Behavioural problems in senior pets can result from medical issues like arthritic pain, loss of sight/hearing or diseases that affect the nervous system. They can also be attributed to age related deterioration of the brain known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.
In mild cases the pet may sleep more, become less responsive or show less social interaction with family and other pets. More severe signs might include repetitive behaviours such as pacing, new fears and anxieties, house soiling, waking at night, confusion and disorientation or loss of recognition of training cues.
The behaviour changes may be noticed following changes to the household or environment that the pet has difficulty adapting to. Early detection provides the best opportunity to help these pets and slow cognitive decline.
Prevention: What can you do?
For healthy senior pets, twice-yearly wellness examinations and laboratory screening tests provide an opportunity to identify emerging problems, sometimes before there are outward signs.
Report changes in your pet’s health and behaviour to the vet early.
If you foresee changes in your pets environment or schedule, try to make these gradual so you elderly pet has time to adapt.
Providing mental and physical enrichment helps to maintain a healthy brain and body. If your pet begins to slow down, find new games, new toys and new ways to play to stimulate the brain and keep the body active.
Play and exercise help most if continued throughout life and adjusted for age related physical limitations, for example supported swimming for arthritic dogs.
Leash walking exercises muscles and provides mental stimulation via smell and social interactions. Use a harness, sling or pram/stroller if they can’t manage walking. Take a ‘sniff stroll’ rather trying to cover ground. Trim nails and hair under their feet for a better grip.
Supervise play and pick mates matched by temperament, ability and size. Redirect the new puppy play if your old pet tires. Watching play may be enough.
Car trips are fun for some dogs. They enjoy the tactile sensations of the breeze, the smells and company. A ramp may be needed for access and comfy padding in the vehicle to cushion old joints. Take care in warm weather to prevent overheating.
Be creative in seeking ways to make it easier for them. Elevate the water dish to shoulder height; warm food and add water/broth to food to increase palatability and water intake; give cats more litter trays for convenient access and cut down tray height; set up ramps to reduce the need to use stairs; cats benefit from stepped platforms leading to high perches; have the cat/dog flap at floor level; use hall runners or a paw friction product to provide grip on slippery floors; add psyllium to the diet to reduce constipation; clip heavy coats and matts for freer movement and summer comfort; provide a winter coat if they feel the winter chill.
Smell provides great mental stimulation. Provide food puzzles and hidden treats. Visit unfamiliar places.
Hand signals or vibrating (NOT shock) collars can be used to communicate to deaf dogs. Lavender scent trails can guide the blind.
Practice massage and range of motion exercises for sore legs.
Treating problems: How can you help?
Medical problems need to be identified and treated, however retraining may also be required. For example, if your pet begins house soiling due to a medical issue, the problem may persist after the medical issue is resolved unless you use positive reinforcement to train the pet to return to the preferred locations and supervise access to the soiled areas.
For problems that cannot be completely resolved, you may need to make schedule adjustments to accommodate your pet’s needs. For example pets with kidney disease need to urinate more often so you may need to take your dog out to the toilet more frequently or reward them for using training pads. Provide extra litter trays or clean the litter tray more frequently if your cat urinates more due to kidney disease.
Maintain an enriched environment that stimulates your pet’s brain and body. Adjust their social play, exercise and training according to their health. Use their favourite food and toys to train new cues, practice previous training and play games of hide and find. Food release toys that provide manipulation to obtain the food or treats provide a challenge to stimulate your pet’s mind.
Medications can be prescribed to improve neurotransmitter function and brain activity or act as antioxidants. Medication that reduces physical pain, for example from arthritis, can allow your pet to enjoy more physical and mental activity.
A prescription veterinary diet is available containing antioxidants and fatty acids that reduce signs of cognitive decline by improving neurotransmission. It has been shown to help old dogs stay active, enjoy interactions, reduce sleep disturbances and retain house training.
Many natural products are touted to be effective and your vet will be able to advise you on supplements that may be useful.
If you are noticing changes in your senior pets behaviour or would like more information on helping
your elderly pet get the most out of day to day life
please phone us on (02) 6230 2223.
Our pets can’t tell us what they are feeling in words, however through observing their body language, we can notice changes in their behaviour that may indicate pain.
Pain can occur with a vast array of chronic diseases, some not so obvious, for example dental disease, arthritis, back pain, ear infections, pancreatitis and cancer.
Top five signs of chronic pain are:
Decreased Activity. Is your dog less enthusiastic for walks lately? Does your cat lay around more than usual or have they stopped climbing on to their favourite perch? Be careful not to assume this is normal ageing. There could be a medical condition that will improve with treatment.
Changes in habits. Is your cat grooming less? Has your dog stopped jumping into the car or onto furniture? Are they interacting less with family? Reluctance to use stairs or groom can often occur with back or joint pain.
Loss of toilet training. Dogs and cats might start to toilet inside if it hurts too much to walk to their usual spot, squeeze through the dog door or navigate steps. It could be painful to squat.
Lameness. Is your pet stiff when getting out of bed, hunched or favouring a leg? You might see them shifting their weight or unable to stand in one place for long if their joints are aching.
Aggression. Perhaps your pet is growling or snapping when petted to protect a painful area. Are they avoiding a playmate who asks for a tumble because it’s going to hurt?
Detecting chronic pain in your pet can be challenging. Body language is their only way to tell us when something is wrong, physically or emotionally.
Watch carefully for changes in their behaviour and contact the practice to arrange a check up if you notice a change in your pet’s behaviour.
Many of our older cats are silently suffering from arthritis.
Cats are very good at hiding when they are in pain, therefore, the visible signs of arthritis are very subtle.
Even just a slight change in the way they are jumping might be the only clue we are given.
Cats with elbow pain may extend a leg and hesitate before jumping down, they often land with a thud and pause before walking away.
Cats with knee pain will use creative ways to avoid jumping up high – they may go via a chair to get to the table, or avoid heights all together. You may notice them scrambling to get up, or asking to be lifted.
Some cats will get long nails from inactivity and may need them trimmed more frequently. Other cats will get matted fur, because it hurts them to turn around and groom. You may even notice your cat sleeping more often.
If you have noticed any of these signs there are many options available to help make your cat more comfortable.
Things we can do at home:
-Warm bedding in an easy to access location
-Using ramps and steps to ensure access to your cats’ favourite resting places
-Using litter trays with lower sides to allow ease of entry
-Providing food/water at floor level or slightly raised
Are there any medications?
Lots of cats thrive when given medical treatments for their arthritis. There are many options that we can use; they range from dietary supplements, to liquid anti-inflammatory given in the food, to creams you can put on your cats ear. So even if your cat is difficult to tablet there are plenty of choices.
With the weather cooling down, many of our older pets are feeling the strain.
Arthritis is quite common in older animals and is exacerbated by cool, humid weather. Being overweight or having had joint surgery at some point in their life are recognised risk factors. Large breed dogs often develop arthritis at an earlier age than smaller breeds. The impact of arthritis on a pet’s quality of life can be significant, but there are management strategies available. Continue reading Arthritis in pets→
Changes in jumping behaviour are the most obvious sign of arthritis in cats.
Cats with elbow arthritis are reluctant to jump down and seem to pour themselves off the bed or cupboard. Because they lose agility and flexibility they land with a thud and stand a moment before moving off.
Cats with arthritic knees are reluctant to jump as high as before. They use chairs to get onto tables or abandon high resting places altogether. Painful knees make them hesitate before jumping, scramble rather than jump or even miss the target. Some cats pull themselves up onto the couch or bed rather than spring up. Occasionally accidents happen because an old cat is unwilling to climb into the litter tray.
Cats that move stiffly have arthritic backs. Because it is difficult for them to groom their sides and backs their coats look rough or matt into tufts. Nice cats turn into cranky cats when they are picked up or petted because of the pain. Many spend the day resting and avoid play altogether.
You can help your arthritic cat. Set up stools or boxes as steps onto favourite resting places. Encourage gentle play to strengthen muscles by trailing ribbon and batting balls. Keep bodyweight down to reduce strain on old joints. Most important of all provide a warm, well-cushioned sleeping area.