened by other health problems. The most common older dog behavior problems are:
- Anxiety or fear of noises, children, housemate dogs
- Aggression towards other dogs, children, being petted
- House soiling and accidents
- Confusion - can't find the door to go out, can't find owner when called, pacing and wandering in the home
- Compulsive behaviors - licking objects, floor or self, pacing continuously, digging in furniture excessively
All of these behaviors reflect aging changes in your dog which is affecting the brain chemistry. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome - think of doggie senility - happens in geriatric dogs, starting at age 10 in large breed dogs. Smaller dogs have a later onset, usually at 13 years or older. As the brain ages, the chemicals that help the memory and learning part of the brain decrease. This part of the brain is not working as well so the client will see problems in any of 4 areas. Disorientation (can't find the door, walks all over the house), Interaction such as greeting and play with the owner changes, Sleep interruption, or House soiling. Think DISH to remember the 4 areas you may see changes. It can be difficult to determine if these changes are due to Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, or something else. If a pet has early kidney disease, there will be house soiling problems. If the vision is decreasing, a common problem on older dogs, then they go to the wrong side of the door, or be confused about where they are. There are medications, supplements and diets that can help decrease the effects of this problem if they are caught early. If your dog is showing any of these changes, bring them to the veterinarian for a complete check up. Blood tests, urine tests and X Rays are an important part of this check up to rule out health problems and know what is best for your pet.
Pain causes lots of behavior changes. Humans do not interpret correctly when their dog is showing pain because it is different than when humans show pain. Also when dogs have arthritis and chronic pain they do not cry or limp at first. Instead they avoid being around active dogs or people. If they cannot get away from these things, then they may become grouchy or attempt to bite. This is how they are guarding their body from being bumped into or touched. Often, we see a friendly older dog snap when a younger dog has come to visit. That younger dog may have been jumping on or around this dog causing the older dog to have to move more aggravating pain troubles. Aggression in an older pet that was usually very calm is a red flag for body pain or problems. Get your pet to the veterinarian to screen for kidney, arthritis or other health problems. Much more is known now about reducing pain in pets with medications, supplements, massage therapy, diet, acupuncture, chiropractic and even laser therapy. A management plan for these dogs is essential to prevent pain and some of the behavior that comes with it. Do not let the medications, diet or other help lapse.
Anxiety, fear and compulsion problems can also arise in our geriatric dogs. Often these have a root cause in a source of inflammation in the body. It can also be the very first signs of Cognitive dysfunction syndrome. This is one of the most difficult problems in older dogs to figure out. Often a visit to a veterinarian behavior consultant like myself is needed to help your pet. The same blood and urine tests are needed to screen for internal problems. Often, I prescribe a combination of anti anxiety medications with products to help improve liver and kidney health.
If you are seeing changes in your older dog's behavior, please do not wait and just assume they are old or lazy. Your pet cannot tell you what is going on, and a visit to a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about both behavior and aging changes can help you out. The longer you wait, the more damage may be going on. As a certified low stress handling clinic, Okaw Veterinary Clinic is devoted to helping your pet be less upset for all parts of the exam, any tests and care. This is especially important in our older pets who may have difficult past veterinary exams. We can dispense anxiety reducing medications, pheromones and supplements that can help make the veterinary exam less upsetting also.