Why Is My Senior Dog Pacing?

senior dogs

Why Is My Senior Dog Pacing?

So you have a an elderly dog at home. Whether you raised him from a young puppy age or you adopted him later in life, one day we all have to face the reality that our dogs become older and their health declines.

Not only their body ages, but their mind does as well: In addition to grey hairs and stiff joints their behavior can change. One of the first changes you may notice is your dog’s sudden restlessness. Why does your dog pace like this?

Today we want to explore common behavioral changes in aging dogs.

old dog pacing

Why Does Your Senior Dog Pace?

Pacing is a commonly seen behavior. It is not only associated with senior dogs, but can be observed in younger pups with behavioral issues, too. While you are worried that something is not quite right with your dog, you also be annoyed by the tick-tick-tick of his long nails on the floor.

Pacing in itself is usually a sign of nervousness, stress and anxiety. It occurs frequently in dogs that have:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Reactivity
  • Fights with other dogs in the same household
  • Medical conditions
  • Ongoing stress, such as by living at a shelter

Your senior dog will be pacing because of some sort of nervousness or stress as well. This could have different causes:

Physical Discomfort

As your dog is aging, he will start to have aches and pains. You can help those to some degree by putting your dog on a supplement for joint health. You should also consult your veterinarian about potentially putting your dog onto a painkiller for arthritis he may experience.

senior brown dog walking

Dogs deal with pain in different ways than us humans. The physical sensations of moving around can alleviate and take their mind off of the discomfort. Especially if you notice a sudden onset of pacing in your dog, you should have him seen by a vet to see if he could be helped to feel better.

Pacing through physical discomfort and eating less often go together. Addressing potential pains will also help your dog be able to put on weight again.

Older dogs often experience difficulty climbing stairs. They might pace up and down in front of a staircase because they cannot navigate it anymore safely and without pain.
Or they might pace in front of your bed or couch as they cannot jump up anymore … getting a ramp for your dog can make all the difference!

Cognitive Dysfunction

Just like people, aging dogs can lose cognitive function when they enter their senior years. Cognitive decline is often associated with sudden potty accidents, changes in your dog’s sleep and wake cycle and decreased responsiveness to cues and stimuli.

old bassett hound

Dogs with cognitive dysfunction might also stand still in a corner of a room for no apparent reason, as if they “forgot why they came there”. If not kept in a securely fenced yard, they may run away.

Sudden Separation Anxiety

Some aging dogs experience a sudden onset of separation anxiety, even if they have been fine with being left at home alone their whole life. This is usually tied to other changes in their cognitive function, or “doggy dementia”.

While your dog used to not be stressed when home alone, he might suddenly perceive it as extremely frightening and scary. This is because once a dog experiences dementia, his perception of the world changes. We know from humans with dementia that sudden fears are common. They go along with not recognizing previously known surroundings, people or routines.

You old dog may just not remember what it is like when you leave the house or that you are coming back.

Your Senior Dog & Other Pets

Even if your aging dog has been fine with other dogs of the household all his life, this might change as he moves up in years. He might be more irritable, lash out unexpectedly, develop sudden habits of resource guarding or generalized aggression.

You should not leave your dog unsupervised with other dogs and especially smaller pets such as cats. Many accidents happen because an older dog is in pain or confused and reacts aggressively towards other pets of the household. This especially applies if you recently added a puppy to your older dog.

On the other hand, your other dogs might also be irritated by the changed and unusual behavior that your senior dog displays. Pacing for example can be very annoying for other dogs who want to relax or take a nap. They might in turn lash out towards your senior dog. Always separate your pup from other pets when you are not around so that they do not get into any escalations.

Why Is My Dog Panting?

Panting often goes along with pacing in aging dogs. Panting can also be a sign of stress, discomfort and confusion or of course, of thirst.

black old dog panting

Older dogs often have kidney problems. A symptom of this is increased water consumption and thirst. If your older dog does not have access to water, he might start panting heavily. It could also be that doggy dementia has caused your dog to “forget” where his water bowl is located. It can be helpful to put a water bowl in each room to make sure your dog stays hydrated.

You should of course discuss any concern about possible renal failure with your veterinarian.

Why Is My Old Dog Wandering Off?

You might notice that your trusty dog, who used to stay by your side all his life, is suddenly wandering off. Again, this is likely connected to his changed perception and possible cognitive decline. In addition, your dog’s sense of sight and ability to hear is fading; so if you call him or stand in the distance he may just not notice you.

senior labrador on a meadow

Old dogs actually commonly get lost, because they cannot orient themselves as well and might even wander off while you are on a walk together. It is really important that you keep your old dog safe and do not let him wander away. On walks you should keep him on a leash and only let him off-leash in a fenced area. At home, he should always be contained. If your property does not have a fence, do not let your dog be outside. The danger that he will get lost is too big!

The Bottom Line

As our dogs’ body changes, so does their behavior. It is important that you are mindful and patient with your aging dog. Do not scold him when he is confused or has a potty accident. Consult with your veterinarian about what can be done to help him feel better – chances are that you can improve his quality and length of life with just a few supplements and medications.

old hunting dog

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