Old Dog Behavior Changes
Senior Dogs Get Alzheimers Too!
Owners of geriatric dogs often call their veterinarian office concerned about their old dog's recent odd behavioral changes. They may report that their dog may wake up in the middle of the night and start howling. Others may report their very well house-trained dog gets up and has accidents around the house or wakes up to drink and then shortly after urinates on the carpet. I know about these instances as I have personally taken these phone calls when working for the veterinary hospital.
I recall an owner one day calling concerned about her dog because he started wandering around the home at night bumping into furniture and hardly recognizing her. He would then sleep for most of the day undisturbed. The owner was unable to sleep properly and was very concerned by this recent worrisome behavior. Afterward, the dog also changed behavior, from an outgoing dog he became quite passive and hardly listened to her commands.
While all the above instances required a careful evaluation by the vet via a thorough physical and geriatric blood-work sent to a lab, most instances turned out to be simply signs of good old aging. Just as it may happen in humans, dogs tend to approach their golden years by losing parts of their cognitive function. Some may lose some, some may lose more. Many refer to these cases affectionately as "doggy Alzheimer's" while medically, this condition is abbreviated as CDS, which stands for Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.
Symptoms Suggesting Senior Dog Behavior Changes
CDS has become pretty common as we hear more and more about it. If we think about it, after all, dogs are living always longer lives and therefore, they are more prone to all the diseases and conditions that seniority seems to bring along. There are some typical key CDS symptoms that may help dog owners understand better the condition and prompt them to have the vet perform a thorough check up. Below are some symptoms that may suggest, but not yet confirm CDS:
Old Dogs Learn New Tricks, But Forget Commands
Senior dogs may forget some simple commands they have known all their lives. If your geriatric dog refuses to sit when asked to, do not scold him or think he is just acting out. Just as a person affected by Alzheimer's may forget a family member's name, a dog may forget a command and perceive it as something completely new you are requesting. However, it's also a good idea to check his joints checked out, as reluctance or refusal to sit or lie down may be also associated with degenerative joint disease.
A Blank Stare of Seeing Imaginary Things
Dogs affected by CDS may stare for no apparent reason a wall or any other object. Some may even chase imaginary objects or bark while nothing is there. A routine check up is recommended as there are some neurological disorders and seizures that may cause this type of symptomatology.
Familiar Rooms Turn into a Big Maze
Some dogs will get up in the middle of the night and wander around bumping into furniture as they look for their way out. Some may get easily distressed and panic as they try to find the way back to bed. Some dogs will howl or get stuck in a corner without finding their way out.
From Normal Sleeper to Night Owl
Some times the dog may have difficulty recognizing the difference between night and day and forget all about the routines. These are the dogs that will wake up at night and start having accidents around the house or start drinking or eating in the middle of the night. Afterward, they will sleep during the day and have no more accidents.
Debating on Being Indoor or Outdoor
Some dogs may even forget why they are sent outside. While before they would go out and do their business right away, now they will sniff around and ask back in wondering why they were out in the first place. Just as some dogs forget about going outside some dogs forget as well their name or that they already ate.
Memory Loss and Difficulty Recognizing You
Some dogs may even forget who their owner is and may growl or act unusually timid. At other times they may have moments of seeming to remember. This may be very heartbreaking for the owner even because the pet may appear not interested anymore in playing or being pet.
Just as Alzheimer's disease does not have a cure, CDS care is mostly supportive. If your dog has just been diagnosed with CDS, consider that there are some drugs that may help preserve some cognitive functioning a little bit longer. Perhaps, ask your vet about the human drug Anipryl. There are also some things you can do at home to help your dog lead a better life and cope better with old dog behavior changes.
- Take your dog out more often
- Pet your dog and show affection more often
- Do not move furniture around to prevent confusion
- Keep up with a daily routine and stick with it
- Have your dog wear doggie diapers during the night
- Place baby gates to seclude dangerous areas such as stairs
- Supervise your pet when outdoors
- Ask your vet about medications and supplements. With my 2 aging Rottweilers, Ark's Natural's Brain Best Friend seems to decrease their evening whining.
Often some dogs that appear to have typical CDS symptoms such as bumping into objects or wandering around may have become suddenly blind or dogs not responding to their name or commands may have become suddenly deaf. Some cases of inappropriate urination have been linked to urinary tract infections or diabetes. So if your pet has sudden behavior changes, have him/her carefully evaluated by the vet since CDS is mostly a condition that is diagnosed by excluding other possible physical issues.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Why is our twelve-year-old border collie great during the day, but has started getting very sheepish and worried when it's night?
You would have to have your vet examine your dog to get an exact answer. What we know though is that as a dog ages, their senses decline just as it happens in people. So it can be possible that impaired eyesight can make an older dog become more reactive at night. Loss of sight, smell and hearing can cause confusion and disorientation in a dog. Other things to consider are canine cognitive dysfunction (senility), and behavior changes due to something at a neurological level. A vet visit can provide an insight. Share with your vet the signs you are seeing.Helpful 6
Why is my ten-year-old American bulldog suddenly spaced out and isn't eating or drinking anything?
These are very generalized symptoms which may be suggestive of a vast array of problems. A vet visit is in order especially due to the age and not eating/drinking.Helpful 10
My old dog suddenly started urinating in the house just after going outside. Why didn’t my dog urinate when he was outside?
There can be many reasons. Perhaps he got scared of something outdoors, or perhaps he got distracted and only remembered to go once back inside. Perhaps he has some cognitive decline. Perhaps he has pain when lifting his leg and has associated it with outside. Make sure he empties his bladder fully when outside, and praise and reward that with a treat.Helpful 7
Can I feed my dog human chicken?
There should be no problem feeding dogs chicken designed for humans as long as it's skinless and boneless. However, digestive upset is possible if the dog is not used to eating this.
Also, if chicken is the only thing the dog will eat, you will have to have a veterinary nutritionist design a meal plan so to ensure your dog gets enough calories and all the vitamins and minerals needed.Helpful 5