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Changing Behavior in the Aging Pet
As our pets grow older there are many things about them that begin to change. Some slow down and aren’t able to get around a well as they used to. We may notice that their hair is getting grey and their body shape may be a little more round in the belly and skinny in the legs. It can be difficult when we finally realize that the dog who used to go on every car trip with you or play for hours at the beach has reached an age where they are happy to just get out of bed and making it around the block for a walk with the family. Slowing down with age most people expect, but what about the increase in anxiety that many geriatric pets experience as they get older?
As Some Senses Dull, Pet Confidence can Decline
Time and again we hear owners discuss their concerns about a pet’s increased anxiety or stress in situations that were not a big deal and sometimes actually considered enjoyable in the past. Car rides, visiting new places, thunderstorms, or a change in the daily routine can all become scary and fearful events leaving our geriatric dogs a trembling, shaking mess. As their senses dull and perhaps go away altogether (with vision or hearing loss) some dogs seem to lose their confidence or ability to adapt to new situations. A dark hall or shadows from a doorway suddenly become things to be feared. A touch, even gentle, can be a scary thing if the dog is sleeping and did not hear you approaching. Senior pets can also develop cognitive disorders that produce dementia type symptoms. They simply lose the ability to understand what is going on around them. If an owner leaves the room, out of their sight, a senior dog may become anxious because the pet fears that the owner is gone forever and not coming back again.
The Role of Pain in an Anxious Pet
Chronic pain can change a pet’s personality significantly. Humans with chronic pain often describe being in a “pain fog” and have difficulty focusing on what is around them. Pain can be a difficult thing to recognize in many older pets. With our hurting pets we see worried guarding of a uncomfortable area, hesitancy to do certain activities or outright refusal to participate, panting, and often times pacing or frequent shifting to get comfortable. So what can we do about this to help our four legged friends move beyond the anxiety and find some peace in their golden years?
Manage Their Environment to Avoid Stressful Triggers
The first and easiest thing to consider is to try and manage environmental situations that may trigger an anxious response. If vision is failing, then don’t move around the furniture, guide your dog though unknown areas or down stairs, use verbal cues to let them know that you are there. With hearing loss, approach sleeping pets with caution, use hand signals to reinforce commands such as sit or stay, put yourself in their line of vision so that they know that you are with them. For the Senior pet with cognitive changes, “dog proofing” and area may be necessary to keep a wandering dog safe in an easy to clean up place in the house. Keeping to a consistant daily routine of feeding, exercising, and playtime is also another way to help an anxious senior pet remain comfortable in their environment.
A Thorough Evaluation Can Lead To The Correct Pain Control Program
A good assessment by your veterinarian at least annually may reveal painful areas that have held a pet back from participating in things that they used to find enjoyable. Pain control can come in many forms: oral medication and supplementation, home therapy such as warm compresses or massage, rehabilitation therapy, and/or acupuncture. Once a pet is in a good pain control program we frequently hear feedback for our clients such as: ” Oh, I forgot that she used to do that!” or “We didn’t think that he would ever be able to do this again and that we would have to leave him at home.”
Some Other Options For The Anxious Pet
And finally, in some cases, there are medications and other products that can take the edge off of a stressful situation or period of time. Nutraceuticals such as Composure or Rescue Remedy can be given on an as-needed basis for situations such as car and thunderstorm anxiety. Products like the Thunder shirt and pheromone collars promote a feeling of peace and security. If the anxiety or unsettled behavior becomes too difficult to manage or disruptive it might be time to consider medication such as Prozac or Clomicalm for consistent mood stabilizers.
Let’s take some stress out of the aging process for our pets. With a little intervention and common sense awareness from us as pet owners, we can help our four legged family members enjoy their golden years.