As pets get older, they may develop new undesirable behaviors. We would expect changes due to a disease to effect virtually any organ of the body, including the brain. Habits that might be the first to change may change range from eating, elimination habits, sleep habits, and activity levels. Some behavioral changes may indicate the first and only sign of pain. Reports tell us that 7-8 years of age is middle age. (4 years for large breeds) and dogs are considered senior at 10-11 years of age.
Giving extra attention to senior pet's health will help them live longer and healthier lives. Report any changes in health or behavior to your vet right away. Your vet will work to detect any emerging problems during health exams with your senior dog such as blood and urine screening tests. These tests can detect abnormalities even before there are noticeable physical sings of disease. Early diagnosis and intervention will allow your vet to treat the disease before there are serious complications and even perhaps slow the progress of the disease. Medical problems that might affect behavior could show up in your pets eating, drinking, sleep and behavior. Pets that are in pain from arthritis or dental disease may become more irritable, even become aggressive or fearful or less and could exhibit a loss or appetite. Dogs that begin to lose hearing or sight may be less attentive, sleep more soundly and startle when approached.
Diseases that affect the nervous system, such as brain tumors and brain aging, can have a wide variety of effects on behavior including personality changes and disorientation. Endocrine imbalance diseases and deterioration of virtually any organ, heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and brain can have a wide variety of effects on pet's behavior. As the body ages, so does the brain. Changes in the brains of older dogs and cats are similar to changes in elderly people. Studies of dogs indicate that, as in humans, the effect of of aging on the brain range from none at all to severe dementia. Probably like our grandparents, on one side of our family Grandma was sharp well into her late 90s. While the other side of the family showed signs of dementia in their late 60s. Older pets may become less aware of their environments, develop signs of memory loss and decline in learning ability. This can occur as early as 8-9 years old while others retain healthy brain function throughout their lives.
There is a wide range of signs associated with brain aging, including the following:
- Disorientation: Pets might be disorientated if they get lost in familiar places, get stuck behind furniture.
- Show decreased responsiveness to sight and sounds.
- Activity changes: Pets, may begin to sleep more and play less. As cognitive function declines, there may be an increase in activities such as restless, pacing, licking or repetitive barking.
- Sleep cycle alterations: Pets may experience restless, unsettled sleep or waking at night. Changes in social interaction: Pets may become less interested in greeting or social play with familiar people or pets. Some pets may become more irritable.
- Apathy and depression: Pets may have less interest in people , other animals, toys, eating and grooming.
- Anxiety: Signs of anxiety include fear of sounds, people, or environments, a clinging to family members and an increase in irritable aggressiveness.
- Learning and memory problems: The ability to adapt to new environments and learn new tasks may be greatly impaired. Dogs may no longer respond to some of their previously learned commands. They may be less able to perform tasks learned in agility or obedience training or less able to function in the work for which they were trained.
- House soiling may also be a sign of declining memory in dogs. Some dogs will urinate or leak in their sleep. Or others might dribble and not even know it. A 16 year old company named Kennel Komforts Inc. can help you deal with just these sorts of problems. They have perfected the fit and quality you will be looking for in Bellybands and Britches for your incontinent dog. You can find them on-line them at www.kennelkomforts.com .
- Your vet can determine the cause of these physical signs by completing a physical examination, a neurological examination and diagnostic testing. Depending on the findings more specialized testing such as ultrasound or brain imaging may also be needed.
Treating Behavior Problems in Older Pets:
Fortunately, treatments for cognitive problems are now available. These include a prescription diet, natural supplements and drugs available through your vet that have been shown in improve behavior and might even slow the progress of cognitive dysfunction disease in dogs.
In addition to medical therapy and diet, there are other things you can do to help your pet. Keeping your dog physically and mentally active improves cognitive function. Exercise your pet daily, play games frequently. Review simple obedience commands during daily walks and play.
Provide new toys such as the type of toy with a compartment for food or treats that makes your dog actively work for food.
And, of course be sure to give him lots of love and attention during his golden years.