As your dog ages, he or she can suffer from multiple sicknesses, deterioration of senses, or anxiety issues. Whether it is an easy to spot issue like loss of sight or a more hidden problem like a brain tumor, you as a responsible dog owner should be able to recognize the side effects of certain problems your dog may be experiencing. As always, please report any changes in your dog’s behavior to your regular veterinarian so they can treat your “old dog” for any potential misfortunes in health.
Anxiety and Increased Irritability
Increased anxiety and irritability in dogs are two of the easiest signs of disease. Many times, a veterinarian will use this as a key symptom for a serious illness. For instance, if your geriatric dog develops a case of separation anxiety or gets antsy when you sleep, he or she may be suffering from an undiagnosed disease and will quit the behavior when the pain or discomfort is relieved. It is important to note when the anxiety occurs because this can be a good indicator of what problems your dog is experiencing. Anxiety can also come in the form of fear, when the dog’s senses start declining. Understandably, loss of sight, smell or hearing causes a great sense of fear in your animal and can cause it to have heightened anxiety in certain situations.
Confusion and Disorientation
Confusion and disorientation occurs when your dog is suffering from some kind of cognitive dysfunction. Just as in humans, old age can cause dementia in dogs, resulting in loss of memory, activity change, sleep cycle disturbances, decline in responsiveness & even training lapses. This can include inability to perform everyday functions or a decreased response to known training cues or certain people. Cognitive dysfunction can be treated by your dog’s veterinarian with certain medications and/or supplements. Behavioral treatment may also be necessary based on specific problems your dog is having.
Many habits that senior dogs form as their age increases, are annoying and stressful. As humans, we tend to misunderstand the behavior and unnecessarily punish the dog for simply being a dog. For example, destructive behavior such as chewing on inedible objects can be a form of pica. Pica is a side effect of cognitive dysfunction and is common among older canines. Other destructive behaviors may be caused by anxiety, fear or and untreated disease that is causing your dog to suffer. To prevent this behavior, try restricting your dog to certain areas of your home that might prohibit such destructive behavior. As far as other annoying behaviors, such as excessive barking or howling, can be provoked by a stressful situations, an urge to eat or eliminate, sudden pain, or fear. The specific cause for your dog would need to be determined by a veterinary behaviorist as there could be a number of reasons for the behavior change. One thing to note, punishing your dog for these behaviors can sometimes worsen the situation as the dog just gets more stressed out.
Defecation & Compulsive Disorders
Feces or urine is the most unpleasant thing for a dog owner to find in their home. If this is becoming a common treasure in your home, your old dog could be suffering from a neuromuscular condition (affects dog’s mobility), brain tumor, or endocrine system disorder. The new bad habit could also be caused by a sudden change in atmosphere or schedule. This can also be the cause for numerous other bad or strange habits. If you notice that your dog is compulsively grooming themselves, staring at nothing, snapping at air, or tail chasing, it may actually be due to a cognitive dysfunction. Because the dog is in what he or she considers a stressful environment, it engages in displacement behaviors much like we do when we find ourselves stressed out. We find something to distract us. Some humans watch TV and some exercise, but both are ways to avoid the stress. These displacement behaviors can become harmful if your dog is doing them excessively. For instance, dogs sometimes groom themselves to a point of self-injury (hot spots) or start eating inedible objects like plastic or paper. Once again behavior disorders such as these should be brought up to your pet’s physician immediately to avoid increased symptoms.
Your dog is your best friend and you should take care of him or her as such. There are many products out there that can help your dog feel more comfortable in their final days. For instance a nice orthopedic dog bed can give dogs with arthritis a good night sleep, resulting in more energy and a better attitude.