Behavior Changes in Your Aging Dog

In addition to the physical changes we all attribute to the aging process, you may see a number of behavioral differences in your dog as they get on in years. While some changes may be natural, others might be related to a health condition that requires veterinary attention. 

 Aggression

If your dog seems to suddenly, and out of character, start growling, snapping, or biting, they are showing signs of aggression. When dogs begin to age, they can experience a wide variety of painful inflictions and physical or mental changes that can lead to grumpiness and aggression. Some of the most common reasons behind a normally sweet dog becoming nippy and agitated include:

  • Pains in the body (such as in the joints or muscles)

  • Painful skin (due to allergies, dryness, or dietary issues)

  • Painful dental, gum, or throat issues

  • Stomach or indigestion pains

  • Feeling fearful or startled due to loss of hearing, vision, or both

  • Mental or nervous system issues such as medication side effects or canine cognitive dysfunction

 Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) affects around 60 percent or more of dogs that are past the age of 10. If all other health or pain-causing issues have been ruled out by your dog’s vet, chances are high that they could have this disorder. Some of the primary symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction include the following:

  • Abnormal soiling in the house or sleeping areas

  • Aggression and loss of recognition of family members or other family pets

  • Confusion, disorientation, or inability to locate familiar objects (such as the house or food bowl)

  • Stiffness, weakness, restlessness, chronic circling or pacing

  • Increased barking, whining, or growling

  • Inability to sleep or restless and agitated while sleeping

  • Lethargy or decreased activity

  • Inability to pay attention or seems to stare off into space

 Lack of Interest in Others

When dogs experience pain or another aging physical issue (such as blindness or deafness), they may appear less interested in humans and other pets or act depressed. Staying on their own and being quieter than usual is their way of coping with the constant discomfort or disorientation.

Changes in Interactive Behavior

When sweet and gentle dogs who have been raised in loving homes for several years experience pain or discomfort, they usually seek comfort from their family members or become excessively clingy. Some dogs become so clingy in their old age that they may show symptoms of separation anxiety when left alone (such as destroying the home or urinating inside). Fear is an emotion that can become evident as a dog ages due to pain and loss of senses like sight.

Soiling in the House

Whether your aging dog has a cognitive disorder or a physical issue, having accidents indoors becomes common as they become older. Your dog may become completely incontinent and urinate or defecate in the house, or make messes due to separation anxiety. Other reasons for inappropriate elimination might include the following:

  • Physical diseases

  • Physical pain that prevents them from getting up and going outside

  • Canine cognitive disorder

Tips for Caring for Your Aging Dog

  • Keep your regular schedule or create a more structured schedule so your dog will know what to expect
  • Give your dog the space they need while giving them affection at the appropriate times
  • Give your dog guidance and use patience if they are losing their sight or hearing
  • Walk your dog frequently but for short distances
  • Give your dog a nice private place to rest quietly
  • Give your dog medicine or supplements as prescribed to help with arthritis or joint pain
  • Use steps that are designed to help aging dogs climb into bed or onto couches
  • Use softer brushes when grooming
  • Feed your dog a high-quality diet with antioxidant ingredients
  • Place a few soft dog beds around the home
  • Consult your vet about using pheromones as a way to reduce anxiety

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