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Behavior Changes in Aging Dogs

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Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunction

The primary signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be summarized with the acronym CRASH, which stands for:

  • Confusion/disorientation
  • 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.

Specific Geriatric Behavior Problems and Their Behavioral Treatment

Anxiety-Including Separation Anxiety

Some common concerns reported by guardians of aging dogs are increased sensitivity and irritability, increased fear of unfamiliar pets and people (sometimes accompanied by aggression), decreased tolerance of touch and restraint, increased following and desire for contact, and increased anxiety when left alone. Noise sensitivity from hearing loss can also make some dogs more anxious and vocal. Your own frustration and distress over your dog’s behavior can add to your dog’s anxiety as well.

If house soiling has become a problem, some guardians opt to crate their dogs when they’re not home. Unfortunately, confining a senior dog to a crate can raise his anxiety level if he’s never been crated or is no longer accustomed to it. To make things worse, if he can’t get comfortable in the crate, or if he can’t control his bowels or bladder, he’ll be even more anxious and may attempt to escape. In these cases, it may be the confinement, not the guardian’s departure, that causes anxiety.

If it’s the guardian’s departure and absence that causes a dog’s anxiety, it’s called separation anxiety. The cardinal indicators of separation anxiety are:

  • Predeparture anxiety: pacing, panting, salivating, hiding, trembling or depression as you prepare to leave
  • House soiling (or soiling the crate), destructiveness or vocalizing that occur soon after you leave the house
  • Destructiveness directed at exit points, like windows and doors, and house soiling while you’re gone
  • Refusal to eat when left alone (even if you leave your dog food, treats or a food-stuffed KONG® toy, he doesn’t eat at all when you’re gone, but does after you return)
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