Recognizing Behavioral Changes in Senior Dogs

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Recognizing Behavioral Changes in Senior Dogs: Dogs go through phase and changes just like humans as they age. Behavioral problems in senior dog are common, but I can be hard to figure out why the change is taking place and what, if anything these changes mean.  What can be done and is your dog is pain are things to consider.  Some changes are behavioral in nature, some seems like behavioral, but might really be physical, but can manifest in a behavior change.  Another set of problems are related to cognitive decline changing the way to dog acts.

True Behavioral Problems

Seniors dogs behavioral problems are similar to those seen in younger animals and may include problems such as separation anxiety, aggression, and phobias. These are usually issues the dog had when younger, not new unseen behaviors.  Most of the time the behavior is the manifestation of a physical issue. This is our dog protecting themselves or maybe even attempting to communicate with us they are in physical distress.

Behavioral Symptoms due to Medical Problem

Because a change in behavior is frequently the first indication of an underlying medical problem, reviewing all medical records relating to the dog’s clinical history is vital. An old injury that seemed fine and healed may now be bothering the dog.
Any medical problem can potentially contribute to a dog’s developing behavioral problems. Discomfort or pain can lead to behavioral changes such as pacing, restlessness, night waking, and aggression. The most common sources of pain she encounters in senior dogs that cause behavioral changes are musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal tract issues.

Dogs with underlying musculoskeletal problems may show behaviors such as aggression when they are lying down and forced off furniture, excessive licking of their feet or joints, and aggression toward other dogs in the family that occurs outside. To help identify musculoskeletal problems,

GI tract problems may cause food aggression. In particular, new cases of food aggression directed toward people have the possibility of underlying GI tract issue. Dogs with GI tract pain may also have nausea, which may cause anxiety that manifests as chewing of various objects. Dogs with GI disease typically show other signs as well, such as excessive swallowing or picky eating.

Many medical conditions may have nonspecific or similar causes, your dog needs to be seen by the vet.  The vet needs to perform a thorough clinical examination, as well as baseline laboratory testing including a urinalysis, to help identify underlying problems. These results will indicate any issue and be a guide regarding additional diagnostic testing.

Senior dog laying on his dog bed

Cognitive Decline

Many medical conditions in older dogs have signs that mimic those of cognitive decline.
The following are some examples

  • Disorientation: Dogs may walk aimlessly, stare at walls, or lose balance and fall.
  • Interactions: Dogs may begin to interact differently with people or other pets in the home.
  • Sleep: Dogs that previously slept through the night may now be restless during the night or wake frequently.
  • House soiling: Dogs may no longer alert the owner to the need to go outside and may urinate indoors or be incontinent.
  • Activity level changes: Dogs may be restless, agitated, or show other signs of anxiety such as separation anxiety; they may stop grooming or may have a decreased appetite.

Treating Behavioral Problems

Vets should treat any underlying medical issues first. Treatment plans may also require medications or changes in how the owner manages the dog.

It is possible to do behavioral modification techniques in older. Being patient, gentle and using treats or rewards to redirect to desensitize and counter condition dogs that fear noises, scary stimuli, and being alone,
Owners may also need to implement various management changes, depending on the dog’s behavioral problem. For example, in cases involving food aggression, owners should feed the dog where it cannot be disturbed. In cases involving house soiling, owners should take the dog outside more frequently to urinate, including as late as possible before bedtime. Owners may also wish to teach their dog a cue for elimination if the dog is easily distracted when outside. Combination approach combines medical, behavioral, and environmental management strategies, with drug therapy as needed. This approach can help to improve quality of life for both the dog and the owner.

 



Alexa Diaz
Alexa Diaz

Alexa graduated from University of California, Davis with a Ph.D. in Animal Behavior in 2002. She also has a background at a veterinary technician. She is currently the head behaviorist at the K9 Training Institute. Her passion is helping pet owners understand the body language of their pet to strengthen the human-animal bond. Alexa enjoys spending time in nature with her husband and playing with her kitties. She says her proudest moment was graduating the first group of service dogs she trained for children with disabilities.



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