Aging itself is not a disease. Although it includes many complex physical changes, it is a natural process that occurs much like it does in humans. Senior pet behavioral changes can be due to medical conditions. With patience, understanding, diagnosis and treatment, these problems can be resolved. Make sure your senior pet has the healthiest and highest quality of life. Look out for these common behavioral changes and have your pet examined by your veterinarian.
What are common behavioral changes that occur as my pet ages?
- Inappropriate urination and house soiling
- Changes in sleep pattern
Inappropriate urination and house soiling
Older pets may begin to urinate in areas where they were previously unlikely to soil. For example, older pets that have been house trained for years may start having accidents. They do understand the "rules," but they may be unable to follow them. There may be medical causes for this, such as conditions that cause pain during urination/defecation or make it hard for your pet to get to the litterbox/yard. Such conditions include arthritis, anal sac disease, loss of vision/sensory decline, and neuromuscular conditions that affect mobility. Treatment of these medical conditions can help resolve this behavioral problem. Once the issue has been resolved, you will be able to reestablish proper house training using similar methods used for training puppies.
Aggressive behaviors are a means for pets to communicate. As pet owners we understand that pets can be aggressive for many different reasons. The more frustrating problem is when a long-time docile and gentle pet suddenly becomes aggressive for no apparent reason. Many times, a pet does not become aggressive until they are in pain. Similar to inappropriate urination, aggression may be the result of medical conditions that may not be visible to the eye. These conditions include, arthritis, dental disease, sensory decline, and diseases that affect the entire nervous system.
Normally, aging accompanies a loss of mobility. Your pet may become aggressive if they are unable to remove themselves from stressful situations; a new pet, unfamiliar visitors, or a new family member for example. By determining the factors that are contributing to the aggression, you may be able reduce and stop the aggression altogether. Other methods to change your pet's behavior include: counter-conditioning and desensitizing your pet to the stimuli. For more information on counter-conditioning and desensitization, please visit: www.animalhumanesociety.org/counter-conditioning-and-desensitization or using synthetic pheromones (such as Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs) to provide a calming effect.
Changes in sleep pattern
As our pets age, it is possible for them to develop altered sleep cycles. For example, a cat that used to be active during the day suddenly turns active during the night and then goes to sleep as soon as daylight breaks. Pain, increased need for urination and defecation, sensory decline, and neurologic conditions are all possible causes for the change in behavior.
For dogs that sleep more during the day and become restless at night, you can help to adjust the sleep pattern by increasing their daytime activity. You can do this by giving frequent walks, more challenging games and food-puzzle toys to chew on. Alternatively, you can consult your veterinarian to prescribe sleep-inducing medication to keep your pet less active at night.
Understanding the changes your pet is going through as they age can help you effectively deal with these behavioral issues. Never assume that the behavioral changes seen are untreatable. If you notice any changes in a pet's physical or behavioral condition, always contact your veterinarian and have your pet checked out!
By Cheyenne Chen SWEP Student at Hill's and Groveway Veterinary Hospital