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Why does my senior dog not recognize or understand me anymore?

When dogs age and become seniors, there are a number of conditions which can reduce their responsiveness to you.

   Partial hearing loss or even deafness can occur. These dogs may not greet you immediately when you come home. They continue to sleep and do not respond until they feel the vibration from your feet on the floor or from the door closing. Older dogs appear to experience a much deeper stage of sleep and cannot be aroused as easily.

   Impaired vision or blindness may occur. Usually, this is first noted in the evening when the lighting is poor. The cause is sclerosis in the lenses of the eyes (a cloudiness) or cataracts which are more dense and reduce vision severely. These conditions gradually develop during the senior years. Your pet may see shadows but have difficulty recognizing you.

   Occasionally, older dogs develop a form of mental disorientation which is called cognitive dysfunction. They may be very restless and wander aimlessly around the house. Some will go into a corner and will not know how to get out. Other dogs will bark repeatedly at nothing.

    Some dogs that are experiencing hearing loss will respond to hand signals. Speaking to them slowly with a louder voice will be helpful. Dogs with vision loss will do better if the lighting in the room is increased. These dogs should be slowly walked and kept close to your body so that they can feel your presence. Cataract surgery can be done if indicated.

     The sense of smell usually remains good in senior dogs. If you hold out your hand for them to sniff, they will usually recognize you by your own scent.

      A dog with cognitive dysfunction needs to be watched more closely and not allowed to have access to all areas of the house. Stairs and rooms with small corners or restricted spaces should be avoided. You may need to repeat yourself when talking to these animals. Medications are availabe that may help some pets.

      Your senior dog should be evaluated by your veterinarian every six months who will monitor its condition and prescribe the proper treatment. Remember to be patient with your senior pet and always supply plenty of tender loving care.

William Lucker, DVM

Dr. Lucker graduated from the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine in 1966. He completed a fourteen month internship in small animal medicine and surgery at the Henry Bergh Memorial Hospital of the ASPCA in New York City. He remained there another year as a resident staff veterinarian. After practicing in the Morristown area for three years, Dr. Lucker joined the staff of Oradell Animal Hospital in 1971. Dr. Lucker is a general practitioner with special interests in cardiology and obstetrics. He has received numerous continuing education certificates from the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association. He sees appointments at Oradell Animal Hospital as well as our Hasbrouck Heights office. Dr. Lucker enjoys fishing, skiing and photography.