What Behavioral Changes Can I Expect from an Older Dog?
Your puppy has grown up into a beautiful dog, is probably much better about doing the duty in the right time and place, and hopefully has a good understanding of the household rules. When your dog is entering his senior years, behavioral changes are a normal part of life. Learning about how your fuzzy family member is aging can help you understand what is normal for your dog.
Behavior Changes Due to Aging
Veterinarian Dr. Jeremy Grossbard says the most important thing to remember is that age is not a disease. It’s important to recognize that aging is normal and that changing behavior is a part of that.
General “Slowing Down”
When your dog is in his senior years, settling into a more relaxed pace of life is to be expected. Puppies are full of energy for learning and growing, but now that your dog is older, you can expect less intensity with playtime and less interest in toys. Your dog may choose some favorites and not be interested in new-fangled ideas. It’s still important to have regular playtime with your pet and to keep favorite toys available. A normal exercise routine is also a good part of a daily routine. Dr. Grossbard’s biggest tip for this time of life: “Spend time with them.” It’s truly the most important aspect of your canine relationship.
Regular rest and naps are important for a senior dog’s health. Keeping a bed or mat on the first floor, near where you spend the majority of your day, lets your dog rest comfortably and feel the social bond of being close to you.
If you do notice sudden changes in your dog’s behavior or rest patterns, go to the vet. This can be indicative of major health problems, ranging from heart disease to neurological issues. Any significant or rapid onset of behavioral change is worthy of concern.
Vision and Hearing Loss
It’s normal for nearly every dog to experience some vision and hearing loss with age, just as we do. This can affect your dog’s behavior as well. He may not hear you when you call from far away, or he might be afraid to walk around in the dark or stop hanging out in a previously favorite shady nook. You can help your dog feel more comfortable by keeping stairways lit, using nightlights to make dark corners less scary, and keeping a closer range for a diminished earshot distance. Also keep toys and playthings in open areas where your dog will be more comfortable playing.
Cataracts are more serious and make your dog’s vision cloudy all the time, not just at night. A vet eye specialist can perform surgery to remove cataracts or prescribe eyedrops to help improve vision. Detached retinas are another concern. If your dog seems afraid to move, is running into things, or doesn’t seem to hear any sounds, go to the vet right away.
Common Ailments that Affect Behavior
There are many senior dog health issues to watch out, and some can affect behavior. Two major categories are called out below, but always consult your vet with any behavioral concerns.
Dr. Grossbard explains that some level of dementia will affect almost all pets. This can affect their daily habits, meaning they may sleep more during the day and pace more at night. Your dog might stare into space, unaware of his surroundings, crying and acting nervous at these times. A change in eating patterns or loss of housebreaking can also be associated with dementia.
While dementia cannot be reversed, your vet may recommend medications or dietary supplements to slow the progression. Talk with your vet about the best treatment options for your specific dog, and visit your vet immediately with any sudden changes.
The best thing you can do at home is spend time with your dog and let him know how much you love him with plenty of playtime and snuggles. This is a confusing time for your pet, and being supportive in this way is very important.
Dogs may experience some joint stiffness with age. It may take your dog a while to limber up after lying down, or he may whine and be unable to jump into the car for a joyride. This is normal, but pain is not.
Pets are instinctively guarded about showing signs of pain. Dr. Grossbard says, “In the wild, dogs and cats don’t act like they are painful because that puts up a big neon sign that tells a predator, ‘Hey, come eat me.’ Our pets may be instinctually preprogrammed to not show off their pain.”
Your dog could have one of many reactions to pain. Some become stoic and guarded, others may paw or lick a specific place without stopping, some won’t eat or drink, and others will cry and whine. The bottom line is that if you suspect your pet is in pain, you need to go to the vet.