Behavior Changes in Senior Dogs (cont.)

Ruling Out Other Causes for Your Dog's Behavior

If your dog shows any of the symptoms or changes listed above, your first step is to take him to his veterinarian to determine whether there is a specific medical cause for his behavior. Any medical or degenerative illness that causes pain, discomfort or decreased mobility-such as arthritis, dental disease, hypothyroidism, cancer, impaired sight or hearing, urinary tract disease or Cushing's disease-can lead to increased sensitivity and irritability, increased anxiety about being touched or approached, increased aggression (since your dog may choose to threaten and bite rather than move away), decreased responsiveness to your voice, reduced ability to adapt to change, and reduced ability to get to usual elimination areas.

If medical problems are ruled out, and if primary behavior problems unrelated to aging are ruled out (for example, problems that started years before your dog began aging or those that started in response to recent changes in his environment or family), then these behavioral signs are presumed to be due to the effects of aging on the brain and are diagnosed as “cognitive dysfunction syndrome.”

Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunction

The primary signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be summarized with the acronym CRASH, which stands for:

  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Responsiveness/recognition decreases
  • Activity changes
  • Sleep-wake cycle disturbances
  • House training lapses

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be treated by your dog's veterinarian with the drug selegiline hydrochloride (brand name Anipryl®). There are a number of other medications and supplements that you and your vet may consider as well. It's most effective to combine drug therapy with behavioral treatment that's based on the specific problems your dog is having.