If you’re looking for information about anxiety in older dogs, I’ve got you covered.
Below, we’re going to look at everything from types to symptoms.
Then, we’ll discuss some possible anxiety remedies and treatments your vet may prescribe.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Anxiety in Older Dogs – Types, Symptoms, and Treatments
Anxiety in older dogs is a common issue, and it’s one that causes a lot of concern for owners.
As their dog ages, owners see him shift from an outgoing, happy-go-lucky guy to one who seems just a bit more timid about things.
Maybe he’s not as eager to meet new dogs.
He might tend to stick closer to his family than he did before.
He might just be jumpier, in general, but the changes are there.
If these changes are occurring in your dog, it’s important to understand the causes of anxiety in older dogs, along with its symptoms and treatments.
That way, you can keep your dog feeling as secure as possible.
The Role of Aging in Anxiety in Older Dogs
Often times, anxiety in older dogs is due to the aging process.
This is most easily seen in the kind of dog I previously described who begins to become less and less outgoing or jumpier as he ages.
This is because dogs, like people, experience a decline in their functioning as they age.
Sight, hearing, spatial awareness, and cognitive function all become compromised to one degree or another as the systems governing these functions deteriorate.
As these functions become compromised, your dog’s ability to navigate his surroundings also becomes compromised.
These changes – all of them alarming for your dog – can lead to increased anxiety, clinginess, and other similar behaviors.
Types of Anxiety in Older Dogs
There are several different types of anxiety or anxiety-causing issues with older dogs, and today we’re looking at all of them.
I want to underline the point now that if your dog has been acting differently or you’ve seen any of these signs, you should take him to the vet right away.
Your vet can help guide you through the process of your dog’s aging process, his emotional changes and needs, and other aspects of his aging.
It’s important to note that this post is simply a guide to help you understand anxiety in older dogs. It is by no means a treatment plan or medical assessment, diagnosis, or proposed treatment.
Remember: vets are best!
Sometimes, age in general is the cause of anxiety in older dogs.
This is outside of CDS, which we’ll talk about next.
There are some dogs who simply become more anxious as they age, becoming less able to adapt to changes in their environment or less tolerant of things that would once have been minor annoyances.
Canine Dysfunction Syndrome
Canine Dysfunction Syndrome, also known as Old Dog Syndrome, almost always causes anxiety in dogs.
The canine equivalent of Alzheimer’s Disease, CDS comes with a host of cognitive and physical symptoms that cause anxiety in your aging dog.
As the symptoms progress, your dog will become more and more agitated as he loses his ability to navigate and even understand his world.
Owners of dogs who have CDS will notice several symptoms.
Like Alzheimer’s symptoms, CDS symptoms won’t manifest all at once.
Rather, owners will see these symptoms slowly creep into their dog over time as the disease progresses. Symptoms include:
- Getting lost in familiar locations or the home
- Getting stuck in corners
- Inability to navigate over or around obstacles
- Clinginess and overdependency
- Fixating on or snapping at objects
- Pacing or wandering
- Excessive licking of family or objects
- Excessive vocalization
- Restlessness or agitation
- Onset of separation anxiety
- Inappropriate elimination
- Impaired movement
You’ll notice that one of the symptoms of CDS is the onset of separation anxiety.
As your dog loses his ability to understand, navigate, and interact with his world, he will become more and more clingy, as you are essentially his lifeline to everything.
Anxiety Secondary to Pain
When our dogs are scared, hurt, or otherwise not feeling well, they turn to us for comfort and support.
In addition to that, as our dogs age, they become more prone to physical injury as well as illnesses.
Elderly dogs can suffer from a plethora of health problems from joint issues to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.
Any of these will cause your dog to gravitate more to you in an attempt to find some relief, even if it’s just being near his best buddy.
As some dogs age, they become less able to adapt to a bad or unpleasant experience.
Just like elderly humans, elderly dogs need consistency in their environment to feel safe.
Any change in that can potentially trigger an onset of separation anxiety.
Perhaps your elderly dog has been attacked by another dog or gone through a severe storm like a tornado or hurricane.
Maybe he was surprised by your neighbors setting off fireworks.
All of these things- and more- could trigger a prolonged anxiety response.
Change in Environment
Speaking of consistency, if an owner has had to move or otherwise change their dog’s environment drastically, it can lead to increased anxiety.
It takes older dogs longer to adjust to changes in their environment.
So a move, new pet, or any other major change to their living arrangement could cause them to develop anxiety.
When people think of separation anxiety, they usually think of high-strung dogs who have been jumpy and clingy from the time they were puppies.
However, separation anxiety in older dogs is a common occurrence.
Generally, it can be brought on by one or all of the above issues I just covered regarding anxiety in older dogs.
As our dogs age, they sometimes become overly clingy, needing to be by our side at every moment so that they can feel comfortable in their environment.
As they slow down, become less able to adapt, and generally decline, they look to us for comfort, support, and a feeling of reassurance.
This clinginess can graduate to full-blown separation anxiety in many cases.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Older Dogs
Whatever kind of anxiety your dog may have, whether it be from an environmental change or CDS, the symptoms of anxiety in older dogs – or any dog, for that matter – all tend to be the same.
There are a few symptoms that are more common among certain kinds of anxiety in older dogs.
I’ll note that, but the core symptoms are almost identical across the board.
Core Anxiety Symptoms
- Excessive panting
- Shaking or trembling
- Sleeping more
- Sleeping less
- Barking, whining, or howling when left alone
- Inappropriate elimination
General Anxiety Symptoms
- Core symptoms
- Excessively licking themselves or biting themselves
Separation Anxiety Symptoms
- Core symptoms
- Destructiveness when left alone
Addressing Anxiety in Older Dogs
By now, you’re probably thinking, “How do you calm an older dog with anxiety?” or “How can I help my old dog with separation anxiety?”
First and foremost, contact your vet if you can.
They have the knowledge and experience to help you navigate your aging dog’s emotional, and possibly physical, needs to help you better care for your older guy.
In addition to your vet’s guidance, these tips will help you make your dog feel more comfortable.
General Anxiety Tips
As I mentioned earlier, elderly dogs are just as set in their ways as elderly humans.
So, one of the best things you can do is maintain a solid routine and environment.
- Keep their diet the same.
- Don’t change where you keep their toys or their bed.
- Keep your furniture in the same place.
- Stick to your daily routine.
Of course, things can and do change in our lives from time to time, but the more routine you can keep things, the better.
Canine Dysfunction Syndrome Tips
It is vital that you see your vet if you think your dog might have CDS.
The anxiety associated with CDS is secondary to a whole host of other issues, and you will need your vet to help you find the appropriate approach to help your dog with CDS.
The things you can do at home are actually exactly what you would do with general anxiety.
Keep everything as routine as possible so that your dog doesn’t have to relearn where things are.
Like Alzheimer’s, CDS requires a highly structured environment.
In addition to keeping things as routine and in place as possible, there are a few things you can do to help your dog better use his failing senses in an effort to reduce his anxiety.
Be Obvious in His Environment
Approach your dog from within his field of view so that he isn’t startled by your arrival.
Stay in his field of view whenever possible so that he can keep his bearings.
Bubbling water bowls, bells on your shoes, and other auditory additions to the home can help your dog navigate his environment more successfully, helping to ease some of his anxiety.
CDS Proof the Home:
Place baby gates at the top of stairs so that your dog won’t fall.
Eliminate obstacles that tend to block his path.
Consider a crate to offer your dog a safe place to cozy up.
In general, take anything out of the home that can cause your dog to be even more uncertain than he already is.
Anxiety Secondary to Pain
As with CDS, if you think your dog is experiencing any sort of pain, or if he seems to be acting out of the ordinary in conjunction with a physical change of any sort, take him to the vet immediately.
The best way to address anxiety secondary to pain is to identify the cause of the pain and then remove it or treat it.
Your vet will be able to properly examine and diagnose your dog, as well as suggest treatment options to help ease his pain, and by extension, his anxiety.
Emotional Trauma Tips
If your dog was attacked by another dog or person or otherwise emotionally traumatized, the biggest tip is to keep things calm and feeling safe.
Advise your guests to allow your dog to approach them first and to limit the number of loud noises and large sweeping movements that they make.
It’s important that your dog view his home as a completely safe environment in order to allow him to feel as safe as possible.
In addition, consider giving him his own space, a crate, or even a room if you have one that he can retreat to if things become too hectic for him.
Putting his favorite blanket and toys in this room or space will give him a safe zone to recharge when things become a little too rambunctious for him.
Environmental Change Tips
Closely related to the tips for both emotional trauma and CDS, consistency and routine are the two keywords for dogs with anxiety associated with environmental changes.
If you’ve recently moved, get his bed and toys into the home as soon as possible so he can begin to acclimate to his new environment in a way that feels more secure.
Map out your furniture before you move it in so you can get it set up and then leave it there.
In general, the idea is to make the new home feel as lived in, safe, and routine as quickly as possible.
Separation Anxiety Tips
Make the House Feel Occupied
It can help ease your dog’s separation anxiety if you leave the home feeling like there are people in it.
Leave the radio or television running when you leave, so that your dog can hear human voices.
In addition to the sound of voices, the TV or radio can be soothing because you already have them on while you’re at home.
If leaving the home at night, leave the lights on so that your dog isn’t in the dark.
Change Your Routine
Dogs, even at an advanced age, are good at making connections.
They will often become anxious simply by hearing your alarm clock or the sound of your keys jingling when you’re preparing to leave.
Change things up by setting your alarm to go off at a time when you aren’t going anywhere.
Pick up your keys and then sit down to watch television.
Try putting on a bit of makeup, even if you aren’t going out (if you wear it, obviously).
Or perhaps put on the tie you only wear to work on a Saturday.
Desensitization is key to helping your dog with his separation anxiety. This is closely related to changing your routine.
Doing all of the things I mentioned in the routine section can help your dog become desensitized to those sounds.
In addition, you can help desensitize your dog to things like your actual departure.
Walk out the door and wait for about a minute. Then, come back inside.
A few hours later, do the same thing. The next day, do the same thing, staying outside for about 5 minutes.
Continue this process, slowly increasing the time each day.
While it may not completely remove the anxiety, it can certainly help it.
Tips for All Varieties of Anxiety in Older Dogs
There are a couple of things you can do to help your dog with his anxiety, no matter what kind he suffers from.
While Thunder Shirts were designed for dogs who fear fireworks and storms, they can be used to help your dog with any stress he may be experiencing.
Put the shirt on him when you leave or during times of increased stress, no matter the cause.
The only caveat is that you should avoid the shirt if you’re dealing with a dog in pain.
There are a variety of pheromone options out there designed to help dogs with anxiety.
They come in diffusers, sprays, or collars that are activated by your dog’s body heat.
In all cases, these products contain calming pheromones and can be used in conjunction with one another.
Some dogs benefit from anxiety medications.
These are often prescribed to dogs with aggression issues.
However, they are also used in dogs with other forms of anxiety, including separation anxiety and CDS-related anxiety.
I won’t be discussing these drugs in depth here, as your vet should be the one to determine if your dog can benefit from medications to address his anxiety.
However, it’s important for you to know that they are an option so that you can ask your vet about them.
All of them require a prescription, anyway, so you can’t get them without consulting your vet.
If you have any of the common medications prescribed to you, please NEVER (ever, ever, ever) give them to your dog.
Giving a human-sized dose to a dog- especially a small one- will very likely prove fatal.
Anxiety in Older Dogs is Often Treatable
Anxiety in older dogs can be treated with changes to his environment, desensitization, and in some instances, medications.
Whatever type of anxiety your dog is experiencing, it’s important that you seek your vet’s guidance.
They have the training and experience to help you navigate your dog’s anxiety, allowing you to identify its cause and pursue the best course of treatment.
That being said, the above tips can help you work in conjunction with your vet to help alleviate your dog’s anxiety and give him a more secure feeling.