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5 Strange Things Your Older Dog Might Do

Getting older is ruff… especially when you are a dog. Their little lives are so short that it seems to…

Getting older is ruff… especially when you are a dog. Their little lives are so short that it seems to accelerate the aging process. I hate that. Little Jesse will be 15 in a few months. My once self-assured, independent, agile little pup is really starting to show some signs of aging, particularly as it relates to disorientation. And the more signs he shows, the closer I am drawn to him. I want to be there for him. I want him to know that I’ll pick up the slack… he doesn’t have to worry.

Unfortunately, dogs’ mental functions can decline quite rapidly as they age. It is referred to as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome or CDS. The rate of prevalence of CDS in senior dogs is extremely high, ranging from 28% in 11- to 12-year-old dogs to 68% in 15- to 16-year-old dogs. It is for this reason we see our older dogs acting strange, or doing things that really do not make sense. Below are some of the more common “strange” behaviors you may see in your sweet senior pup.

1. Staring

Your older dog may stand and stare at nothing in particular. We often catch Jesse standing and staring straight ahead. He almost seems tranced, in that he does not immediately respond to his name being called. If we get right in front of him, he looks at us like nothing is out of the norm. His body is relaxed and still.

There are a couple of items in the house that he seems to be mesmerized with. We have a floor-to-ceiling mirror in our office and sometimes Jesse will stand and stare at himself – for a long time. And for whatever reason, he likes to stare at the glass shower door. Maybe he sees his reflection in the door as well, but he will do it even when the lights are off and there is barely enough light for him to see at all. It is like he is obsessed with the shower door. Again, his body is relaxed and still. What is he thinking?

Sometimes, staring into space is just something old dogs do. But it can also be a sign of cognitive decline.

2. Circling

An older dog may pace or circle a room for no reason. Our prior dog would walk at a normal, relaxed pace, generally circling whatever room we were in. She would even go so far as to walk behind the couch and TV, rather than just go around them. She was not panting or upset, but she would not settle. I would have to go pick her up and pull her into my lap to get her to stop pacing.

3. Weird sleeping habits

This may include your dog sleeping in a strange position or a strange place. Your dog may be near their bed but be half off the bed, with their hind parts on the bed and their head hanging down. They may lie beside the bed. Or they may be in the far corner of the living room between the end table and the wall. I don’t know…it’s just weird. I remember a pack member here at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts that would bring her senior dog to work sometimes. Skeeter would sleep under her mom’s desk. As she aged, we would sneak peeks at her and all the strange ways she would be lying in her bed, or sort of in her bed. Bless her heart.

4. Lost or stuck

Our prior dog’s food bowl was in a nook area in the kitchen. She loved being able to go under the counter to her little “nook” for an uninterrupted meal. As she got older, I would find her back against the wall in her nook, behind her bowls, with no idea how to get out. She also could not remember (I guess) how to get out from under the piano bench.

I have read other accounts of senior dogs getting themselves stuck under or behind furniture, in closets, in the corner… anywhere. Dogs may seem lost or confused, which can signal mental dysfunction.

5. Waiting at the wrong side of the door

Sometimes an older dog will begin going to the wrong side of the door to be let in (or out) when they have used that door repeatedly for years. Our front door opens on the left. Jesse has always been the first in the door as he waits with his nose pressed against the left doorframe. Sometimes these days, he will wait on the right side of the door. Even when the door opens, I will have to get his attention to let him know that it is open, as he’s still waiting on the wrong side.  Strange, right?

Generally, all of these strange behaviors can be linked back to a “disorientation” of sorts. Spatial disorientation is usually one of the first stages of cognitive dysfunction recognized by dog owners. Disorientation is followed by changes in social interactions, changes in sleep patterns and daily activity, and problems with house training – but not necessarily in that order. That is why I would rather categorize the stages as “mild”, “moderate”, and “severe”. Fortunately, Jesse is only in the mild stage.

Social Interactions

Changes in social interactions may include a lack of interest in playing with pals, less enthusiasm when greeting people they know, and even less engagement with family members. I have noticed that Jesse does not spend as much time with us as he used to. Usually, when we are watching TV, he is right between us on the couch, enjoying belly rubs or just hanging out with us. More and more lately, he stays for only a few minutes and then goes off to the bedroom. Not every time, only occasionally. I hope that is not a sign of things to come. It would break my heart if he decided he would rather not be with us. Regardless, some distancing to be expected as dogs work through the different stages of cognitive dysfunction. For Jesse, I would still categorize this as a mild degree of CDS.

To advance to a more serious stage of CDS, your dog may become increasingly irritable or agitated during social interactions. They may snap, growl or even bite. They may not have anything at all to do with family members. If your furry friend has never shown signs of aggression in the past, but suddenly, with age, exhibits any of these symptoms, they may be in a moderate to severe stage of CDS.

Changes in sleep patterns and daily activity

It is normal for an aging dog to sleep more than normal. They get tired more quickly and need more downtime. I get that. I have had several senior dogs in my past, and fortunately, they have all been good sleepers – meaning they nap appropriately and sleep well all night. As some dogs age, sleep patterns can change drastically. Some senior dogs start to confuse nighttime and daytime and will sleep all day and wander all night. Some suffer from disturbed, uncomfortable sleep, often crying or whining throughout the night. Depending on the behavior, changing sleep patterns can range from moderate to severe CDS.

A dog’s daily activity changes as they get older too. Just like humans, they will show a decrease in activity. They will not want to walk very long, or not as fast as they used to. They have less active play moments throughout the day.

House Training

Similar to disorientation, some senior dogs begin eliminating indoors. They may wet the bed. Sometimes they forget how to let you know that they need to go outside. Or maybe they may potty on the porch, the deck, the sidewalk. It’s so sad.

One thing we should never do is assume that our dog’s sudden lack of potty manners is solely because of aging. Many medical conditions can lead to house soiling: Kidney disease, bladder infection or stones, diabetes, Cushing’s Disease, and more. There can also be psychological reasons for eliminating indoors that have nothing to do with their age.
It is probably fair to say that when your senior dog begins eliminating indoors, they have advanced to a more severe stage of CDS.

More Serious Symptoms of CDS in Dogs

As if what we have discussed is not bad enough, there are even more serious symptoms of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. Dogs may lose their appetite entirely and refuse to eat or drink. Or they may try to eat but have trouble doing it – like keeping food in their mouth, or even remembering where their food and water bowls are kept. Sadly, they may become fearful. They may not even recognize their name.

To make things worse, these changes in the brain are also accompanied by your dog’s decreasing eyesight and hearing, and, often, aches and pain like arthritis. It’s just not fair, is it?

How to manage your dog through their senior years

First of all, feed your older dog well. Reevaluate their current diet to enhance their quality of life. Give them the best nutrition possible to minimize the effects of aging. Talk to your veterinarian about dietary supplements such as fatty acids and antioxidants. Nutrition plays a huge role in senior wellness.

Secondly, love them through it. They need you more now than they ever have. Let them know they can depend on you. Here are some tips:

• Help them into their comfy bed when they are half off of it or lying on the floor.
• Walk at their pace when outdoors, no matter how slow.
• Try not to startle them. They may not be able to hear or see you coming towards them.
• Don’t make them do anything they are not comfortable doing, even if they enjoyed it as a young dog.
• Gently distract them when they stare or circle.
• Refrain from punishing them for soiling in the house. They are probably pretty upset about it themselves.

Let us know how we can help.

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