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How to Take Care of a Senior Dog With a Neurological Disorder

How do you react when Michelle is a professional freelance writer who loves music, poetry, pets, and the arts. She is a techno-geek as well.

Learn the ins and outs of taking care of a dog with a neurological disorder.

Learn the ins and outs of taking care of a dog with a neurological disorder.

Has Your Dog Become a Senior Pet?

Old age is an often dreaded phenomenon that hits us all. It hits our furry canine friends as well, sometimes in the worst possible way, because they have fewer ways than we do to express their needs.

When your dog becomes a senior pet and has the added neurological problems that come naturally with age, it can be a challenge for any pet owner to take care of him or her. So, what are the signs of canine aging and how do we manage these? And, if your dog has a neurological disorder, there are other signs to look for and other symptoms to manage, as well.

Signs of Your Canine Aging

The age old cliché of a human being living seven times longer than a dog may not necessarily be an accurate one to live by. Estimating when your pet becomes a senior dog really depends on its life expectancy—it is good to check the life expectancy of the breed of dog you own and when it becomes a senior pet. As a general guideline, smaller breeds tend to have a longer life expectancy than bigger ones. Great Danes usually become senior pets at 6 years.

It is helpful for owners to know what the signs are of canine seniority. These can often be misinterpreted as a dog just being momentarily quirky.


Signs of Canine Seniority

  • Staring at objects: Your canine may start staring hard at objects listlessly for no apparent reason, as if in a daze. Your dog may suffer from a loss of orientation and be trying to make sense of its world. This should not be interpreted as your dog losing its mind. It does, though, need a little help!!
  • It wanders around aimlessly: Like all animals, canines have the wandering instinct within. Dogs love to wander about and play—but there is the difference between playful, curious wandering and wandering because it does not know where to go.

    Your older canine may not know where to go in the house and walk around unfocused. This is when it needs a little retraining, help and reorientation to the premises it calls home.
  • It starts soiling in the wrong places: Your dog may soil in the wrong places as it grows older, very much like a senior citizen suffering from Alzhimer’s Disease. Again, it needs retraining to know the proper places in which in can defecate.
  • Activity repetitive - it does the same things over again: Your dog may become activity repetitive, doing the same things somewhat mindlessly. Constant licking is an excellent example of repetitive behavior, which again arises because of the dog needing to make sense of the things around him.
  • Excessive vocalization—it begins to say too much: If you remember grandma being a little naggy, the same happens to your canine! He starts telling his own version of the Grandmother Story. It may be quite trite and cute, as though your dog is arguing with you for little reasons - but really, it is just your dog growing older.
  • It becomes more clingy, or independent: Your canine may suddenly become attached to you for no apparent reason, stalking your every movement. Conversely, it may become less interested in social behavior, or dislike being petted.

    A cantankerous canine behaves very much like a human as he grows old!
  • It responds less to its surroundings: Instead of wandering around aimlessly, your dog may do the opposite. It may lose total interest in its surroundings and just stay in a particular place all the time. This behavior is reminiscent of an elderly person needing to remain in familiar surroundings because it gives them a sense of security.
  • Its sight and hearing deteriorate: Your dog may not hear as well as it used to. You will know this when it does not come when called, or respond when there is someone at the door.

    It may not see as well as it should either. If you find your older dog bumping into objects more frequently, it is because it develops nearsightedness like ourselves. Short of fashioning a pair of spectacles and an eye test, a little patience goes a long way!
  • Your dog may develop fears as it grows older: Humans very much become insecure as they age, and so do dogs. They start developing irrational fears as well.These manifest themselves in their reluctance to bathe or go near water, as an example. Some dogs may fear walking to new places.
  • Your canine becomes more aggressive: Your dog may become anti-social, developing a greater need for privacy. It may exhibit behavior seen in some elderly folk and start to get a tad more snappy than usual.

    If your older dog is usually not a temperamental one, the reason for this behavior could simply be because it is getting older.

A dog with a neurological disorder trying to walk.

Other Inherent Conditions in Aging Canines

  • Depression: Growing older is a phase that canines have to cope with as much as humans, as it can be a daunting task that can take a toll on your dog. If your senior dog does not show good cheer or yap as much as usual, it may be suffering from canine depression brought on by age.
  • Eye disorders: Apart from near sightedness, your dog may also develop conditions such as cataracts which make their vision a little cloudy.
  • Kidney Disease: Routine blood tests for older dogs can help owners to detect kidney disease early. A special diet may be recommended for senior dogs with kidney problems.

    I personally recommend the Science Diet, which dogs do enjoy even though it may taste a little bland. This brand is good because of the reduction or absence of salt and other contents that are not good for your furry buddy’s system.
  • Endocrine Disorders: Cushing’s Disease, a fairly common endocrine disorder that affects senior pets, comes about when the pet secretes too much cortisol. Hypothyroidism, a result of an under active thyroid gland, may affect senior pets as well.
  • Heart Disease: Chronic Valvular Heart Disease is a typical problem in senior canines. It manifests itself when arteries thicken, causing abnormal blood flow within the heart’s chambers. Early detection helps to slow its progression.
  • Diabetes: Like aging humans, aging dogs also develop a higher risk of diabetes, because of resistance to insulin or poor diet. Senior dogs with this problem can be helped with medication.
  • Skin Tumors: Little lumps and bumps often make themselves seen on your senior pet as they age, starting to occur when at six years. Though not often a cause for concern, some of these tumors may be cancerous and as such warrant further diagnosis.
  • Prostate Problems: Male dogs may suffer from enlarged prostates or prostatic disease as they age. Some may forget learned behaviors like where to defecate and ease themselves. Early diagnosis may help in curbing its onset.
  • Cancer: As it strikes the older human population, it strikes the older canine one as well. The treatment is very much the same for humans—chemotherapy and surgery, and not all forms of cancer have to be fatal.

What to Consider When Taking Care of a Senior Pet With a Neurological Disorder

  • Treatment for neurological disorders: Your vet may recommend an MRI scan for dogs, which unlike ourselves, means that they have to go through a neck tap with an injection of fluid to make the brain more visible. This is a painful process that is not recommended for every dog with the condition and depends largely on its individual situation and readiness because of preexisting conditions.
  • Loss of sight—necessary training and guidance: Misty cannot see the food in front of her, so I usually put her bowl in a specific place and guide her to it so that she will eat. I found that she became picky about her food, so I have to feed her personally at times.

    She also cannot find her way to the toilet, so I guide her there at regular times for a pee. She cannot climb stairs either and needs some help in that area - patience as she goes up step by step.
  • Senior dogs, especially those with disorders, need a little physiotherapy! She just experienced a seizure which caused a bent neck. Her head, is as such, tilted at an awkward angle. So I have to massage it daily, I take her for a short jog daily and this helps her endurance and ability to focus as well - exercise is as important for dogs as it is for humans.
  • Dealing with stubbornness: Naturally, caring for a dog in this condition needs a whole lot of patience. I have had to battle with Misty’s stubbornness ever so often. She will sit and stare at walls, and refuse to walk when she is tired. Yes, it is very much like coaxing a baby.
  • Diet: Boiled, unsalted chicken is good for a senior dog, or any dog. Too much sodium in the diet is not beneficial for any dog, so leave that out wherever possible. Do not encourage any form of begging. In addition, be careful when giving your pets canned food; some are high in sodium and fat content.

    For the best information on a senior dog's diet, you should consult your veterinarian. They can help you better understand how to meet your senior dog's nutritional needs and discover the best dog food for aging dogs.

Above everything, a senior dog needs all the love it can get. I was asked to put Misty down, but I firmly refused, because she is healthy and functioning. Though caring for a senior pet is burdensome—I will definitely not deny that—one must remember the many years of companionship it has provided, and give it the love that it has given you over the years. For that alone, it deserves all the love we have to offer in return.

Be certain to consult with your veterinarian about putting your senior dog down if you have any concerns over the quality of their life. You can get a second opinion if you are still unsure after consulting your primary vet. The professionals will help you know whether it's time to put down your dog and help you learn how to say goodbye to your beloved canine friend.


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.


Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on September 27, 2012:

Can appreciate that, sharewhatuknow. It is very heartbreaking indeed! When I lost my Jack Russell Terrier to cancer it was simply heartbreaking too. But we do what we can to make their lives better. Thanks for coming by!

sharewhatuknow from Western Washington on September 27, 2012:

I love dogs and other animals. Knowing that I will most probably outlive them is why I don't have a pet. Too heart breaking!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on September 16, 2012:

Hello, abby, thanks for the wonderful insights! Elderly dogs, like our senior citizens, do deserve a lot better than what they are getting. Great that your furry friend has got no serious complications!! All he needs is a little exercise and love. I hope people will see the hub this way too! Thanks for coming by!

Abby from Ireland on September 16, 2012:

Thank you so much for writing this informative hub. Far too many people assume elderly dogs lose their worth once they start getting a few problems :( I have an adorable springer spaniel/lab mix who is 14 and she is rewarding as a pet. She has even more personality as she grows older! She has a few health problems here and there but *touch wood* nothing serious. Hopefully your hub inspires people to see that there are ways around the effects of aging in dogs, as with people. Once again, thanks for sharing :)

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 22, 2012:

Thanks, Hyphenbird! That is so true. We live in a world where we don't value what is given to us and just expect it on a silver plate. But you are right. There are many out there who still love...and we should place our hopes on them!! Thanks for the lovely comment and coming by!

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on August 22, 2012:

Your love and kindness to Misty is commendable. We live in a society that does not value life whether human or animal. Your Hub causes me to remember that many of us still love and nurture. Thank you for the wonderful uplifting advice.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 21, 2012:

Hi Thomas, so glad you've stopped by! It was really tough, because everyone told mr to let her go. But I couldn't when I heard her whining for me in the hospital, because it was a cry of "I don't want to die yet.." I had to accede to her request. She's doing better now and we're having a check up as I type this! She says hi and thanks for dropping in. Thanks for sharing, hopefully this will benefit owners, especially those with older dogs! Say hi to the big fellow for me! That's a beautiful dog!

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on August 21, 2012:


I was waiting for this, saw it cross my feed, reminded myself (several times) to get to it and now I'm here! This is very detailed and comprehensive my friend!

The very ending part is the most telling for me...they need the love more than ever and I commend you for not putting Missy down. In my mind, as long as they keep a semblance of their "doggy smile" they are in the game and fighting the fight. How can we not support them?

I have a big guy (Great Pyrenees) and they say 7 or 8 is old and he will be turning 7 in September. He's not exhibiting any of these signs but now I know what to watch for. Excellent job here which I will be sharing!



Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 20, 2012:

Hi Travelabout!! Glad to know you and do say hi to the "kids" for me!! So happy to see that you're doggies were really well-loved under your care. And wow, they lived good long lives!! Thanks for coming by and the votes!

Katheryn from United States on August 20, 2012:

Hi there Midget38

I am very impressed by your hub and knowledge. I love it when I read something that shows me others out there who know the value of a dog or any pet. We have three canine children now. Two are seven yrs. and our lab is four. We had a little mini schnauzer for 14 yrs. and a chihuahua for 16. I know you know how difficult it was at the end but I take comfort in the fact that they were very well cared for and loved. We provided love and care they gave us unconditional love and companionship. Voted up! Thank you for sharing and also your love of animals!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 17, 2012:

Wow. I hope this helps Marley and Lucy.....I can completely understand the patience you have to have with them!! Please wish them well for me!!

Hope all goes well for you in caring for them. on August 17, 2012:

What can one possibly say about our little people. I have 2 dogs right now. My 4 yr old Golden Retriever, Marley and

my 11 yr old Cocker Spaniel,

Lu Ci. Marley has taken on the

roll of guide dog with Lu Ci and walks next to her or directly in front because Lu Ci

doesn't have much sight left.

When Lu ci isn't following Marley she is right by my side.

I call her my shadow. If a piece

of a biscuit I just gave her gets

stuck between her back tooth

and her jaw she will run to me

smacking her mouth. I know

instantly that she wants me to

remove it. On the sad side she

has a braid lesion and chronic

panreatitis. She walked with her head tilted almost l60 degrees. Well after treating a

very very nasty inner ear infection for three months and

also putting her on a medication for her panreas(can't remember the name) and pain medication she is a

new dog.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 16, 2012:

Glad you've come by, Rebecca!! I hope these helps the older ones, especially, by raising a little awareness. Please say hi to your doggies for me!! And thanks for the share!!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on August 16, 2012:

Hi midget38, I am a dog lover and one like my third set of dogs. This is very informative and helpful, well worth sharing and voting very useful!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

Maggs224, me too, indeed. And the hamiltonsovare is a rare, beautiful dog. Glad he's feeling a little better, though! I guess he just needs more rest. He's happy just knowing that you care for him, though! Thanks so much for dropping in!

maggs224 from Sunny Spain on August 13, 2012:

My terrier cross was fifteen before he started to show any signs and he lived until he was seventeen and a half but my present dog is only just over twelve years old he is a Hamiltonstövare he looks a little like an English fox hound, and he is already showing these signs.

We visit the vet a lot more recently and at the moment the dog is making a come back.

It is the injection that he had and he looks better than he has in a while. The hot weather at the moment here in Spain doesn't help the poor old chap.

I enjoyed reading the hub but just wish it was not our dogs that are going through what you have written about.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

Hi Kim, thanks for coming by! I do hope this will be helpful for people with older dogs, indeed, because those are the ones that tend to be abandoned and I"m grateful for lovely owners like you who don't give up on your dogs. I hope his arthritis gets better though. There is acupuncture for dogs these days to help! We do the utmost as owners to help...and I"m sure he has a wonderful life with you and your family right now!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

Sharon, thanks for sharing about Buttons.....I can completely, utterly relate. It's difficult to watch because there is no qualified neurologist for dogs in Singapore. Thankfully, the anti-seizure medicine is helping somewhat!!

I think, though, that Buttons had a wonderful quality of life....simply because you were his owner and there by his side. He was relieved that you were there for him through it all. To a little dog, who never asks for more than some food and a little hug, that is the ultimate in happiness!

Aloe Kim on August 13, 2012:

Your dog is very lucky to have you caring for it so well! Your hub is great, packed with useful information. One of our dogs is a senior citizen and suffers from arthritis, hearing loss and an inflamed prostate. Medication isn't really doing much for him anymore. He has to be carried outside and occasionally leaks blood/urine. It's very sad for my husband and I to see him like this. As owners though we can all take comfort in knowing we gave our dogs a wonderful life, even if it seems too short.

Sharon Smith from Northeast Ohio USA on August 13, 2012:

Hi Michelle ~ my dog Buttons had a neurological disorder and it was so sad to watch. At first, when he simply started peeing and pooping in the house, I dealt with it for a really long time. He started running in to things and I simply made the environment safe for him. When he would start crying for absolutely no reason, I would comfort him. He would wander around lost and stare at "nothing." I spent a good portion of every single day tending to his needs and making sure he knew I was there. I was working from home for the most part so the timing was good for us both. But this went on for over a year and a half. He did not appear to be in pain so . . .

But when Buttons started spinning in circles obsessively, that was heartbreaking. I took him to the vet and we tried a special food. Then we tried an extremely low dose Valium. Nothing really worked. The vet felt he was having mini strokes. Buttons would literally spin in circles for hours at a time (if I didn't pick him up and hold him). At this point, I knew it was time to have him put to sleep. He had a great life and so did I with him. Watching his neurological disorder progress was painful for me and definitely no quality of life for him at that point. But those were the best 15 years of my life.

Patty Kenyon from Ledyard, Connecticut on August 13, 2012:

Michelle, I loved that dog, however, I do not like animals to it was for the best!! :)

This Hub will help many!!! Awesome Job!!!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

Oh dear, Patty. But he at least had a good, long life. A sad coincidence, that your favorite dog also had neurological disorder. :-( It must've been heartbreaking then. Sorry for that...thanks so much, my dear.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

Thanks, Mary, for the share!! It's indeed heartbreaking to see a dog grow old, indeed. What we can do is to help them do it gracefully!!! I"m so glad you've come by!!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

Keith, thanks, my friend, for coming by!! Hope the advice helps Buffy, and my blessings to her. Thanks for the pin!! Misty's honored.

Patty Kenyon from Ledyard, Connecticut on August 13, 2012:

Michelle, this is really, really informative and useful!! I don't own a dog, however, my parents have a few rescue dogs and they recently lost my favorite dog in the world due to neurological disorder and sadly they had to put her down...but she did live 10 very happy years!!! :)

Voted Up, Interesting, Useful, and Shared!!!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on August 13, 2012:

This is a good, informative Hub. I sure will hate the day when my little dog, Baby, gets old. But I know dogs, like humans, can't live forever. It would just break my heart to see theses symptoms in her.

I voted this Hub UP, etc.etc. and will share.

KDuBarry03 on August 13, 2012:

useful and insightful information, Michelle. We took not that my old dog, Buffy, was having serious health issues when she would just mope around the house her last three years of living. She became half-blind and half deaf with heart conditions galore. We definitely kept her moderated. We are definitely using the advice you give and now we'll be following some more of it ;) thanks for sharing this! Voted up, shared and pinned

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

Better not let him see this, then, inugent17. There are so many animal lovers out there, and we all treasure our dogs like our own kids. My blessings to Butler; keep him in good health!!

ignugent17 on August 13, 2012:

Reading your hub makes me very sad and think of our Boston Terrier. He is already 9 years old and they say their life span is only 15. I cannot let my husband read this. He is too emotional when it comes to our Butler. In the brighter side it is also good for us to know the signs of our pet becoming senior.

I still thank you for sharing this wonderful information.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

Hello Josh!! Hey, thanks for taking time to read mine and other hubs while you are so busy. I'm always amazed by how you can do this so well! Hey, Misty thanks you for your blessings. She's feeling better now, though a little slow. Thanks...I hope more people will love animals.

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on August 13, 2012:


It is so sad when dogs become old and start dealing with these issues. My family had a dog a long time ago that suffered from some of these problems. I wish you the best for Misty Michelle!

This was very informative and well organized! Yu sure do know your facts when it comes to dogs, and it clearly shows in your presentations. Thanks for sharing, and I will also be sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

Yes, Mary, it's like watching a grandparent grow old as well, because these pets become parts of our families. Thanks so much, and Misty is really much heartened. :-) She thanks all of you for your well wishes.

Mary Craig from New York on August 13, 2012:

It is so hard when a pet "gets old". So many of the symptoms you relate are easily visible. I have had several pets with those problems over the years and I agree with you, love and patience can work for both of you. I wish you the best with your Misty.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

Thanks, Janine, indeed, I hope this helps those people who have got dogs who are old and have problems. So sorry about your cousin's experience...hope that this will help her too. Thanks so much for coming by, my dear.

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on August 13, 2012:

Michelle, very useful and informative hub on the challenges of having a senior dog as a pet. My cousin had this with her dog in the last few years and am well versed, because of it and your article certainly does this justice from all I saw and heard that she went through during this time. I think your article with definitely help those who have dogs that are going through or about ot go through this. Have voted and shared too!!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

True, Nettlemere. Mine gets into a lot of accidents as well!! And proper timing is needed when going to the loo. But the respect she gives for all that care is really so worth it!! Thanks so much for dropping by!!

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on August 13, 2012:

A useful hub and I share your sentiments about the challenges but worth of persisting in caring for an elderly dogs. I have a 16yr old GSD x who is amazing, but increasingly talkative, walks have to be carefully planned so that I can cut them short if necessary and avoid awkward terrain and steps and whilst I do my best to keep him toileting outside, sometimes he gets out of sync and I have to accept the inevitable accidents!

For the last few months of my greyhounds life I noticed she didn't recognise people she knew somedays. Sometimes she even seemed confused as to who I was. She was never aggressive, just seemed to be thinking who is this friendly stranger sitting next to me?

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on August 13, 2012:

What are some of the signs that your dog is now a senior pet? What are the conditions that may strike? And what happens if it also has a neurological disorder? How would you care for it?