Cognition and Anxiety Issues in Senior Dogs

As dogs change from adults into seniors, behavioral changes are sure to follow. Because of this, protective pet parents must become proactive pet parents to ensure their cherished companions receive the extra care they require.

For senior dogs without a specific disease or injury, these are some of the most common behaviors associated with their overall physical and cognitive decline:

Confusion and disorientation: Many dogs may appear lost or confused in familiar surroundings, including their own home. While they may seem distressed the first few times this happens, they generally calm down once it’s become a common occurrence.

Changes in responsiveness: Dogs may appear to not recognize family members and may respond poorly to basic commands.

Vocalizations, restlessness and/or new sensitivities: Some dogs may begin to perform repetitive behaviors or vocalizations such as whimpers or howls, become more restless or develop separation anxiety even if they’ve never had it before, and/or become more sensitive to loud noises like thunderstorms.

Reduced activity: Not only will most older dogs slow down physically, they may also eat less, groom themselves less, and become less affectionate.

Changes in the sleep-wake cycle: Many senior dogs experience disturbances in their sleep cycle, leading them to sleep during the day and stay awake at night when they may pace and/or vocalize.

Changes in house training: Many seem to lose their house training skills causing them to have frequent accidents inside and/or forget to go when they’re outside.

To provide the best possible care for your senior dog, start by having him thoroughly examined and tested by your vet. The results will reveal whether his new behaviors are due to a treatable condition or to canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, i.e. normal cognitive decline.

If your dog does suffer from cognitive dysfunction syndrome, your vet may prescribe a medication like selegiline hydrochloride to help ease his symptoms. If he’s been diagnosed with separation anxiety, your vet may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication for him. In addition, specially formulated food for senior dogs can help with joint problems and many other common aging issues he might have.

If some of your dog’s behaviors have become highly disruptive, consider working with an experienced animal behaviorist. The behaviorist may be able to help him relearn a few basic commands, improve his house training skills, create hand signals for him if he’s now hard of hearing, and suggest solutions for a variety of other problems.

Find new or modified ways of keeping your senior dog active, stimulated, and healthy, including short walks, indoor training and gentle playtime. Any activity is better for his brain and his body than no activity at all.

Remember too, that as your dog ages, he may be in pain, and because of this, do your best to be patient and gentle with him. Find ways to make him more comfortable, such as providing him with a heated dog bed that may soothe his joints and make it easier for him to sleep through the night. Take him outdoors to potty more often during the day and before bedtime, and/or provide him with an indoor doggy litter box. But most of all, remember he’s the same dog you’ve always loved and who’s always loved you, and that, with all the resources at your disposal, your time together can still be quality time.

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