Just like with humans, the older a dog gets, the more their overall health starts to deteriorate. While age comes with less energy and shakier joints, it also comes with deteriorating sensory and cognitive functioning. Sometimes this decline in mental and physical capabilities can cause older dogs to act out or misbehave. However, being aware of these physical and behavioral issues can help you tend to your dog responsively.
Consult your veterinarian if your pet has any of these symptoms listed below. Your veterinarian is there to help you navigate through your pet’s process in aging.
Similarly to those energy-consuming puppy-dog years, you’ll start to notice your dog’s inability to sleep normally throughout the night. When aging occurs, a dog might have trouble falling asleep at night or staying awake during the day. When a dog gets older, it is quite common for their sleep cycle to be reversed.
As dogs age, they also become increasingly dependent on their owners.. A dog might require more attention and care than it did in the past. This characteristic can lead to restlessness or even anxiety if it is not addressed.
Separation anxiety is one of the most common characteristics in older dogs. A dog can become sensitive or irritable toward new people or other dogs, especially if their owner is not around. Any loud noises can also bring on anxiety in an older pet. Oftentimes, this stress occurs after the owner has left or is out of sight. Possible consequences that may arise as a result of separation anxiety are:
- House soiling while the owner is gone
- Refusing to eat when the owner is away
- Anxiety before the owner leaves (i.e. pacing, panting, etc.)
When trying to diagnose these issues, make sure to rule out any other possible medical conditions. For example, if the dog is soiling the house frequently, consult with your veterinarian to verify that it is not a more serious issue. Once you and your veterinarian have come up with a valid prognosis, you can take proactive steps to help your dog age gracefully.
Another common behavioral problem in older dogs is memory loss. There are several cues or commands older dogs might forget. One of the most significant issues is when a dog forgets how to be house trained. Older dogs may start to go to the bathroom inside, in front of family members, or in sleeping areas. Sometimes this will happen if you have changed a part of their routine, but mostly it is due to a lapse in memory.
Another issue associated with memory loss is when a dog is unable to recognize familiar people or pets. Older dogs can have issues with memory loss in the most ingrained actions, even when it comes to learned tricks or commands.
Also, older dogs might not use their body language to signal information to their owners. An example of this is if they no longer stand by the door to indicate that they have to go to the bathroom. This goes hand in hand with the other behavioral issues previously discussed.
Surprisingly, aggression in dogs can also increase with age. This aggression can be due to a medical condition, in which case the dog might be in physical pain or discomfort. If your dog does not have a medical issue, the hostility is likely due to a loss of hearing or vision.
If your dog is being aggressive towards family members or close friends, it may be due to changes in the family dynamics. A dog can also get overwhelmed when there are many people around at once. Lastly, an older dog may become aggressive if a new pet enters the household. The older dog may feel protective over the family or become anxious with another animal in the house.
Due to deteriorating vision and other sensory losses, senior dogs typically develop new phobias and fears as they age. For example, the dog may become fearful of loud noises such as thunderstorms. Sometimes, they can even be afraid of the outside world. To remedy phobias that seem less severe, owners will often remove whatever is causing the dog’s fears. The best thing you can do if your dog develops a fear or phobia is to be patient. If a dog can sense frustration by its owner, it will most likely develop stronger anxiety.
It is important to point out that pet owners of senior dogs experience at least one of the aforementioned behaviors. The best thing you can do while your pet is going through the transition from puppyhood to old age is continue to provide them with plenty of love and attention.