Published on September 28th, 2017 | by Debbie Martin0
Age and how it can change your dog
Age and how it can change your dog, age is a touchy subject for humans. It can be uncomfortable to think a person getting old – particularly if the person in question is a close relative or friend. Dog owners, too, grow extremely attached to their pets; a dog is, in most instances, considered an indispensable component of the family.
It is difficult, therefore, to contemplate the prospect. But it is important to do so, since age can change your dog’s behaviour in strange and sometimes alarming ways and these changes should be anticipated, and action, where necessary, should be taken in order to make your dog comfortable.
Dogs have been known to live to thirty years old, but the vast majority live to between seven and fourteen – depending on the breed. In this article and during Senior Pet Month, we’ll take a look at some of the problems which develop during the dog’s latter years.
As dogs get older, they often begin to vocalise more. One of the reasons for this is communication. They might, for example, be suffering, and trying to tell you about it. If you notice that your dog is getting more vocal, then take him to the vet so that medical causes can be ruled out. Your vet may prescribe one of a number of different treatments, in either case and in some cases this may be for prescription medications.
You might consider training your dog to be silent – you might reward him for quietness, or punish him for boisterousness. If you are entertaining the latter option however, it is especially important that there is no underlying cause. If your dog is complaining about pain, for example, then punishing him for the complaint will only compound his misery unduly.
Toilet trouble at night time
An aging dog might also experience trouble sleeping. There are a number of causes for this. This can be brought about by joint pain, which is more common in older dogs. Osteoarthritis, for example, can cause a dog to trouble sleeping.
A dog’s hearing and vision may also have deteriorated over time, which can cause him to experience trouble settling into sleep in old age. They may also be more easily startled and therefore more prone to being roused by what used to be trivial noises and sights.
In other cases, a dog may be unable to sleep because of toilet problems. Many dog owners have, on occasion, awoken to find that the dog has befouled the hall floor. There are a number of reasons that a dog might do this, but a common one is anxiety (which we’ll come to shortly). If your dog has taken to soiling itself in the night, then consider removing its food and water a few hours before you retire for the night. In cases where anxiety is to blame, it can often be helpful to allow the dog to sleep in the same room as you; this will help to put it at ease, and thereby reduce the chance of mishaps.
If your dog has trouble sleeping, then you might consider trying to tire them out before they settle down for the night. Your vet may be able to prescribe a sedative which will help them sleep more soundly.
Speaking more broadly, the problem wherein a dog goes to the toilet inside the house (widely referred-to using the bizarre euphemism ‘inappropriate elimination’) can occur at any time and has a number of causes. Perhaps the most common of these is that dog becomes physically unable to control itself. If this behaviour persists, then the best course of action is to take it to the vet. It may be that an organ problem is behind the unpleasant new habit. If not, then the dog may need to be housetrained again in order to reinforce the importance of proper lavatory etiquette.
Older dogs are more prone to anxiety than younger ones. They may become more easily spooked by loud noises, unfamiliar dogs and people. It may cling to you, crave physical contact with you, while shrinking away from others. Other symptoms include a loss of appetite and destructiveness – particularly when you’re away from home.
Provided that there is no underlying cause, like osteoarthritis, this behaviour is not so easily cured. You might consider therapy with a specialist pet psychologist – though this is a luxury which few dog owners can afford, as much as they would like to.
Some dogs react with cringing fear when faced with old age. Others become aggressive. When a dog’s ability to hear, see and smell has been inhibited, as it often is in old dogs, they can react badly.
Aggression is difficult to treat against because there are several reasons that a dog might become aggressive. Some treatments which are effective in some instances might, in other instances, make the problem a great deal worse. A good example would be the head collar – if fear is the reason behind the aggressive behaviour, then a collar would make the situation even worse.
Owners of aggressive dogs should therefore seek to establish the source of the aggression. To do this, the services of a behaviourist will prove invaluable. Once the root cause of the aggression has been established, the behaviour can be guarded against.
A compulsive behaviour is a habit which serve no purpose, and can even be damaging. In humans, these behaviours might include nose-picking, nail-biting and knuckle-cracking. In dogs, the more common culprits are tail-chasing, over grooming (to the extent that hair is even worn away), pacing and jumping.
These behaviours can have an underlying medical cause, or they can be learned over time. If the dog is excessively grooming a specific part of their body, for example, then they might have been bitten – or, if the body part in question is a joint, they might be suffering from arthritis. In either instance, it is advisable that the advice of a vet is sought. In other cases, the problem might be behavioural, in which case a training program might be required to eliminate the behaviour. Be warned, though – older dogs will be less able to unlearn certain behaviours and so a degree of patience may be warranted.
Perhaps the greatest hazard of owning a dog is their capacity for destruction. It’s a common trope in fiction for a family to return home to find that the dog has torn an expensive leather sofa into tiny ribbons – but this scenario plays out in real life, too! This is obviously bad news from the point of view of the object of the dog’s destructive tendencies – we’d all rather keep our sofas intact, after all – but its bad news for the dog, too. Some of the things we have in our houses are apt to hurt any dog which decides to chew, bite and suck on it. Among these objects would be pencils, pens, electrical appliances, knives and pocket-warmers containing hazardous chemicals.
If your dog has shown any destructive tendencies, then it is perhaps best that such objects are stowed safely away – particularly if you intend to leave the house for a significant length of time. In such an instance, destructive dogs should ideally be taken to a kennel – but be aware that such places can be stressful, especially for dogs who are already displaying signs of behavioural problems.
We’ve already taken a look at anxiety. A closely related, though more severe version is fear. The sight of a terrified dog can be quite unedifying. When a dog becomes especially old, they can become more prone to fearfulness. This is understandable; an older dog might not be as mobile as they once were, nor as aware of their surroundings.
Change will exacerbate the problem – if you rearrange the furniture in the living room, for example, the dog can become disorientated and more anxious. On certain special occasions, such as Christmas, you might be tempted to invite a large number of family and friends over. This can be an overwhelming experience for dogs. Similarly, bonfire night is notorious for terrifying dogs the country over. In recent times, firework night seems to have unofficially been declared a week-long celebration, with loud explosions occurring apparently at random.
On such occasions, it is advisable to ensure that your dog is properly reassured and has a safe, familiar place to retreat if it is feeling stressed. If the symptoms become particularly persistent, then it may be time to consult your vet, or, better yet, a behavioural therapist.
Perhaps the most poorly understood entry on our list is grief. Grief is a very complicated thing. It is barely understood in humans, let alone dogs. But there is strong evidence to indicate that dogs, too, can be affected by it. This occurs when another household pet – usually, but not always another dog – dies.
A dog suffering from grief may become depressed. They may be less inclined to eat and have trouble sleeping. Most heart breaking of all, they may attempt to search for the deceased. Grief is something which will pass in time, but during this time it is certainly worth paying the dog a little extra attention, to ensure that they are coping adequately. Another pet can, in many cases, help the dog to get over the loss.