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  • Writer's pictureStream Valley Vet

Behavior Changes in Senior Pets

It's not unusual for behavior problems to develop in older pets, and often there may be multiple concurrent problems. It's also important to note that some changes linked to aging might not seem major, but even a small behavioral change can indicate an underlying medical problem. Since early diagnosis and treatment can control or slow the progress of many diseases, speak with our veterinarians if you notice any changes in your senior pet's behavior.

What are some of the causes of behavior changes in senior pets?

  1. Several problems can have causes that are similar to those in younger pets. Household changes, environmental changes, and new stressors can lead to problems, regardless of age. Moving, change in your work schedule, or a family member leaving the home can have a dramatic impact on your pet's behavior. In fact, most older pets will be more resistant to change.

  2. Older pets are also likely to develop an increasing number of medical and degenerative problems as they age. For example, kidney or urinary diseases can lead to house-soiling. A variety of behavioral and personality changes can be caused by diseases such as the thyroid and pituitary glands. Any of the organ systems can be affected and play a role in the development of a wide variety of behavior issues.

  3. The brain is susceptible to age-related degenerative processes that can affect the pet's behavior, personality, memory, and learning ability. When these changes occur, the pet may show varying degrees of cognitive decline. In pets that are more severely affected, this is known as cognitive dysfunction or senility.

How can I find out why my pet's behavior has changed?

Regardless of age, every behavior case should begin with a complete veterinary physical exam and a clinical and behavior history. Additionally, blood tests and a urinalysis may be needed to rule out organ disease and endocrine imbalances, especially in an older pet. Sometimes additional lab tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, spinal tests, brain scans, or referral to a specialist may be appropriate. The need for these extra tests are based on the pet's age, previous health problems, any ongoing drug or dietary therapy, and an evaluation of all its medical and behavioral signs and the findings of the exam.

My pet is quite old. Is there any point in doing these tests? What can I do?

Unfortunately, many pet owners do not discuss behavioral changes with their veterinarians because they feel that the changes are a normal part of aging and nothing can be done for their pet. This is far from the truth! Many problems have an underlying medical cause that can be treated or controlled with drugs, diet or maybe even surgery! Hormonal changes associated with an underactive or overactive thyroid gland, diabetes, diseases of the pituitary gland, and testicular tumors can all lead to major changes in the pet's behavior. Theses can be treated or at least controlled! Organ systems can be most likely aided with nutritional supplements or dietary improvements. Drugs and dietary therapy are also available that are useful in treating age-related cognitive dysfunction.

What are some things to look out for?

  • Changes in behavior

  • An increase or decrease in appetite or drinking

  • An increased frequency or amount of urination

  • Loss of urine control

  • Skin and hair coat changes

  • Lumps and bumps

  • Mouth odor or bleeding gums

  • Soreness or stiffness

  • Changes in weight

  • Tremors or shaking

Can geriatric behavior problems be treated?

In many cases, the answer is yes! Of course, if there are medical problems which contribute to the behavioral changes, the issue may not be treatable. The most important part is to report changes to your vet and bring in your pet for an assessment as soon as possible.

Dogs that develop behavior issues due to a medical condition may need changes in their daily routine or environment to deal with these problems. If the medical condition can be controlled or resolved, then, you must be prepared to retrain your dog. The new habit can persist. For instance, a house-soiling dog may not be able to control their bladder due to medical issues. Therefore, the dog will need to go outside more frequently or may need to have a dog door installed in order to go out on their own. With cats, an alteration in litter box placement or the type of litter box are effective changes.

Another way to manage senior pet behavior problems is a prescription diet designed to protect against and even potentially reverse damage due to toxic free radicals. This diet is enhanced with several antioxidants including vitamin E, Selenium, vitamin C, and fruits and vegetables. It's also supplemented with essential fatty acids to help the cell's mitochondria function more efficiently, especially with carnitine and lipoic acid. The diet has been shown to improve learning ability in a senior dog.

Overall, in both human and animal medicine, the diagnosis and treatment of age-related cognitive decline is always an area of concern. A number of combination supplements are now available which use a wide variety of antioxidant, nutraceutical, vitamin, mineral, and herbal preparations for cognitive decline!

If you've noticed any major or minor behavior changes that are impacting your older pet's quality of life, we highly suggest that you make an appointment at Stream Valley as soon as possible. We are always happy to aid in doing what's best to keep your pet healthy! Our very own Dr. Corey is especially well-versed in animal behavior issues and providing ways to treat them. Call our front desk at 703-723-1017 to set up your appointment or speak with a veterinarian directly. We've got this!



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