Helping your pet cope with growing older
The little puppy you brought home ten or so years ago was a romping, roly-poly ball of fur. It jumped on your sofa with abandon and never minded a little rough play. A decade on, it is no longer enthusiastic or active. It reminds you of old Mr. Jones a few doors away, who needs a walking stick.
Old age strikes pets as it does humans. They have the same aches and pains that grandpa and grandma have. Like your human seniors, they may display moody, erratic behaviors. As a pet owner, you can help your beloved pet to cope with old age by understanding expected changes, empathizing with their behavioral problems and doing what you can to help him deal with its rigors.
Expected changes in Senior Pets
Physical changes take place in animals, just as they do in elderly humans. Illnesses become pervasive, and organs may not function as well as before. Spotting the changes can ease financial and emotional burdens.
A dog’s nutritional needs change as it ages. Older dogs may consume more fat, as they may lose some of it. Monitor your pet’s weight changes carefully.
Older pets may develop gray hairs, just as humans do. Haircoats may become thinner, and duller. Lumps may start to appear on its skin as well. Groom your pet constantly, and check for any skin changes.
Your pet may become more prone to injury. It may find it a task to fight off infectious diseases as well. Diabetes, common in elderly humans, is typical in older pets too.
If you have a female pet, she may experience the hardening of her mammary glands as she ages. If not checked, she may develop cancer. Her footpads may become brittle and thick. You may need to clip her nails and coat more often.
You may find your pet becoming less active because of muscle and bone degeneration. Arthritis is a common health problem in senior pets, just as it is in older humans. Your pet will find moving and breathing a task. Exercise it regularly to prevent muscle loss.
Older dogs are prone to dental and other degenerative diseases. Dental disease may make it difficult for it to take in food. It may be troubled by hearing and vision loss.
Behavioral Problems in Senior Pets
Senior dogs often suffer a decline in their functions. Their memories, cognition, awareness and senses deteriorate.
The decline may disrupt their sleep-wake cycles and make them fidgety at night. They may also wander about and fidget more.
Like older people, animals may forget details, like the commands they knew from long ago. They may either become overdependent or, conversely, disinterested in affection.
4 Behavior Problems in Senior Dogs and how to Solve them
There is no question that older dogs go through change. If yours shows any of these behaviors, it is time to take action.
1. Cognitive Dysfunction
Your pet’s brain may slow down in several ways. He may become confused, or fail to recognize you. Also, he may experience changes in his sleep-wake cycle and forget how to use the potty.
Veterinarians will usually recommend the drug Selegiline Hydrochloride to counter the degeneration. You may also combine the medication with the behavioral treatment given by a dog trainer.
2. Separation Anxiety
Older dogs may become irritable when taken to new environments. They may display aggression and anxiety when left alone.
It is not advisable to keep a senior dog with separation anxiety in a crate, especially if it is not accustomed to being isolated. It may attempt to escape if it cannot control its bladder or other physical functions, and hurt itself in the process.
If your dog paces about when you leave it alone, soils your home or is destructive, it is time to manage its behavior. Your vet will try to identify underlying problems and may prescribe medication to aid your dog’s cognition.
Control your responses to your pet’s conduct. If your dog nudges you, you may feel tempted to give in because you think the behavior is cute. Doing so may cause it to believe that it is in control of the situation.
Change your routine to help your dog get over the fear of being separated from you. Use a different door when you go out, and leave your things in different places.
3. Excessive Vocalization
Your pet’s vocalization may disrupt your sleep or irritate your neighbors. The vocalization may be due to fear or separation anxiety.
Loss of hearing may contribute to his excessive vocalization as well. He may also whine a bit more if he feels the urge to eliminate.
If your dog still vocalizes when you are at home, seek the help of a behaviorist. Do not reinforce the vocalizing behavior; instead, reward it when it keeps quiet on cue.
Your dog may become less active during the day but restless when it is time to sleep. Eyesight or hearing loss may trigger its nighttime activity. Your pet may also have medical issues, such as problems with its central nervous system.
Treat its medical conditions first, then retrain it to resume normal waking hours. Keep it exercised both physically and mentally; give it lots of chew toys and take it out for regular walks.
A little loving kindness and effort will help your older pet through its difficulties, and strengthen the bond between you.