Behavioural and Neurological Changes in your Senior Pet

Many of the behavioural changes we see in our senior pets are caused by physiological changes. For example, your pet’s loss of acuity of vision, hearing, smell and taste may make them

  • less responsive to his environment
  • easier to startle
  • occasionally more aggressive
  • more afraid of common place phenomena such as loud noises or storms
  • less interested in food.

Seniors pets may also experience losses in cognitive function that are similar to changes in people with dementia. Pets experiencing Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) would appear:

  • confused
  • disoriented
  • show decreased interaction with owners

They may be

  • irritable
  • aggressive
  • delayed in responding to obedience commands

These pets may also have

  • changes in sleep patterns
  • housetraining ‘accidents.’

It is important to rule out other physical causes of these behavioural changes before diagnosing CDS. Other common causes of these are illnesses or pain due to arthritis, dental disease, bladder infection, or side effects of


To determine the source of your pet’s behavior changes, your vet will need blood and urine samples from your pet. The vet will also perform a physical exam as well as taking a complete medical history. It is possible that a senior pets may be suffering from a combination of medical and cognitive problems.

Treatment Options

Joint Pain

If joint pain is an issue then medications can help, as will modifying the pet’s environment with a softer bed, easier walking surface and beside stairs.

Eating Problems

A good dental cleaning and tooth extractions could resolve eating issues caused by poor dental hygiene and rotten teeth. These can be severe problems for a pet who hasn’t had a cleaning or any dental care before its senior years.

Eliminating in the House

House soiling is very common in senior pets as their kidney function declines with age. As well, the incidence of urinary tract infections increases and arthritis contributes to the pet’s reluctance to travel as far to eliminate.


Anxiety disorders increase with age but fortunately there are very effective treatments for them. Your veterinarian will try to determine when the behavioural problem began and if anything triggered it. Understanding the problem from the pet’s point of view may allow us to suggest behaviour modification techniques to ease the pet’s anxiety. When necessary, we can refer your pet to a behavioural specialist. There are excellent anti-depressant and anti-anxiety neutraceuticals and prescription medications for pets, just as there are for people.

Separation anxiety is a common example of an anxiety disorder that increases as cognitive function diminishes. Serious separation anxiety almost always requires a combination of behaviour modification training and a prescription anti anxiety medication.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)

If your pet is diagnosed with CDS, talk to your veterinarian about natural supplements, prescription diets, and prescription medications that are formulated to slow the progression of the disease. It can be frightening and disconcerting to get older and lose some of the function of one or all of our senses, but there are many holistic and medical therapies that can make your senior pet less anxious and more comfortable.