Behavior Changes in Senior Dogs

Posted by Devin Lake CVT at

With having a senior pet there are a lot of things to look out for such as illnesses, lumps/bumps, behavioral changes and dental issues. I know with my senior dog I have noticed a lot of changes, the one change that I first noticed was in his behavior. He started to have separation anxiety issues, and some other behavior changes such as compulsive licking of his forearms. These are just two of the behavior changes you might notice in your senior dog. Unfortunately, it’s common to start seeing behavior changes in your senior dog before you see signs of arthritis or other physical signs. Below are just three behavioral changes you might see in your older dog.

Behavior Changes in Senior Dogs

Separation and other anxiety issues:

  • Dogs might become irritable and show aggression towards unfamiliar people and their pets.
  • Dogs might become less tolerant to being restrained or touched by others.
  • Dogs might start following you around more and want more physical contact with you.
  • Dogs might become destructive especially around points of entry and exit.
  • Dogs might even refuse to eat while their family is away.
  • Best way to help:
    • Talk to an animal behaviorist, and your veterinarian.
    • Essential Oils such as lavender and chamomile.
      • Only use a drop or two and place it on something your dog can move away from!
      • Never put it directly on your dog

Behavior Changes in Senior Dogs

Compulsive Behaviors:

  • Repetitive, ritualized behaviors that have no function or end goal.
  • Self-injury by over licking, causing “hot spots.”
  • Air biting or fly snapping.
  • Staring into space and appearing to zone out.
  • Tail chasing.
  • Jumping and pacing.
  • Best way to help:
    • Always talk to your veterinarian first to rule out medical issues.
    • Talk to an animal behaviorist.
    • This can be caused by boredom so try some mind games or puzzles to keep them busy.

Behavior Changes in Senior Dogs

More Vocal:

  • Can indicate that your dog is disoriented due to cognitive dysfunction.
  • Can indicate that your dog is in pain.
  • Best way to help:
    • Talk to your veterinarian to rule out any medical condition.
    • If there is no physical cause talk to an animal behavior.


Behavior Changes in Senior Dogs

Cognitive Dysfunction Checklist

This is a checklist of possible changes you may see in your senior pet that could indicate cognitive dysfunction. Always seek advice from your veterinarian.

Confusion/Spatial Disorientation

  • Gets lost in familiar locations
  • Goes to the wrong side of the door (where the hinge is)
  • Gets stuck and can’t navigate around or over obstacles

Relationships/Social Behavior

  • Decrease interest in petting/contact
  • Decreased greeting behavior
  • Changes/problems with social hierarchy
  • overdependent and clingy

Activity Changes

  • Constant licking of themselves, family members or objects
  • Stares,fixates or snaps at objects
  • Pacing aimlessly
  • Vocalizes more
  • Increased appetite
  • Eats more food or eats more quickly
  • Explores less and responds less to things going on around him
  • Grooms himself less
  • Eats less

Anxiety/Increased Irritability

  • Restless or agitated
  • Separation anxiety
  • Increased irritability

Sleep-Wake Cycles/Reversed Day-Night Schedule

  • Constantly awakens at night
  • Sleepsmore during the day
  • Pacing/restless at night 

Learning and Memory

  • Uses body language less.
  • House soiling in random locations.
  • Eliminating indoors after returning from outside.
  • Decreased ability to perform tasks.
  • Difficulties recognizing familiar faces.

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