By Laura Hentges, CPDT-KA, CCS
Have you ever described your dog as old and grumpy? Is your dog less interested in playing or slowing down on walks? Less tolerant of your neighbor’s puppy or taking longer naps? That’s just a normal part of aging, right? Not necessarily.
I’ve had several wonderful dogs in my life, and they’ve all slowed down as they’ve aged. But I didn’t understand the real reason why they slowed down until I started studying dog behavior. It’s because they were in pain. Of course, if my dog was limping or holding up a paw, that’s a clear sign. But dogs are genetically programmed to hide their pain so we need to look for more subtle changes in their behavior to know how they really feel. Signals like a hunched back, sleeping more, less interest in play, more sensitive to touch, new fear of loud noises, less tolerant of younger dogs or children, licking legs or paws, generally becoming more “grumpy” or any other sudden change in behavior may be a sign of pain. Arthritis is one of the most common causes of chronic pain in senior dogs. There’s no cure, but it can be managed so it’s a good idea to consult your vet to rule out an underlying medical issue or undiagnosed pain if you’ve noticed any changes commonly associated with aging.
Arthur is the old pug in this photo. He was in bad shape when he was surrendered to Pacific Pug Rescue. They did a fabulous job getting him the veterinary care he needed to get him ready for a forever home—mine! Arthur is overweight (we’re working on that) and he could barely walk when he was surrendered because his toenails were so long. Even cleaned up, Arthur has arthritis and is (was) still in pain. He walks ok but I noticed he couldn’t walk far without getting tired and he would lick at his front legs. I took him to my vet and he’s now on joint supplements and pain medication. His energy level has dramatically increased and he’s licking his legs less often. His puggy personality has really come out! We’re still taking it easy and focusing on mental exercise as well as moderate physical exercise so he doesn’t over-do it.
Our dogs love us no matter what. Don’t we owe it to them to help them live out their golden years without discomfort or pain?
Laura is a Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant and owns Cassie’s Canine Connection LLC in Seattle. She trains dogs of all ages but her first love is seniors and she is a longtime supporter of Old Dog Haven.