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Healthy Dogs

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Behavior Changes in Aging Dogs

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Checklist for Cognitive Dysfunction

Following is a list of possible changes and symptoms in your senior dog that could indicate cognitive dysfunction1.

Confusion/Spatial Disorientation

  • 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

Relationships/Social Behavior

  • 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

Activity-Decreased, Apathetic

  • Explores less and responds less to things going on around him
  • Grooms himself less
  • Eats less

Anxiety/Increased Irritability

  • 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 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.”

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