The other day I went to visit a friend’s mother in a nursing home. When we were growing up, this woman was so sweet, always baking us cookies and other goodies when we came home from school. That is why I was so alarmed by the change in her behavior. She was combative, anxious and disoriented. Unfortunately, she was recently diagnosed with dementia.
I have seen a similar decline in older dogs as well. Their memories often fade, along with their hearing and eyesight. Their sleep patterns can be disrupted, causing them to sleep during the day and be awake most of the night. They may become incontinent, suddenly having accidents throughout the house. Their appetite may decrease while their anxiety increases.
As dog owners, it is our responsibility to detect these changes and adapt to their behaviors as our dogs age. Some problems may not be related to old age, so it is important you report any changes in your dog’s behavior to his vet.
Here are some behaviors that may be due to your dog’s increasing years:
- Separation anxiety. Older dogs tend to become more anxious when their owners leave. Vision and hearing loss, coupled with neurological disorders may make senior dogs more anxious. You may need to alter your dog’s routine slightly. If you are gone for long periods during the day, consider a dog walker who can take him outside for some exercise. Older dogs may need to go out more frequently to do their business. Also, many dogs feel safer in a crate.
- Aggression. Your older dog may suddenly become aggressive. This can be due to pain (arthritis), a lack of mobility, or diseases having a direct effect on the nervous system such as dementia. If you add a puppy into the household, the older dog may try and exert his dominance.
- Hearing. Unfortunately, they do not have hearing aids for dogs! You may need to get closer for your dog to hear you or talk to him face to face.
- Vision. Your dog’s vision may decline. It is important to have him checked by your vet for cataracts.
- Listlessness. Your dog may not have as much energy, which is to be expected.
- Disorientation. Your dog may get lost in familiar situations. Think about it … as you age, how many times have you walked into a room and forgot what you came to get?
- Appetite. Your dog’s appetite may change. Either he may eat more or more commonly, eat less.
- House soiling. Your dog may start to eliminate indoors after he has just been outside. First you need to rule out all medical conditions such as Cushing’s, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, bladder stones or inflammation of the prostate. Check the color of your dog’s urine and stool, the frequency of urination and any changes in eating or drinking habits. It might simply be that your dog is incontinent and needs to go out more often.
- Loss of mobility. As dogs age, they often develop arthritis which can make it painful to get out of their beds or get up and down steps. In fact, this is the reason HelpEmUp dog harness was developed – to give dogs with a mobility issue or hip dysplasia a little lift!
The main thing you have to realize is with older dogs is that you are going to have to be more patient. Your first line of defense is to have your senior dog evaluated by your vet at least once or twice a year to rule out any medical conditions. The key is to make your dog’s remaining years a quality time for you both.