Is your dog reserved? The reason could be one of these three things
“My dog is more quiet than usual?” “He’s more reserved.” “He just seems bored.” These are all fairly common questions, concerns, and statements from dog owners during veterinary visits.
But is it always boredom or “getting older” that causes a dog to be more reserved, quiet, or to slow down?
1. Pain and Illness in Dogs
“Getting older” is something all dogs do, hopefully. Heck, it’s something we all do, too. But is “getting older” really the cause for slowing down or being more reserved? Not usually, at least not for dogs. Sure, we as people might get more cynical or curmudgeonly as we age, but that’s not really a thing that dogs do… unless there’s an underlying problem. You see, it’s not just another birthday that comes with advancing age for dogs, it’s also higher odds of developing chronic pain or disease—and these are what often cause their slow down and more reserved nature. And because these signs are just brushed off as a natural and acceptable aspects of aging, the pain and illnesses that actually underly them often go undiagnosed and untreated. You see—age isn’t a disease, it’s the diseases that come along with aging that are.
What are some of the conditions that often cause aging dogs to slow down and become more reserved? It can be a fairly long list, especially depending on where geographically you live, but a sample of the “common culprits” includes:
- Arthritis — Inflammation and pain in the joints. Can be their knees, elbows, hips, and any other joint in their body. (Did you know that dogs pretty much have the same joints as we do? They just can’t safely take the same arthritis pain medications as we can!)
- Spondylosis — General term meaning degeneration of the spinal column, but often used to describe painful arthritis and increased bone growth in the vertebral bones (“backbone”) that surround and protect the spinal cord.
- Pinched nerves and compressed discs.
- Hypothyroidism — Decreased thyroid function, a hormonal/endocrine condition. Sometimes a bit tricky to diagnose, but often easily treated.
- Kidney disease — Either from degeneration, infection, kidney stones, toxins, or other causes.
- Hepatitis — Inflammation of their liver, can happen from a variety of causes.
- Cancer — Along with the potential to wreak wide-ranging problems throughout their body, cancers affecting a dog’s spleen, liver, or kidneys can cause painful swelling and inflammation of those organs, too. Bone tumors can be extremely painful, and tumors affecting the lungs can make it more difficult and painful for a dog to breathe.
Here are some things to look for that might help indicate that your dog is in pain—you don’t want to miss or brush off these signs. Unfortunately many of the “more reserved” and “slowing down” dogs are actually in pain. Fortunately, once they're properly diagnosed and evaluated, that pain can often be minimized or even alleviated. I would just caution you again to NEVER self-diagnose or self-prescribe medications for your dog, even if you’ve had dogs your whole life or if you are a member of the human medical profession—the results can be painful, distressing, and devastating.
Of course, not all dogs who are more reserved or “slowing down” are in pain. Some are stressed and some are truly bored.
2. Stress in Dogs
Stress in dogs is likely more common than you realize. It’s common with an abrupt or persistent change in their home environment, with family strife, and an upset in their routine. Here’s a list and pictures of some common stress signs. If you think your dog is stressed, try to figure out why and change that aspect of their environment. If that doesn’t work, try calming Adaptil (a dog calming pheromone) and speak with your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
3. A Bored Dog
Bored dogs can be destructive dogs—to their environment (think shoes, hats, furniture, etc.) and even to themselves (think “lick granulomas”). To help prevent or treat boredom, try these steps. After all, a tired and occupied dog is a happy dog…
- If you feed dry kibble, do so out of a puzzle toy or interactive feeder, rather than a standard feeding bowl. Here are a few of our favorites:
- If your schedule will allow it, take a daily walk with your dog, rather than just turning them loose in the yard to do their business. If it's not the greatest weather outside, try playing games with your dog indoors.
- Bring your dog to work with you every now and again (if it’s safe and practical to do so)—more and more businesses are coming around to the health and productivity benefits of having pets in the workplace, so check with your boss. And if you're the boss, great! Here's some info on how to create a safe, pet-friendly work environment.
- Consider a dog walker or doggie daycare, even just a couple times a week.
- Look into web-connected dog monitors and communicators for when you have to be away from your dog. Options include products like PetChatz, Petcube, and others.
- Let their nose do the work. Wake up 10 minutes early and spend the time working on some "nose work" with your dog—just a little bit of mental stimulation can be exhausting for some dogs!
If pooping your dog out doesn't change their demeanor than you should have them checked out by your veterinarian. Dogs often suffer in silence, so you'd want to catch whatever it is early.