A few months ago someone called me frantically for help with her little dog. Out of the blue, her reliably house-trained dog started peeing in the house. She was at her wits end because the dog started doing this when she was off the island. Now the dog peed in the house when left alone and during rain. This lady was convinced the dog had developed a behavioral issue.
I thought otherwise. When dogs, and other animals, start acting “weird” suddenly, the first thing to do is to take the dog to the vet and have it checked for medical issues. Pain and illness in general will turn an otherwise sweet-natured dog into a shrieking banshee that will bare it’s fangs at the least provocation.
According to Dr. Debra Horwitz, a veterinary behavior specialist in St. Louis, MO, illness can cause behavioral changes in pets, particularly older dogs, that include soiling the house, aggression, destructive behaviors (chewing stuff), restlessness and “excessive vocalization.”
Old dogs, Horwitz points out, often suffer from Cognitive Disfunction Syndrome, similar to dementia in humans. The disease manifests itself as disorientation, changed relationship to the owners, not recognizing familiar people initially. Apparently the possibility of developing the Syndrome increases as the pet ages.
What are we to do? Only a vet can best advice you on how to help your dog. Supplements such as Sam-e and a diet containing medium-chain triglycerides can help. As in aging humans, keeping the brain active also helps stave the effects of cognitive issues related to age.
In my friend’s case, her dog, a four-year-old small-breed, had tick fever and a bladder infection. No amount of training would have helped this dog. It needed veterinary intervention, fast.
Horwitz, D. (2010). Cognitive function in older dogs. Clinician’s Brief. Retrieved from http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/applied-behavior/cognitive-function-older-dogs?pyMBZBP3PA