Your senior dog is not the puppy that they once were, and now that they are older you may begin to notice some strange behaviors. Many pet parents notice that their senior dog paces all night, doesn't respond to commands, or seems to have forgotten housetraining. These can be frustrating behaviors, but it's important to remember that as brains and bodies age, you may need to accommodate your senior dog.
Many common older dog behaviors are likely due to normal aging, such as reduced or painful mobility, organ decline, loss of hearing or sight, and natural cognitive decline. If your dog can't hear you well or finds it painful to move, they might be less likely to come when called or let you know when they need to go outside. Some senior dogs also become more aggressive, but this could be because it becomes harder to walk away from whatever is bothering them.
Just because these issues are common does not mean you should ignore these new behaviors in your senior dog. Some may be caused by a disease or injury, so report the problems to your veterinarian, who can determine if any conditions might be treatable.
Common New Behaviors Seen in Aging Dogs
For dogs without a specific disease or injury, many behaviors are commonly seen as general physical and cognitive decline:
• Confusion and disorientation: Many dogs can appear to be lost or confused in familiar places, even in your home. They may seem distressed the first few times this happens, but they should calm down once it becomes a common occurrence.
• Changes in responsiveness: Dogs may not seem to recognize family members or may respond poorly to commands.
• Vocalizations, restlessness, or new sensitivities: Some dogs may begin to perform repetitive behaviors or vocalizations, like howls or whimpers. Some older dogs may also seem more restless or develop separation anxiety, even if they never had it before. Older dogs can also become more sensitive to loud noises, like thunderstorms.
• Less activity: As you might expect, older dogs tend to slow down, but you may still be surprised when they start eating less or when they groom themselves less and may need help keeping clean. Some senior dogs also 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. During the night they may pace or vocalize which can be frustrating for pet parents.
• Loss of housetraining: Many dogs seem to lose their housetraining in their later years. They might begin to regularly go inside the house, have accidents, or forget to go while outside.
What You Can Do for Your Senior Dog
Work with your veterinarian to discuss any of these behaviors. Your vet will check to see if any indicate a treatable condition, or they may determine the behaviors are due to cognitive dysfunction syndrome, indicating normal cognitive decline.
• Medications: Your vet may prescribe medication, such as selegiline hydrochloride, to treat cognitive dysfunction syndrome and ease symptoms, or if separation anxiety is diagnosed, an anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed. Special food for senior dogs may also help with joint problems or other common aging issues.
• Training: You may want to work with an animal behaviorist if some of your dog's behaviors are causing major problems in your home. The behaviorist may be able to help with re-training, housetraining, creating hand signals for dogs that are hard of hearing, or finding other solutions for problem behaviors.
• Bed and Bathroom: Keep in mind that your dog is aging, and may be in pain, and be patient. Try to find ways to make them more comfortable, such as a heated dog bed which may soothe their joints and make it easier to sleep through the night. Allow for them to go to the bathroom more times during the day and night—this may mean someone will need to let them out during the work day or you may need to give them an indoor space like a dog litter box.
Also, be sure to find new ways to keep your dog stimulated and healthy, such as short walks, indoor training, and gentle play. Just because your dog is older doesn't mean they should lay idle around the house—find adjusted ways to keep them active.
Work with your vet on treatments, remain patient, and find new ways to keep your dog mentally and physically fit, and the two of you can enjoy happy and healthy time together.
More on Senior Dogs
The Best Dog Breeds For Older People
Everything You Need To Know About Aging Dog Care
The Best Senior Dog Pet Supplies
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.