How to Treat Anxiety in Senior Dogs
I always felt that it was my privilege to take care of my dogs as they aged. I felt like I owed them extra love and patience as they gave my family years and years of love and great feelings. But, coming home to a senior dog that is “stuck” in a corner, staring at the wall, and crying because he doesn't know what to do is so very, very heartbreaking.
When our senior dog Boomer would do this, I would pick him up and hold him and he would cry and cry.
“I don’t know who cried harder, him or me. I knew Boomer loved his world with us and all I wanted to do was let him know he was okay, that he was not alone, and I was so sorry he was feeling so lost and confused.”
Getting old is tough - body pains come up, health issues crawl in, some senses fail to work. Humans can talk, but with our dogs we struggle to figure out what is going on with them. Like senior people, senior dogs don’t take well to change, as they are comfortable with routine, and lose confidence in their abilities.
I am sure you give your senior dog lots of love, there are many articles written about their need for extra attention and I think it comes down to them being confused about things and wanting reassurance from you that things are okay. . The key to helping them navigate this next chapter in their lives is love and patience. Geriatric dogs need a lot more care than puppies and middle aged dogs. Oftentimes we hear pet parents ask “why is my dog acting scared?” or “is my dog having dementia” or “how do I make my dog's senior years more comfortable?”
Anxiety in Senior Dogs
Anxiety can take different forms and may get triggered in varied situations such as company over, a change in routine, loud noises, or moving things around in the house. Senior dogs may show symptoms like extreme shaking, pacing, panting, restlessness, lethargy, or even clinginess. Loss or change in appetite or sleep can also happen during anxiety. Cognitive Canine Dysfunction Syndrome, like Alzheimer’s in humans, is most common in senior dogs. Just like humans who suffer from Alzheimers, dogs sometimes are very present and other times off into their own world.
Maintaining a routine is so important as they can get upset with change. Not finding their bed or toys at the usual place can trigger them. A routine with the same time for getting up, going on walks, having meals, and even going to bed is helpful and can comfort your dog.
The most common things we see in senior dogs are:
This anxiety is triggered when a dog knows its owner is about to leave or upon the realization that they are home alone. The symptoms start with panting, licking, or pacing. When left alone, the dog can be destructive, may bark or howl a lot, or even urinate or have other accidents inside the house.
At this point your dog is a senior and trying to teach an old dog new tricks is a lot more difficult, especially if your dog is showing signs of forgetfulness and confusion. When they were younger leaving the TV on, playing music worked. In our own experience, our senior dogs seemed to just roam around kind of lost. Sometimes we would come home to find our dog standing in a corner just staring at the wall. It is impossible to be there for your dog 100% of the time but if you must leave them alone consider a few alternatives such as having someone come in and visit with your dog, taking them to daycare, leaving them with objects that bring comfort or pleasure.
Anxiety around Strangers
Remember when your dog would wag it’s tail a million miles an hour when a stranger would approach them as puppies? As seniors oftentimes these situations now are confusing and perhaps threatening. That wagging tail now is hiding in between its legs or your dog now is aggressive, having accidents or is just distressed.
Remember: You are your dog’s advocate. It is okay to tell people that your dog is old and would prefer to not be pet. If people approach all smiles and getting down to pat them, take your dog away and explain that as a senior dog its behavior is unpredictable. The best solution is to let your dog approach the stranger first. Don’t punish your dog or yank hard on their leash. Remember, your dog is confused. Your dog is not intentionally being this way, it is just part of the aging experience.
Failing Senses Anxiety
Like humans, dog senses may also fail due to old age. Their ability to see, hear, or smell may not work well. Often it is difficult to navigate their way in the house. They get scared easily, or might not be able to hear you properly.
You can help them by never approaching or sneaking up on them. Try adding sound to things or talk louder than usual so that they can track your actions. Something we discovered was a bubbling water bowl that can aid them to find easily. Also, try creating boundaries like adding a gate or keeping a crate so they can have their safe place when scared.
Losing Control on Bladder/Bowel Anxiety
We just started experiencing this with our senior dog Skippy. All of a sudden the dog that never had an accident in the house would stare at us and start urinating. He did it while standing in his bed, hanging out with us in the living room, even after a walk outside! We first took him to the vet to make sure everything was medically okay. Then we invested in doggie diapers to wrap around his middle. As stated in the beginning, this is our privilege, he is not doing this to misbehave or act out. He is just old and things like losing control of his bladder happen. Putting a diaper on him is the least we can do. He doesnt mind and barely notices it. I know many people who will say “I am never putting a diaper on my dog” but more and more people see that changing a diaper is simple and quick and eliminates messes.
Help your dog navigate this new chapter. Play music which is proven to reduce dog anxiety. It is because of our senior dog Boomer that our company came to be. We made our first solution after watching him suffer with confusion and feeling lost and scared. K9 Comfort Spray is the result of years of study and knowing that YOUR scent combined with specific essential oils will reward your dog with calm and comfort.
Our dogs are a part of our life story, and making their senior years as comfortable as possible is a small way to thank them for their devotion and unconditional love
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