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Behavior Changes in Aging Pets

The rate at which a pet shows signs of aging depends on inherited factors, such as breed, size and general health. In general, large and giant-breed dogs age more quickly than do small or medium-sized dogs. Miniature and toy-breed dogs, as well as indoor cats, tend to live longer. As a pet ages, its behavior may change. Though a pet can continue to be playful, its stamina and general levels of activity begin a slow decline. It is not uncommon for an aging pet to develop behavior problems though none were displayed in earlier years. Behavior problems in an older pet may be the first indication of an underlying medical disorder. It is important to distinguish between behavior changes associated with treatable disorders and those underlying a gradual degeneration from aging. Do not assume that all problems in an older pet are incurable or unmanageable. Annual veterinary checkups are important to monitor the health of a pet for its entire lifetime, providing you with the opportunity to discuss any changes with your veterinarian. These visits also enable your veterinarian to monitor the progression of any problem, to detect new ones that you may not have noticed, and to make recommendations benefitting both you and your pet.

Common Problems of Aging Pets
Progressive loss of sight and hearing is common in aging pets. Partial or complete blindness may be difficult to detect until a pet is placed in an unfamiliar setting. Your pet may stumble or hesitate only when the living room furniture is rearranged. With your help, a pet can learn to compensate for a loss of eyesight. Avoid moving its food or bedding, or rearranging furniture. If this is necessary, or if you are relocating to a new home or traveling to unfamiliar areas, your pet will likely be more anxious and afraid. Stay nearby to reassure your pet. With your dog on a leash, walk it through its new surroundings, stopping at each unfamiliar obstacle so that it can investigate with other senses. Blindness need not affect the quality of a pet's life if you make allowances for its limitations. You may first notice deafness when your pet does not respond to its name or if it responds only to louder tones of voice and noise. If vision is normal, deafness is easily compensated for in familiar surroundings. With hearing-impaired dogs, you may rely on hand signals rather than verbal obedience commands. If vision is also affected, increased supervision is essential in unfamiliar surroundings. A visually or hearing-impaired pet should never be permitted to roam freely outdoors. Arthritic changes in bone joints are common in older dogs and cats. These changes may be more significant in dogs and obese cats because of the added stress on weight-bearing joints. Inappropriate elimination can result from physical discomfort or decreased mobility. Irritable aggression can also increase with physical pain and emotional frustration. A lean cat with arthritic hips can maintain mobility longer than a large dog. An arthritic cat may have difficulty jumping onto elevated surfaces or climbing over the edge of its litter box. Arthritic dogs may have trouble climbing stairs or finding a comfortable position to lie in. Make sure your pet's physical limitations do not limit its access to food, water or litter. A pet that is unsure on its legs must be kept comfortable and mobile for as long as possible. Construct a ramp for your dog or use a sling to support the back legs of a large dog. Provide thick bedding to cushion bony protrusions. Speak with your veterinarian for more insight into making your pet comfortable during its later years.