As pets age, we can visibly see the signs of change, to some extent, and certain medical conditions may arise. Maybe they are less energetic and sleep more, or they develop a health condition common in some older pets, such as arthritis. But what most owners don’t consider is how behavior might change in older animals.

In some pets, there are marked changes in how they behave once they are elderly. You may have noticed some differences in your sweet pet. This is why Dickinson Animal Hospital and Pet Wellness Center is here to explain some of these behaviors changes in older pets and how you can better support your four-legged friend.

The Aging Canine Brain

Since, on average, our pet companions live much shorter lives than us, changes to their physical and mental health can occur within months, as opposed to years. A dog is considered senior after the age of 7-8 years and 10 years for cats. As they level-up, they may begin to exhibit a decrease in stamina, energy, and enthusiasm than that of their younger companions

The brain in canines also changes, with certain symptoms emerging. A study conducted by the American Animal Hospital Association shows that the cognition changes in dogs is similar to those in humans who are subject to Alzeimers and Dementia. Simply, they have less ability to remember, cope with stress, and learn new skills.

Some of the changes that take place in older pets are:

  • Increased sleeping – This is one of the most common changes owners note, that their cat or dog is sleeping more than they did before. They may have a physical need for more sleep, or want to rest after any level of exertion.
  • Decreased interest – If your pet seems bored with their toys or certain activities, this is also a notable change for elderly pets. Instead, try and swap out their toys with something that is suitable for their life stage, like a stuffed animal or soft chew.
  • More anxiety or fear – Pets who experience a decrease in cognitive abilities often startle more easily and are prone to anxiety. Make sure to keep their surroundings as calm and relaxed as possible, avoiding too much noise, crowds, or other stimuli. Disorientation can cause them to feel less secure.
  • Changes in demeanor – Your once friendly canine or curious kitty now seems more withdrawn, less sociable, and more possessive of their owners. Some pets may even become irritable or aloof, or on the other hand, more clingy.
  • Increased accidents – If your pet is soiling the floor, spraying, or going outside of the litter box, they might be having lapses in memory. These accidents can also be a sign of an underlying health condition. 

Older pets tend to experience a number of physical changes, including the risk of disease. Senior pets often have a deficiency in hearing and sight, which can add to the impact of cognitive changes taking place. 

Helping Your Senior Pet

It can be heartbreaking for a loving pet owner to experience the signs of aging in their beloved bestie. We understand. Growing older is tough! However, you can help ease this transition and make your pet’s overall quality of life better through a few different actions.

  • Continue to keep your pet active, adjusting their level of activity according to their health and age. This might include gentle walks for dogs and a short game of feather chase with your feline.
  • Make sure to keep your pet’s bowls, beds, litter box, and other daily items in the same place. This place should be free from drafts and located on the first story of the home, especially if your pet has  mobility challenges.
  • Treats can be a great motivator for older pets, giving them something that is a reward and positive. Just be mindful of not overindulging them to avoid weight gain.
  • Keep them mentally engaged by reinforcing basic commands training, ensuring they respond to “sit”, “stay”, “come”, and so on. Some cats and dogs like treat dispensing puzzles, which can exercise both the mind and body.
  • Be patient with your pet. They likely need to go out more to relieve themself, need added reassurance that they are safe, and may need some reminders on basic house rules from time to time.
  • Provide opportunities for socialization in a secure and supervised way. Keep your pet close to you while at the park, or ask a friend with a well mannered pet to come over for a play date.

Recap: Behavior Changes in Older Pets

Remember, your pet will need more veterinary examinations as they reach their golden years. We recommend twice annual checkups to make sure there are no changes to their health and well-being.

If you have any questions about your senior pet’s behavior, please contact us. We are here for your best friend throughout the years, and at every life stage.