As dogs get older, they tend to exhibit some behavioral changes. The changes may appear suddenly or show up gradually over the years. In older dogs the ability to function properly is often obstructed. Their memory, sense of sight, touch, hearing, their ability to learn new things, and their awareness deteriorates. Their social relationships with you and other dogs may also change. It’s important for you understand the behavioral changes your dog is undergoing, so that you can deal with him more effectively.
Here are some of the most common behavior changes in aging dogs
Aggression is a common behavior in aging dogs and may be caused by various things such as a pain-causing medical problems (dental problem or arthritis), cognitive dysfunction, introduction of a new pet or dog, a new family member, lack of mobility in such as way that the dog cannot defend itself from something or someone irritating him or vision or hearing loss where he may be startled easily. If your old dog has become aggressive lately, identifying the factors triggering the aggression can help you eliminate it or reduce it effectively.
Anxiety in older dogs is also very common. Your dog may seem restless and agitated, or become irritated. He may become anxious especially after being separated from you or other family members. This type of anxiety is commonly referred to as “separation anxiety.” Inability to cope with changes in routine, vision or hearing loss, and neurological changes may cause the dog to become anxious and irritable. To treat such changes, be sure to consult your veterinarian and an animal behaviorist who will come up with a plan that will relieve anxiety and lessen the irritation.
The sound of an airplane will make your old dog run into hiding and start barking (while still hiding). If you notice such behavior, your dog may be suffering from noise phobia. Older dogs are overly sensitive to noise; including those that have lost their hearing (unlike humans, dogs can hear sound frequencies). Common factors that cause noise phobia include immobility where he is unable to move away from the source of the noise, cognitive dysfunction, and increased stress. Common noise phobia treatment in older dogs may include desensitization, counter condition, and medication.
Cognitive dysfunction is prevalent in aging dogs and may exhibit symptoms such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Common symptoms of the condition include;
- Confusion or Disorientation - The dog may lose the ability to navigate the house or forget familiar places in the house. For example, he may get trapped in house corners, behind furniture, or get lost in the backyard.
- Decreased Interest in Socializing - Your dog may show lack of interest in social interactions such as playing, petting, grooming, greeting people or other dogs. He may also need constant contact and attention, and may become clingy and over-dependent.
- Decrease Activity Level - You may notice decreased interest in going outside or decreased responses to sounds outside. He may also lose appetite.
- Increased/Repetitive Activity - Your dog may pace repeatedly or wander aimlessly, stare, fixate, or snap at objects, vocalize more (barking, whining, or howling), lick family members or various objects more often, or eat more food or eat quickly.
- Changes in Sleep Patterns - Old dogs tend to change sleeping patterns as they age. Your dog may sleep during the day and awaken at night. He may also sleep restlessly. This behavior may be caused by loss of vision or hearing, pain, the need to urinate or defecate, neurological conditions, or change in appetite.
- House Soiling - House soiling is common in aging dogs, even those that have been house-trained for years. This may be a sign of an underlying medical condition causing an increased frequency or uncontrollable urination or defecation. Such medical conditions may include bladder stones or infections, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, kidney or liver disease, diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s disease, or inflammation of the prostate. Other conditions that make it difficult for the dog to urinate or defecate outside include arthritis due to pain, loss or vision, or anal sac disease. Proper treatment of these conditions may eliminate the house soiling problem.
Majority of the behavioral changes you see in your old dog may be due to underlying medical conditions. It’s therefore highly advisable to have him examined by a veterinarian. A behavioral specialist may also offer advice on how to handle these behavior changes.