My sweet, loving Keira will be turning 10 years old in a few months. I worry about her aging and hate the fact that time is not on her side. She is a Labradoodle and the most loving, caring and supportive pet I’ve ever known. Just the thought of losing her makes my eyes tear up… but aging is part of our life circle and I want to know as much as I can about her aging process and share this with my readers, in the hope that it may help you and your pet too. We all know puppies are a handful. They definitely have their share of behavior challenges and we know what these behaviors are and expect them to occur at different stages. But what about our aging pets and their changes in behavior? Is this typical development or something to be medically worried about?
Separation Anxiety is by far the most common behavior change seen in senior dogs and the one that I see most often with Keira. It is because of her uncharacteristic response to me leaving that prompted me to research this topic. She now becomes anxious even when she suspects I’m getting ready to leave the house. A dog that has separation anxiety may become destructive, bark or howl, or urinate or defecate in the house. Also, a dog with separation anxiety may be overly excited when you return home. I unfortunately have the bruises to prove this. When I come home Keira is so excited that she has bitten down on my arm and left many a bruise.
Older dogs have physical changes that occur that may make separation anxiety even more pronounced. Neurologic changes may occur that actually limit a senior to adjust to change. Vision and hearing changes may make them anxious too. And especially so
Have you noticed your senior is cranky or less patient? Again, I have noticed this with Keira, which is not like her at all. Keira needs her space and will seek it out before she becomes aggressive. She’s a pro a removing herself from the situation, but not all dogs have this ability. Older dogs may become aggressive for several different reasons and the aggression can be the result of a medical condition. Always keep this in the forefront of your thinking if your dog displays any aggression and have them seen by the Vet. Pain (arthritis or dental problems) may be a cause as well as vision and hearing loss, which can result in the dog being easily startled. There are many diseases that have effects on the nervous system that can also cause aggression (cognitive dysfunction-see below). Sometimes a dog might just be hungre and need more calories or a different way to be fed. It’s so important to determine what factors may be contributing to the behavior so you can reduce or hopefully eliminate those factors.
Some older dogs become particularly sensitive to noise. You might think just the opposite since seniors tend to lose some hearing during the aging process. Noise is also difficult to figure out because many noises our dogs hear we do not. That said, it’s important to identify what is causing the problem and try to eliminate it. Treatment can include medication and desensitization techniques— again this is where a dog behaviorist really comes in handy!
- Confusion or disorientation
- Pacing and being awake at night or change in sleep patterns
- Accidents in the house when your senior was house-trained
- Decrease attentiveness or staring into space
- Not recognizing familiar people