What to Expect in Your Aging Senior Dog
10 December, 2013

As our dogs age, there are many ways in which they change physically and emotionally.  Sometimes, they lose their hearing or develop arthritis or a combination of the above.  And, everything they do is a little slower.  But, how can we tell if their actions and reactions are a function of normal age regression or is it a medical condition?

As our dogs age, just as in human, they suffer a decline in functioning. Their memory, their ability to learn, their awareness and their senses of sight and hearing can all deteriorate. It can make them forget previously learned commands or habits they once knew well, such as house training and coming when called. It can increase their anxiety and tendency to react aggressively.

Understanding the changes your dog can help you effectively deal with behavior problems that may arise in your dog’s senior years.  As always, make sure to visit your veterinarian to rule out a medical condition.

Separation anxiety in our senior dogs

Some common behavioral issues in aging dogs are their increased sensitivity and irritability, increased fear of unfamiliar pets and people, decreased tolerance of touch and restraint and increased anxiety when left alone. Noise sensitivity from hearing loss can also make some dogs more anxious and vocal. Your own frustration and distress over your dog’s behavior can add to your dog’s anxiety as well.  Make sure not to get too frustrated which is hard when we love our pups.

You can pinpoint the behavior as separation anxiety if that they occur when you are away. If these behaviors occur while you or your family members are home, other issues may be causing them instead. For example, if your dog soils in the house both when you’re gone and when you’re home, you probably have a house training problem. The same is true of destructiveness. If destructive chewing happens when you’re home, it’s a training issue, not separation anxiety.

What makes separation anxiety more apparent in senior dogs is that it can manifest as nighttime anxiety as if your dog views your sleeping as a form of separation. Your dog may keep you awake by pacing, panting and pawing at you, whining and/or demanding attention. This type of separation anxiety may indicate undiagnosed disease, and it can be relieved by treating the disease or, at minimum, relieving your dog’s pain or discomfort. A thorough examination by your dog’s veterinarian can determine whether there’s a medical basis for your dog’s anxiety.

Excessive Vocalization

Your senior dog’s vocalizing can become a problem if he does it too often or at inappropriate times, like when you’re sleeping. Anxious vocalizing is usually excessive whining. If your dog does it only when you’re gone, it could indicate separation anxiety.

Loss of hearing, cognitive dysfunction, central nervous system disorders and medical conditions can all contribute to your dog’s excessive vocalization. Your pup might whine or howl if he feels the urge to eliminate more, if he’s overeating and wants you to give him more food, or if he’s in pain. If your dog has become more fearful and anxious, he might begin vocalizing at things that scare or stress him, like noises or visitors. Have your vet do a thorough diagnosis and if all is well, try exercising your dog more to calm him or her down.

Restlessness / Waking at Night

Dogs that sleep more during the day can become more restless and active at night. Some dogs start overreacting to things they once ignored, like the garage door opening or the newspaper being delivered. Keeping a record can help you identify what triggers your dog’s nighttime activity.

Sensory changes, such as eyesight or hearing loss, can affect your dog’s depth of sleep.  Try increasing your dog’s daytime and evening activity by giving him frequent walks, playing his favorite games, practicing obedience or tricks, and giving him food-puzzle toys and bones to chew.

Aggression

A multitude of factors can contribute to an increase in a dog’s aggressive behavior. Medical conditions that affect your dog’s appetite, mobility, cognition, senses or hormones can lead to increased aggression, as can conditions that cause him pain or irritability. Increased aggression toward unfamiliar people and animals can arise from your dog’s increasing anxiety and sensitivity as he ages.

The above behavioral patterns are very normal in older dogs.  The most important thing you can do for your senior dog is to make him feel comfortable and calm.  Also, exercise can help his physical and emotional well being and keep him more tired and his bones more pliable.

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