The more you read about your dog, the more you will realise that they really are very similar to humans. In many ways and old age is not that different! Reduced vision and /or hearing is common in older dogs and just as it can make humans grouchy and anxious it has a similar impact on your dog.
An older dog may be more easily startled in they are unable to see or hear well.
Confusion and disorientation can be a result of hearing and sight loss.
Senior dogs can start to become more anxious as life starts to seem less predictable.
Other factors, such as dementia or painful arthritis, can also be involved in behaviour change in older dogs.
Do not change the layout of the furniture in your house as this will confuse a dog with little or no vision.
What is sensory loss?
As dog’s age, their ability to see or hear may reduce. Some dogs may experience both vision and hearing loss to some degree.
It is always sensible to speak to a vet if you think your dog is experiencing sensory loss, because there may be other factors involved such as the ears being dirty or painful eye conditions which can also be a problem if left untreated. Some conditions such as cataracts in the eyes can be treated which will restore your dog’s sight.
Why does sensory loss effect my dog’s behaviour?
When a dog is unable to see or hear well, they may be more easily startled by noises, activity or being touched. Being startled is not a very pleasant experience and some dogs might automatically respond defensively and bite if a person or another dog startles them, particularly if they are fast asleep at the time.
It can also lead to confusion and disorientation, if the dog is unable to locate the source of a noise. This can result in anxiety, as the dog is constantly anticipating something unpleasant might happen at unpredictable times. Older dogs can sometimes start to become worried about things that they have never been bothered about before – for example, the sound of someone sneezing. A reduction in hearing and vision can mean that the dog is unable to match the action of sneezing with the noise because their brain is only hearing certain elements of the sound.
How can I help my dog with their sensory loss?
Keep the layout of your house and garden the same – your dog will have learned the location of large items of furniture and can navigate around these even with sight loss. If they have little or no vision they will struggle to adapt to a change in layout.
Sniffing really is a dog super power and dogs navigate their world through scent. This sense remains their strongest even when they start to lose sight and hearing with age. The sense of smell can therefore be used to help the senior dog. For example, if the dog is fast asleep and needs to be roused, sitting next to them can sometimes be enough for them to slowly wake as they pick up the scent of someone being close. If a person sitting nearby isn’t sufficient to wake them, pop a piece of food next to them or a favourite toy and that should do the job!
Sniffing helps calm dogs down and provides them with brilliant mental stimulation – it is also a slow activity that isn’t physically strenuous, so it is great for the older dog. This can help reduce any anxiety that can result from sensory loss. Older dogs experiencing vision loss can be supported at home using a scent near to their beds to help them orientate to these areas. Pet Remedy is a herbal mix that is also designed to calm dogs and it comes as wipes or spray so can be applied around the bed area.
Dementia and arthritis
Just like in humans, dementia in dogs can cause disorientation and confusion, and is much more common in older dogs. Painful conditions such as arthritis or teeth infections can cause dogs to become withdrawn, less active, miserable and quiet. Fortunately, there’s a huge amount we can do to manage all these conditions in older dogs to make their twilight years more fulfilling, enjoyable and comfortable.
You may find it helpful to book a consultation with one of our friendly vets who can discuss your dog’s individual situation keep them happy and healthy in their old age.