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BEHAVIORAL CHANGES IN OLDER DOGS

It can be a nasty shock if your well-behaved older dog starts soiling in the house or stops greeting you at the door at night. If your dog seems to need an attitude adjustment, don't just blame it on his age. Your pet may have a treatable medical problem that's causing changes in his behavior.

It's All in His Mind

Has your beloved companion gradually become more sedentary, less tolerant of change and a bit grumpier? Maybe he follows you around the house constantly now, whereas before spent his afternoons watching squirrels race by the window.

Or has he gone the other way, acting indifferent to your attention? Are there times he doesn't seem to recognize you? Does he occasionally get stuck behind furniture or go to the hinged side of the door to be let in? Perhaps he even has accidents in the house now and then, a rare event during his younger years.

If your dog exhibits such behavior changes, he may be suffering from cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a newly recognized disease in dogs. If so, your veterinarian can suggest behavior modification techniques and medication to manage this condition.

Any older dog will benefit from continued mental exercise as he ages, so encourage play with stimulating toys, review lessons learned years ago in obedience class and refresh your dog's memory with familiar commands. You may discover that you can teach your old dog new tricks!

Accidental Spills

After patiently housebreaking your pet, it can be a surprise when your older dog soils in the house. However, your pet's accidents could signal a medical problem, including bladder infection, diabetes mellitus or renal disease. Or your pet may have a mobility problem - he just can't make it to the door fast enough!

Don't punish your dog for his accidents - this could induce fear- or anxiety-related behavior problems. Do schedule an exam with your veterinarian right away. Identifying the cause quickly can be lifesaving, and will help prevent your dog from developing bad habits.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

If your older dog is slow to greet you at the door, it could be that he's suffering from vision or hearing loss. However, if he's otherwise healthy, he should perk up as soon as he notices you're home.

Your veterinarian can check your dogs vision and hearing. He might be suffering from an ear infection, dry eyes or cataracts, which are treatable conditions. Ask your veterinarian to explain your dog's condition and possible treatments.

A Lingering Effect

Is your dog spending more time in his bathroom - that certain corner of the yard, or under that special tree? Constipation sometimes plagues older dogs because of insufficient exercise, poor nutrition, prostate disease, tumors, weakening bowel muscles or low water consumption. And dogs with impacted anal glands can also appear uncomfortable and constipated.

You can help prevent constipation problems by making sure your pet always has access to fresh water. If he doesn't seem to be drinking enough, mix water with his normal chow. High-fiber diets may also help ease your dog's distress by promoting extra water absorption in the large intestine. Your veterinarian can help pinpoint the problem.

Immediate Relief

Dogs who need their water bowls filled more often - and then race outside to urinate - may be showing signs of renal disease, Cushings disease or diabetes. Let your veterinarian know right away, and never withhold water to slow your revolving doggy door. Restricting your dog's water intake may make the underlying medical problem worse.

Appetite Alert

If your dog used to eat every meal like it was his first in three days and now barely stirs when you fill the food bowl, his taste buds could be at fault. Older dogs sometimes lose their ability to taste and smell food.

Be on the alert, though, in case your dog becomes extremely finicky or refuses more than two main courses in a row. And if your dog can't find the food bowl or forgets to eat, tell your veterinarian.

On the other hand, if your dog's appetite is suddenly insatiable, this could signal other medical problems, including Cushings disease or diabetes mellitus, common endocrine disorders in older dogs.

Weigh your senior dog every month, and if you notice a 5 percent or greater change in body weight, schedule a visit with your veterinarian.

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