A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a dog I adopted at an elderly age. Her name is Shadow and she has had respiratory issues along with surgery on her throat. She is currently on 7 medications and was doing well until this last week. Living with geriatric dogs can be challenging because it is difficult to determine if behavior changes are due to illness, or pain from arthritis related to old age. Panting is a sign that your older dog needs help but panting and pacing can be related to anxiety such as hearing thunderstorms or fireworks, or associated with physical pain. Unfortunately because dogs cannot tell us what the cause is, excessive panting and pacing sometimes takes trial and error to resolve. What is certain, is that your elderly dog should not be in this condition. It is not normal for a geriatric dog to pace and pant and this behavior indicates a serious disorder. In Shadow’s case, her panting and pacing could be related to her respiratory issues. In fact, after her surgery and treatment with medications, her panting subsided for a few months. Additionally, before her surgery she coughed frequently along with panting and the cough also decreased. That was a few months ago. Shadow began coughing and panting and pacing again a couple of weeks ago. She was also having trouble eating due to her throat issue. I tried for many days to treat the cough and respiratory issue because that was what was wrong last fall. Unfortunately, I was wrong this time. After a couple of weeks of trying different medications for her throat issue, I examined her and found that she was painful in her neck and back. Altering pain medications and the schedule of medications finally resolved the issue of pacing and panting in the evening. When clients come in with elderly dogs that are panting heavily even at rest and at night, my first thought is that the dog is in distress because of pain. Most of the time I am right and prescribing appropriate medications helps the dog relax, rest, sleep and the panting stops.
In Shadow’s case, her respiratory issues confused the situation. So what is the point? When elderly dogs change their behavior it can be due to a number of different situations. Everything from anxiety about changes in the environment, specific medical conditions (cancer, urinary disorders), cognitive disorders (dementia), or pain associated with arthritis and the aging process. If you have an elderly dog that is changing behavior and your veterinarian has not been able to “help”, don’t give up. It may take trial and error and different approaches to help your older dog relax. A few things to keep in mind. There are some “natural’ products to help with anxiety such as “composure chews’ and “Rescue Remedy” and “Adaptil collars”. There are good antianxiety medications such as Trazadone and Alprazolam. Finally, if your elderly dog has been on pain medications and is showing signs of anxiety, it may be time to discuss the dosage and type of medications currently being used and consider the addition of another drug. Dosage is important to consider along with the timing of giving pain medications. I found that ‘Shadow” must have a mid-day dose of tramadol in order to help control the pacing and panting in the evening and I need to be prompt in giving her evening dose to keep her comfortable. There is a saying that you want to stay ahead of pain, not chase it. Once the dog becomes uncomfortable and in distress, it is much more difficult to get the pain response under control rather than stay on top of it and give medications while the dog still appears comfortable. Common pain control therapies include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (carprofen, meloxicam), Tramadol, Gabapentin, Adequan (injections), Glucosamine/Chondroitin (veterinary formulas), laser therapy, and acupuncture. If your dog seems “Anxious” it may be in pain. Be sure to consult your veterinarian if your older dog has behavior changes. There are many ways to help these dogs be more comfortable as they age. One thing to note is that Tramadol (used for pain) and Trazadone (used for anxiety) if used together, can sometimes cause a dog to become MORE agitated and excitable.