under closer scrutiny.
The Process of Oxidation
As your dog ages, several changes occur in his brain which may affect the way he acts and interacts with you. As much as this may sound like bad news, consider the good news: Dogs are living longer lives due to better veterinary care. This is also why we are seeing many more conditions related to old age such as cancer, organ failure, painful arthritis, and yes, behavior changes due to old age.
But what happens to the dog’s brain to pave the path to behavior changes? Do dogs develop the canine version of Alzheimer’s disease known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)? To better understand this, we must took at the dog*s brain
Aging in dogs is not a disease, it*s a process. The brain of aging dogs undergoes several changes at a molecular and cellular level. One of the main causes of aging comes down to unstable oxygen molecules (better Mown as “free radicals”) which damage the cells and cause a loss of brain function under the form of behavioral changes. While several free radicals are present in the dog’s environment. a great quantity are simply produced by the dog’s own body. It’s a known fact that the mitochondria of a young dog produce more energy and less free radicals; while the mitochondria of older dogs produce less energy but increased numbers of free radicals.
Why is the dog’s brain so vulnerable to the effects of free radicals? According to Hill’s Vet, the brain is attacked by free radicals because it has a high lipid content, limited antioxidant defense mechanisms and limited repair capabilities. Last but not least, the nervous system tissue is particularly vulnerable to attack by free radicals. While this process of oxidative damage to a dog’s brain cannot be stopped, it can be slowed down through the use of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and several other steps.
What Behavior Changes Should You Expect in an Older Dog?
several benavior changes may be seen In older clogs. Some of these changes tend to appear gradually over time rather than all at once. If your dog shows behavior changes, see your vet, as they may be indicative of some medical problem or cognitive issues. Following are some common changes you may notice in your aging dog.
Different Sleeping Patterns
Why do old dogs sleep a lot more? This is a normal part of the aging process, so it’s quite natural for your senior dog to sleep a lot more compared to when he was younger. Interestingly, puppies and older dogs tend to dream more compared to adults, so yoU’ll likely see your older dog acting out his dreams during REM sleep quite often. The old adage “let sleeping dogs lie” is true, and you should avoid abruptly waking up your old pal to prevent him from being startled.
Why does your old dog wake up in the middle of the night? Along with sleeping more, you may may notice diPerent sleep-wake cycles. Your older dog may sleep more during the day and then have difficulty sleeping at night. This can be a sign of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, the canine version of Alzheimer’s disease, or a sign of discomfort or pain. It could also be that the dog wakes up because he needs to go potty, which brings us to the next behavior change.
Accidents Around the House
Why do older dogs have accidents around the house? Something you’ll likely notice is accidents around the house in previously well house- trained dogs, why is this happening? Elderly dogs can be prone to several medical conditions that can increase their urination or defecation frequency, or can cause them to have less control over their bodily functions, explains veterinarian Theresa DePorter. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction may be a cause, but so can urinary tract infections, kidney disease, hormonal changes, gastrointestinal problems and neurological issues. Mobility issues may also cause a dog to be reluctant to move about to go potty, or reluctant to go to the door to inform you about the urge. Accidents around the house when the owner is away may be a sign of separation anxiety in older dogs which brings us onto…
Onset of Separation Anxiety
Why is my old dog so clingy? Many owners of senior dogs notice their dogs becoming more clingy, sometimes to the point of developing separation anxiety, something they may have never suffered from earlier in their lives. This can stem from the fact that older dogs may have trouble coping with changes in their routines, and the fact that they may be subject to age-related vision or hearing loss which makes them feel vulnerable and anxious. They may therefore rely more and more on their owners and feel vulnerable when they are left alone.
To learn more, see this article: Separation Anxiety
Why is my old dog acting aggressive? If you thought being grumpy only affects old men, think again, because old dogs tend to get grumpy too! If you notice the onset of aggression in your dog, consider that it can often be a sign of a medical problem. Old dogs are prone to painful conditions such as arthritis and painful dental diseases. On top of that, vision or hearing loss can make them more likely to startle from unexpected touches or noises. Also, consider that a dog who has painful joints and mobility issues is more likely to react by growling, snarling, snapping or even biting to get out of an unpleasant situation, rather than removing himself by getting up and leaving as he may have done in the past.
This means old dogs require close supervision so they are not pestered by children or other pets in the household. This may not be the ideal time to get a new puppy, especially if your older dog is more irritable and less mobile. Sometimes younger dogs may get into squabbles with older dogs. This is often believed to be attributed to the younger dog trying to rise in rank, but chances are, the conflict arises simply because older dogs may fail to offer appropriate social signals due to physicai impaiment, explains veterinary behaviorist Lisa Radosta.
Fear of Noises
Some older dogs may become noise sensitive as they age. This may sound strange. Indeed, if you think that many older dogs start losing their ability to hear as they age, you would assume that sounds would bother them less. But older dogs may feel more vulnerable around sounds since they are more reluctant to get up and check the source of the noise, or it could be that they are unable to remove themselves from the noise. Some dogs may also become more reactive to noises because they cannot determine its source as before, or they may be unable to cope with stress as well as before. Vocalizations in the form of barking and whining as a result of noises may therefore increase in old age.
Appearing Confused and Forgetting
Why is my old dog acting oddly† Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, just like Alzheimer’s disease, takes place when there is a decline in a dog’s cognitive ability. Affected dogs may appear confused, forget commands and sometimes may not recognize friends or owners. Affected dogs may forget where to potty or which door to ask to be let out from. They may pace at night, stare at things or get stuck in corners. Some dogs may engage in obsessive or anxious behaviors.
As much as all these behavior changes may sound like bad news, the good news is that there are many things you can do to make the life of your senior dog better. In the next section we will see how.
Tips for Coping with Senior Dog Behavior Changes
As seen, senior dogs go through several behavior changes. When caught early, the first signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction can be managed fairly well with the aid of your veterinarian. There are many steps you can take to help your senior dog cope befter with the aging process. Following are a few ways to help your senior dog.
See your vet. As we have seen, many times what appears to be a behavior problem may actually turn out to be a medical issue. Once your dog’s medical problems are addressed, you may seen a change in behavior for the best. Senior dogs benefit from twice-per-year wellness exams so issues can be caught early.
Manage painful conditions through acupuncture, massage, herbs, chiropractic care, physical therapy, or supplements/drugs as prescribed by your vet. If your dogs checks out well in the health department but likely has some level of cognitive dysfunction, the drug L-Deprenyl, also known as Anipryl (generic name selegiline hydrochloride), can be beneficial.
Some nutraceuticals can be given under the guidance of your vet. Novifit‹E by Virbac has shown to alleviate cognitive dysfunction signs in a double-blinded, placebo controlled study. ProNeurozone‹E by Animal Health Options combines antioxidants and vitamins to stow down the progression of cognitive dysfunction, while Senilife@ by Ceva has shown effectiveness within 7 days, explains veterinary behaviorist Lisa Radosta.
Keep your dog at a healthy weight. A slim dog has less weight putting pressure on the joints which can help with arthritis and other painful joint conditions.
Feed a good senior dog diet. Antioxidants such as vitamin E protect the cell membranes from the damaging effects of oxidation, and thus, can help to improve cognitive abilities in senior dogs. Vitamin C also plays a strong role in preventing oxidative damage. Omega 3 fatty acids promote the health of cell membranes and are beneficial thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties. Acetyl L-Carnitine and Alpha-lipoic acid are also healthy supplements that Dr. Wynn, a nutritionist at Georgia Veterinary Specialists in Sandy Springs, Georgia, suggests in addition to antioxidants for dogs with cognitive dysfunction. Consult with your vet or veterinary nutritionist for guidelines.
Dr. Gary Landsberg, a veterinary behaviorist, notes that a high intake of fruits and vegetables has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which may help to fight cognitive dysfunction. Not to mention, the extra beneficial flavonoids and carotenoids.
Keep on training and exercising your dog. Moderate exercise under the form of walks keeps blood flowing to the joints. Ask you vet about an appropriate exercise/training regimen. Also, keeping the dog exercised and mentally stimulated through training and puzzles may keep the mind busy and can reduce the instances of pacing in the night. The Brain Training for Dogs course contains several games which require little movement, such as Ihe Shell Game. The Shell Game may also help to keep the senses (which typically decline with age) sharp.
Provide environmental enrichment. Exercise, rotating toys on a weekly basis, food puzzles and foraging can all help with this. “With more blood flow to a particular organ, you’ll see more nerves firing and more synaptic involvement, and you should definitely increase cognitive ability at that point, too,” explains Jonna Kanable, a Certified Canine Rehab Practitioner (CCRP) working for AGanta Animal Rehab and Fitness in Roswell, Georgia.
A predictable routine is reassuring to senior dogs, so it’s best to minimize the chances for abrupt changes which may cause stress. Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be used as a subsite for professional veterinary, nutritional or behavioral advice. If you are noticing cognitive changes in your dog please consult with your vet or a veterinary behaviorist for help. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.
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