How to Take Care of a Senior Dog With a Neurological Disorder
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.
Misty as she tries to make sense of her surroundings.
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.
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.
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.