Common Behavior Problems in Senior Dogs

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Senior Canines

If you find your older dog walking around aimlessly, pacing back and forth, barking randomly, or standing in a corner looking like he’s stuck, he may be suffering from cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). With CDS, the dog may forget he’s house-trained, get stuck behind furniture, stare into a room as if he’s forgotten where he is, bark for no apparent reason, fail to recognize familiar people, or pace around, especially in the evening. In one study, two thirds of dogs between 11 and 16 years of age showed at least one sign of CDS.

The brains of dogs with CDS show similar, but not identical, changes as those seen in human Alzheimer patients. These include deposits of beta-amyloid and the formation of plaques in the brain.

How Your Veterinarian Can Help

Where indicated, your veterinarian can prescribe medication that can help control the signs of CDS in many dogs. After a month of daily treatment, about 75 percent of dog owners report improvement in at least one sign of CDS in their dogs. About one third showed dramatic improvement, one third showed mild improvement, and one third showed little to no improvement.

Loss of house-training can be due to CDS, but it can also stem from physical problems. Older dogs may lose sphincter control, especially while sleeping, and may drip urine or expel feces in their bed. Urinary incontinence in spayed females, especially larger-size females, may be related to hormones and may be treatable. Ask your veterinarian about drug therapy. In other cases the best you can do is use the puppy training pads, or pads made for incontinent people, where your dog sleeps. Use rinse-free shampoo to keep the dog clean.

Sometimes loss of house-training can be caused by diseases such as diabetes or kidney disease that make the dog have to urinate more, or by urinary tract diseases that make the dog feel the urgent need to urinate often. Don't attribute lack of house-training — or any behavioral changes in your older dog — to CDS before first having your veterinarian look for other reasons.

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