Why Has my Older Pet's Behavior Changed?
I have a 15-year-old Siberian that has seizures from
a fractured skull due to abuse. She has mammary
cancer and lately has been demanding attention
which isn't her norm. Also, she has been whining
at night for no apparent reason.
Do you think this could be from progression of the cancer?
My vet moved to Utah so I can't ask him.
If you could help I would appreciate it.
Joshua Tree, CA
When dogs or cats exhibit unusual behaviors it can be very difficult to determine the cause. Vocalization (whining, meowing, or barking), agitation, attention seeking, evident anxiety and changes in eating patterns are reported commonly by my clients.
When they ask why such behaviors are occurring, I often must admit that I don't know.
Pain, fear, stress in the house, major life changes (marriage, divorce or the birth of a child) and a number of other issues can cause the types of behavior patterns that you describe.
However, in the case of your dog I am suspicious of cognitive dysfunction, or dementia. Elderly pets, like older people, may suffer from confusion, personality changes, fear, and other manifestations of senility.
Diagnosing dementia in humans is notoriously difficult. In pets, it is almost impossible. Cognitive function tests are available for humans (although people with dementia have a knack for beating the tests). No such diagnostic tools exist for cats or dogs.
I realize that your vet has moved out of state. But I recommend that you find a new one, and have him or her assess your dog for signs of pain or other medical problems that could be contributing to the behavior changes.
It sounds like the seizures have been happening for years (I am assuming that your dog was abused before you adopted her). Mammary tumors generally aren't painful, unless they are infected or have spread to other parts of the body.
Therefore, I'm guessing that your new vet will probably conclude that the behavior changes are caused by cognitive decline. In that case, there is some good news. Cognitive decline in pets rarely leads to serious problems with quality of life.