Aging is all about change. Whether it is in the physical characteristics of the organism or in some other aspects of its being, there are changes that occur with age. Take for instance Fido. A puppy can start as a rambunctious little Napoleon. It can also grow into a well-behaved, all-purpose working dog for your family. And as it reaches its golden years, you can expect its temperament to mimic that of elderly humans – mellow. Some can also become forgetful and experience anxiety that’s reminiscent of their younger years. If you have a dog that is entering its golden years, here are some behaviors that you can expect.
One of the things that might seem odd for an aging dog is an increasing tendency to bark. While it is true that many senior dogs will do just fine lying on their comfortable doggie bed all day long, there are also those that tend to bark in a very annoying way.
In many cases, the senior dog may already be suffering from cognitive dysfunction, leading to disorientation. It could bark at the slightest noise coming from the backyard. In some instances, there might not be anything worthy of barking at. However, the dog feels the need to bark because of cognitive impairment. Sometimes, declining visual acuity can also make a dog bark a lot more. All it sees are hazy images. Barking is its way of announcing its presence to whomever or whatever owns these “hazy” images.
Increased barking tendencies in older dogs can also be a sign of discomfort or pain. When humans are in pain, we cry. Some of us will also shout. Dogs cannot do that. The only thing that they can do is bark, whine, or let out a lingering howl. It’s also possible that the senior dog is already suffering from hearing impairment.
Increased Spatial Disorientation or Confusion
Two other signs of cognitive decline in dogs are spatial disorientation and confusion. In some cases, the dog gets lost, though the location is quite familiar. For example, the dog no longer knows how to go to the backyard or the garden. Pet parents can find the elder hound walking in circles trying to figure out what to do next.
The dog can also have difficulty navigating over or around obstacles. If you put a chair in the dog’s path, there is a chance that it may stop right there and then. The dog no longer knows that it can maneuver around the chair. The same is true when in the outdoors. You can stumble upon a fallen tree branch and the dog already whines.
All of these things can happen because of the diminishing function of the dog’s brain. Its cognition is no longer working as efficiently as it once did. Sensory deficits like reduced visual acuity and hearing can also complicate spatial disorientation.
Increased Inability to Get Quality Sleep
Because the brain of older dogs is no longer functioning as well as it used to, senior canines can have difficulty maintaining a good night’s sleep. Some tend to overreact to even the slightest noise. This can have an impact on the quality of the hound’s sleep. In turn, the loss of sleep begets other health problems that worsen other existing problems.
Frequent waking up at night among elderly dogs can also be due to a problem in their kidneys. With aging comes the inability to hold off urination. Urinary incontinence is very common among older canines. This affects the quality of sleep.
The same is true for senior pets that may have bowel incontinence. They may already have lost their ability to control their bowel movements. When they are sleeping, they may feel the urge to defecate all of a sudden. Again, this affects their sleep patterns.
Changes in the Dog’s Social Behavior
Senior dogs can also begin showing changes in their social behavior. There are two possible scenarios here. One is that the dog may be less interested in social activities while the other is the opposite.
Some elderly dogs no longer appreciate petting or greeting people. These furry friends may find social interactions to be less appealing. They might not go near another dog or show interest in people that they used to find very interesting. Some of these dogs show aversion to petting because of the pain that they are experiencing. Most will have arthritis and petting them can only exacerbate the condition.
On the other hand, there are also senior dogs that can show increased attention-seeking behavior. These canines show excessive dependence and clinginess to their human owners. They are like shadows that follow their owners wherever they are. While it is difficult to ascertain why some canines behave this way, it could be because of a sense of vulnerability. The older dog is no longer capable of keeping its integrity. Hence, it has to secure it from its human master.
There are many reasons why dogs can get very anxious. As they reach their golden years, this anxiety only seems to grow worse. For the most part, increased irritability and sensitivity are the hallmarks of anxiety in elderly dogs. They become over-reactive to mundane events and ordinary objects. They may find a playful puppy as being too rambunctious for their own good.
Separation anxiety is also common among senior dogs. They may show increased salivation, panting, and pacing whenever their owners are preparing to go to work. These dogs can get depressed as their masters prepare to leave.
Senior dogs may also refuse to eat if left alone. This can lead to nutritional problems that can further worsen any existing medical condition. There are also those dogs that become destructive the moment their owners step outside the house. They can bark, chew on furniture, and urinate in areas where they shouldn’t.
Increased Soiling in Areas Where the Dog Shouldn’t
There is always the possibility of behavioral problems as the cause of increased soiling inside the house. Senior dogs that are very anxious can urinate or defecate in areas where they shouldn’t. This is often the case in dogs that have severe separation anxiety.
However, anxiety is not the only reason why your elderly dog may be turning your house into its personal potty. Reduced mobility can also cause this behavior change. Dogs with hip dysplasia and other arthritic conditions will find it very difficult to move. Instead of heading for its potty in the backyard, your living room will have to suffice.
This is also true for dogs with bowel and bladder issues. As dogs age, the integrity of the sphincters of the anus and the urethra may no longer be functioning very well. This means the dog cannot hold back the passing of its stool or the spraying of urine anymore. It is also possible that the dog has brain cancer or other serious organ dysfunction that is causing the urinary and bowel incontinence.
Increased Fear and Phobias
A senior hound will have reduced sensory abilities. It may not be able to see things very well. That’s why it can bump into objects. It may not also recognize the people that it used to play with. When you combine this with their problems in mobility, it makes it very difficult for senior dogs to navigate around simple obstacles. Senior hounds also have hearing difficulties. Everything sounds muffled to them.
These situations are very frightening to a dog. That is why you may see your elderly dog cowering in fear. Your hound becomes frustrated at its growing inability to do the things it used to do with great efficiency. Loud noises, strangers, and new and unfamiliar objects are some of the things that an elderly dog can become terrified by.
There are two possible explanations as to why some senior dogs tend to become more destructive than they ever were. First, it can be due to cognitive impairment. Disorientation and confusion can bring about distortions in the dog’s ability to perceive its environment. It may perceive a piece of cloth as its natural enemy, thus, shredding it to bits. Some dogs may eat inedible objects like pencils. They can lick at almost anything they can touch with their tongue. Elderly canines may dig and scratch as if their owners did not train them not to do so.
The other reason is related to the presence of a medical condition. Pain syndromes can cause severe anxiety in dogs that the only thing they can do is to vent their frustration on something else. They can bite and chew cherished objects as a means of alleviating the pain. It is also possible that the dog may show unprovoked aggression, which is a different form of destructiveness altogether.
Aging can bring about different changes in a dog’s behavior. These can be due to a decline in its cognitive abilities or related to the presence of a medical problem. As pet parents of geriatric canines, it’s our responsibility to bring our dogs to the vet to help rule out the possibility of organic causes to these behavioral changes.