Behavioral Changes in Senior Pets

Feb 20, 2020   Tracey Aston   Senior Pet Care

Like us, as our pets begin to age, they go through many physical and mental changes. Some of the changes are more obvious like limping and mobility issues, needing more rest and vision and sight changes. However, other changes like mental and behavioral changes can be harder to pinpoint.  

As pets enter their senior years, they can start to what is known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.  While the diagnoses are not identical, some liken it to dementia or senility. As with all pets - and even more so in seniors - always check with your veterinarian to rule out any physical conditions that may be causing your pet's behavioral or emotional changes. Once a pet gets a clean bill of health, and is still exhibiting signs of confusion, anxiety, decreased interaction, sleeping difficulty or accident in the house, it may be time to consider the possibility of cognitive dysfunction.  To remember the signs of cognitive dysfunction remember the acronym DISH - disorientation, interaction, sleep disruption and house soiling (accidents.)

Disorientation can show in the forms of wandering around the house, forgetting what door is used to potty time, being unable to locate their food or water bowls, spacing out, getting stuck in rooms and forgetting how to get out.  Pets may also show signs of obsessive behavior such as licking, howling, whining or barking.

Interaction changes with the family are the easiest to notice. Some pets will become overly clingy while others want no interaction at all. If you notice your pet no longer comes to greet you at the door, and they aren't dealing with arthritis or joint issues, they no longer are interested in their favorite toys and their walks no longer get them excited these could be signs of cognitive dysfunction.

Sleeping patterns can also change. Some dogs will wake with anxiety and whine, bark and howl to get their owners attention. Sleeping the daytime can also cause a sleep cycle to become unbalanced. While senior dogs definitely need more rest as they age, sleeping all day long and not sleeping at night can be a hard habit to break and can cause pet parents to also lose sleep.

When a formerly house trained pet starts having accidents in the house it could be a sign they are forgetting to ask to go out or forgetting where they proper door is. Keep in mind, as our pets begin to age, they will be less likely to ‘hold it' as long as they did in their youth. Also make sure to ask your veterinarian about a possible kidney problem or bladder infection.

If you believe your senior pet is starting to show signs of cognitive dysfunction, talk to your veterinarian about possible medications and supplements to help a pet be more independent or lessen the severity of symptoms.

As a pet parent there are several ways we can sooth our pets with cognitive decline -  keep their daily routine consistent, create a safe space for your pet with soothing music, a TV on, or a comfy bed. For pets with house soiling issues, take them outside within certain intervals during the day, similarly to when they were being house trained. This may not eliminate accidents completely, but it can lessen the frequency.  If pets are having difficulty finding their food or water bowls, move them closer to the area they spend most of their time and allow easy access.  Continue to provide mental stimulation for your pet to help keep their minds sharp and focused. Our article Activities for Senior Pets offers many different ways we can keep our senior pets engaged.

While there is no cure for cognitive decline and dysfunction, there are ways to help alleviate the symptoms and provide our pets with gentle care in their golden years. Our faithful friends need us more now than ever. Their eyes may be cloudy and their reaction time not what it once was, but they are still the same best friend they have always been. Treat them with patience, compassion and kindness in the twilight years of their life. 

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