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senior dog changed behaviour

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hi everyone

we have a 10 year old female chihuahua.


when she was a puppy, we had her desexed and her behaviour changed. she started not liking being pat, when you reach for her, she would cower. when you carry her, she would squeal. over time, we learned what she likes, what she tolerates and what she doesn't like.

now she's in her senior year. she's going blind. i noticed an increase fearful behaviour in her which i think is natural.
but this fearful behaviour would make her bark more often. and we would be doing our best to guess what she wants, either go outside, have something to eat, take her to bed, etc.
the other night, she barked most of the night due to pain when she tries to poo. she would squat but nothing happens, and when she does, she would have runny poo and she would squeal in pain. we took her to the vet and found out she has a cyst and infection so the vet gave her enema and antibiotics.
what do you do with your senior dog when their behaviour changes? how do you deal with increase barking and you don't know what is causing it?

thanks for all your advise

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Her ill health and pain would be contributing to her changed behaviour: up to 80% of dogs with problem behaviour have chronic pain of some description which when treated improves their behaviour or resolves the problem entirely. However, it sounds like she may also have a genetic predisposition to anxiety which was impacted by her spay – these days it’s understood that hormones help with confidence. And given her age we can also start to wonder about canine cognitive dysfunction (dementia), though if you ask me, 10 isn’t super old for a chi!


I’d see how she goes with her treatment, but if her fearfulness and barking continue I would go back to your vet. If they are unable to help you, which is possible as it’s a bit of a niche area, look for one with a special interest or further qualifications in behaviour. They can determine whether she has an anxiety disorder or CCD, and if so what treatment she needs to feel better. Once she feels better you should see her behaviour improve.


In the meantime you could try things like playing calming music for dogs - I really like Through a Dog’s Ear, and giving lots of other enrichment opportunities focused on relaxation and supporting cognitive function. Scent-based activities can be particularly calming and suitable for dogs of all ages and abilities.


Some over the counter products that can be suitable for mild to moderate fear/anxiety/stress include Adaptil, Zylkene, Purina Calming Care, and certain speciality diets from Royal Canin and Hills. These products may not necessarily be suitable costwise or appropriate for her as an individual, and you should speak to your vet. I just know that many people are tempted to go out and buy stuff that is suggested to them online, and these are at least evidence-based unlike most things on the market.


Finally, don’t let her age make you think that improvement with her fearfulness and barking isn’t possible. My chi mix was only diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and canine compulsive disorder (doggy OCD) at 10 despite being anxious from the get-go. Getting a diagnosis and treatment plan from a veterinary behaviourist along with ensuring contributing chronic illnesses were treated made a huge difference in his quality of life. He lived to ~15.5 so that was a 3rd of his life spent feeling better within himself and consequently behaving in less exasperating ways (he too communicated his feelings by barking a lot). :)


Some links for you:





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I had a stafford who was bullet proof but then developed anxiety when her hearing suddenly went. Her eyesight was also diminishing with age and she went from a dog who liked to be loved kind of roughly to one who didn't want to be touched for fear of being hurt. Then she developed Sundowners too. It was a lot for her and us to deal with. Our interactions with her changed as soon as we realised - very gentle touch and cuddles. She went on Antinol Rapid (which helped her joint discomfort) and we minimised her ability to hurt herself jumping up and down off furniture (I ended up with a ramp at the end of my bed and a baby rail down one side so she had to use it. We also started making and giving her Golden Paste, which I feel also assisted. We developed big gestures to get her attention in the yard (still had an issue with alarming her to wake her). We tried an adaptil plug in the wall and then a collar but ended up using Vetalogica calming chews which worked best for her.  It helped the wandering and panting reduce in the early evening. The other thing we did (recommended for doggy dementia) was get a blue light for the base of the ramp at our bed. It stayed on all night (didn't have any worries sleeping with it on) and it helped keep her settled at night.


These are just some basic changes we made that worked for us. We've got a great vet so had they recommended something (medication) I would have tried that too. The doggy dementia FB page I found was really helpful too. It must be hard for them when everything starts changing and they don't know how to tell us.

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cognitive decline, or environmental changes. Common signs include irritability, confusion, decreased activity, and altered sleep patterns.

First, consider health issues such as arthritis, dental problems, or organ diseases. Schedule a vet visit to rule out medical conditions, as regular check-ups can detect problems early.

Cognitive decline, similar to dementia in humans, can lead to confusion and anxiety. If diagnosed with canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), your vet may recommend dietary changes, medications, or supplements.

Environmental changes can also impact behavior. Maintain a stable, familiar environment and consistent routine to help your dog feel secure. Ensure they have a comfortable, quiet place to rest.

Understanding that behavioral changes in senior dogs often indicate underlying issues is crucial. With regular vet care, a stable environment, and patience, you can help your senior dog navigate their golden years comfortably.

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