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Why Are My Senior Dog’s Behaviors Changing (CDS)?

Posted September 14, 2015 in Dog Behavior

Old tired dog

Thanks to improved diagnostics and treatments, improved preventive care and greater emphasis on quality nutrition, pets are now living longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.

While the development of better and better pain management products means that pets can live more comfortable, pain free lives, there is growing awareness that senior pets can develop cognitive issues such as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Unfortunately, this condition is frequently not treated in dogs. In a Pet Age article, Rebecca Harrison reports that the The Journal of Veterinary Behavior conducted a study that estimated over 14% of senior pets have CDS, but less than 2% of guardians are addressing the problem.

Effects of aging on dogs
Much as for aging humans, dog behaviors can change significantly from one year to the next. Dogs affected by CDS can experience rapid changes in their behavior.

It is not uncommon for pet guardians to attribute significant changes in behavior to “old age,” says Dr. Marty Becker, according to Harrison's article. But there could be more at work than just that. Brain changes can occur sooner in life and more frequently than generally believed. Senior pets may become less interactive and playful. They may be more confused and may revert to house soiling behaviors like a puppy.

Signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome in dogs
According Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, in his paper “Therapeutic Agents for the Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Senior Dogs,” symptoms of CDS in dogs are not unlike those in humans and can include:

  • Increase in anxiety
  • Decrease in hygiene/self-grooming
  • Altered appetite
  • Decreased responsiveness to stimuli
  • Deficits in learning and memory

CDS is often a devastating condition in people affecting, not only the individual, but friends and family too. There is a good deal of awareness and concern about cognitive disorders in humans and there continues to be a good deal of study about cognitive disorders in people. However, because the level of interactions between pets and people is quite different than between groups of people, many are unaware that dogs too may suffer from CDS.

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.