The famous American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “All diseases run into one — old age.” This statement applies to pets as well as people. It’s important for pet owners to understand that our pets age faster than we do. Although there is no perfectly accurate human-to-dog or human-to-cat age comparison, it’s often startling for us to realize that a three-year-old pet is roughly equivalent to a 30-year-old person.
There are numerous diseases that afflict senior pets. We are listing the most common here, then we’ll take a deep dive into Behavior Changes in the first of our 3-part Series.
The Most Common Diseases Affecting Senior Pets
- Cognitive Dysfunction
- Dental Disease
- Failing Vision
- Hearing Loss
- Heart Disease
- Kidney Disease
The medical term used to describe “Behavior Changes” is Cognitive Dysfunction. The following.
is a list of possible changes and symptoms in your senior dog that could indicate cognitive dysfunction.
- Gets lost in familiar locations
- Goes to the wrong side of the door (where the hinge is)
- Gets stuck and can’t navigate around or over obstacles
- Less interested in petting, interactions, greeting people or other dogs, etc.
- Needs constant contact, becomes overdependent and clingy
Activity-Increased or Repetitive
- Stares, fixates on or snaps at objects
- Paces or wanders about aimlessly
- Licks you, family members or objects a lot
- Vocalizes more
- Eats more food or eats more quickly
- Explores less and responds less to things going on around him
- Grooms himself less
- Eats less
- Seems restless or agitated
- Is anxious about being separated from family members
- Behaves more irritably in general
Sleep-Wake Cycles/Reversed Day-Night Schedule
- Sleeps restlessly, awakens at night
- Sleeps more during the day
Learning and Memory-House Soiling
- Eliminates indoors in random locations or in view of you or family members
- Eliminates indoors after returning from outside
- Eliminates in sleeping areas (for example, in his crate or on the couch or floor)
- Uses body language less (body postures and signals associated with feelings)
- Develops incontinence (accidental release of the bladder)
Learning and Memory-Work, Tasks, Cues
- Demonstrates an impaired ability to work or perform tasks
- Sometimes seems unable to recognize familiar people and pets
- Shows decreased responsiveness to known cues for obedience, tricks, sports and games
- Seems unable or slower to learn new tasks or cues
Ruling Out Other Causes for Your Dog’s Behavior
If your dog shows any of the symptoms or changes listed above, your first step is to take him to his veterinarian to determine whether there is a specific medical cause for his behavior. Any medical or degenerative illness that causes pain, discomfort or decreased mobility-such as arthritis, dental disease, hypothyroidism, cancer, impaired sight or hearing, urinary tract disease or Cushing’s disease-can lead to increased sensitivity and irritability, increased anxiety about being touched or approached, increased aggression (since your dog may choose to threaten and bite rather than move away), decreased responsiveness to your voice, reduced ability to adapt to change, and reduced ability to get to usual elimination areas.
If medical problems are ruled out, and if primary behavior problems unrelated to aging are ruled out (for example, problems that started years before your dog began aging or those that started in response to recent changes in his environment or family), then these behavioral signs are presumed to be due to the effects of aging on the brain and are diagnosed as “cognitive dysfunction syndrome.”
Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunction
The primary signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be summarized with the acronym CRASH, which stands for:
- Responsiveness/recognition decreases
- Activity changes
- Sleep-wake cycle disturbances
- House training lapses
Cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be treated by your dog’s veterinarian with the drug selegiline hydrochloride (brand name Anipryl®). There are a number of other medications and supplements that you and your vet may consider as well. It’s most effective to combine drug therapy with behavioral treatment that’s based on the specific problems your dog is having.
Coming November 19th
#2 in our Series - Health Issues Affecting Senior Pets – Failing Vision & Hearing Loss