Dog has suddenly changed behaviors
March 3, 2014 11:26 AM   Subscribe

12-year-old dog has suddenly changed behavior in the past 2 weeks - anxious, clingy, having bathroom issues, etc. Vet has found nothing. Any other suggestions on what we should do?

About 2 weeks ago, my happy-go-lucky 12-year-old Pekingese started acting strange. In what way strange, you ask? Well:

  • Pacing and whining all hours of the night. Going outside or being fed doesn't have an effect.

  • Occasionally eliminating in the house, when she was previously housebroken. Seems skittish and hesitant when outside. (It's also freezing in Minnesota, so the cold may be getting to her.)

  • Barking at random times during the night. Calms down a bit if we take her outside, but this also doesn't consistently have an effect.

  • Eating normally, but has lost a pound in one month (from 16 to 15 pounds).

  • Intermittent shaking, clinginess and neediness.

  • Extra itchy on one particular spot on her stomach. Vet gave us an antibiotic spray and said to give Benadryl twice a day. The itching has improved, but is still there.

  • We took her to the vet and ran a battery of tests (blood, urine, feces). All came back normal. After one very long night, where she paced/cried/barked for the entire night without stop, we called the vet again and they suggested anxiety and prescribed a sedative. We gave her the sedative (Trazadone) and she slept for about 15 hours straight. When she woke up, she was slightly better, but still not the same.

    We called the vet again, and they said in the absence of any abnormal tests and since she's eating normally and not lethargic, they're just chalking it up to anxiety. They mentioned some older dogs will have a change in vision or hearing that will frighten them, causing this sort of behavior. Otherwise, they have no other solutions for us.

    Couple of other things we've tried and items of note:

  • Taking her out more frequently, and in general getting her more exercise. I'm in Minnesota, and it's been about -400 degrees for months on end. She hasn't been getting her normal amount of exercise.

  • Checked every inch of her body, from teeth to nails, as did the vet. Everything seems normal.

  • Got her a thundershirt and added some fish oil to her food.

  • Put her on a very bland chicken/rice diet for 3-4 days to see if anything changed. No change.

  • Nothing has changed in our house in the past 2 weeks. No new furnace or noises, no schedule changes, nothing. We've led a very boring past 2 weeks.

  • I'm willing to accept this is old age eccentricities, but given the strange weight loss and suddenness of the behavior, I'm wondering if there's something we're missing.

    I'd like to get a second opinion at a different vet to be sure. Given these details: if you've had experience with this sort of thing, what should I bring to the second vet when I go? What questions should I ask? Is there anything else I should be doing to diagnose or otherwise alleviate this sudden behavior change? I just want her to be comfortable.

    Thanks, MeFi!
    posted by Zosia Blue to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
    I should also note that I work from home, and my husband and I have opposite schedules, so someone is generally at home all the time. She's rarely left alone for more than a few hours at a time.
    posted by Zosia Blue at 11:31 AM on March 3, 2014

    Our 13 old beagle has similar issues. He is showing is OCD tendencies that we had never seen before. We have seen him barking at shoes, barking at a wall corner when there is nothing there, getting up at night, incessant licking of his paws, asking to go out several times an hour, then coming back in 30 seconds later, etc. His hearing seems to be mostly gone too, and the Vet said his eyes are clouding up, which is a common old age thing.

    Our Vet thinks it might be mild age related dementia. He doesn't seem to be getting worse. Did you Vet talk at all about emotional issues, or was all physical? We tried some calming supplements but they didn't seem to make any difference.
    posted by COD at 12:01 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Any chance that there's a family of mice that've moved in recently? The pacing, barking, and intermittent marking remind me of how my dogs reacted when some mice moved in. I assume that the dogs could hear them in the walls and/or smell them and found it upsetting. We put out traps and caught a couple mice, and the dogs stopped.

    YMMV, obviously, but it's been a cold winter and I think that even people who don't usually have problems have had more pests than usual in their houses this year. (Or, at least, my anecdotal evidence suggests that.) And it's a cheap thing to try--lay out a couple of traps and see what happens. Can't hurt.
    posted by MeghanC at 12:03 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

    I would get copies of all the bloodwork to take to your second opinion, and you might consider (depends on the resources in your area) maybe finding a second opinion that's associated with a neurology specialist (or vet school, if that's an option).

    I think if this happened with one of my three, I might wait 2-4 weeks for the second opinion. That would mean you'll have more time to observe (and maybe even log stuff like weather, elimination, schedule changes, whatever seems to catch your attention), and then the second vet can do another set of bloodwork and look for changes.

    This could be canine cabin fever, but the nighttime behavior would definitely have my antenna up that something - maybe not detectible just yet - is happening.

    I wonder if that thing might actually be environmental - humidity/static, sounds you can't hear, some side effect of the weather on your actual living structure. That's hard as hell to test, aside from maybe running a humidifier.
    posted by Lyn Never at 12:03 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

    I see that your vet already noted this as a possibility, but my first thought before clicking through was hearing loss. Dogs pay attention to their surroundings by listening and smelling much more so than by looking around. If your dog has recently lost some hearing ability, it would explain everything.

    Anxiety because she doesn't hear what she expects to hear and therefore knows she doesn't have a full grasp of what's going on in her territory.

    Clingy because she's anxious, and is looking to you for safety under the assumption that you will notice "dangers" before she will.

    Barking because she's basically testing the environment - can I hear myself bark? Will other animals react or respond? Who/what is around me right now that I'm not aware of?

    The eating, bathroom, and itching issues are probably all symptoms of the anxiety.

    It could also be vision, but if she's not bumping into things or tripping over stuff, that's probably not it.

    Some dogs adjust after a while, others don't. If this continues to affect her quality of life, definitely go back to the vet for maintenance meds for anxiety. Daily pills, forever, might be the only solution.
    posted by trivia genius at 12:04 PM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

    If your vet, or your other vet, thinks it may be canine dementia, then it would be worth it to try the food supplement Cholodin.
    The feline version helped my old cat... a whole lot. And the symptoms sound like they could match.
    posted by Too-Ticky at 1:35 PM on March 3, 2014

    You say there are no new sounds, but your dog could be tormented by something you can't hear.

    That said, I don't know how you would test for it.
    posted by zadcat at 1:55 PM on March 3, 2014

    This is all helpful. Thank you.

    I saw the mice suggestion in a few other threads, and I'm not ruling it out, though we have two cats (one an excellent mouser) and I assume they would've caught it first. However, I'm going to try the (humane) trap route to see if anything helps.

    The vet at this point does think it's psychological and gave us those sedatives if things get too bad. If the second vet says the same thing, I'll see if we can get her on something more permanent to calm her nerves.

    Too-Ticky: Thank you for the supplement suggestion! My next step is to research supplements for this, so I appreciate the suggestion.
    posted by Zosia Blue at 2:09 PM on March 3, 2014

    Is there any chance she sprained something or is otherwise in pain? I don't know a lot about dogs and pain medication (more about cats), but if there were some kind of pain medication you could try that wouldn't otherwise affect her, it might be worth a try.

    Also, if it were me, I might try another vet. There are a couple of dog vets I know of here who specialize in senior dogs, and there are probably some near you, too.
    posted by amtho at 2:22 PM on March 3, 2014

    I would get a second opinion. Also, FWIW, I have a 16 year-old pug with dementia. I put him on selegiline (Anipryl-used to treat dementia in people). It has worked really well, and I can see the difference (and can tell when it wears off). Something you might consider talking with your vet about.
    posted by bolognius maximus at 2:41 PM on March 3, 2014

    How are her teeth? Has she had a dental recently? Vet might not be able to identify decay by just looking. Chronic tooth pain is exhausting and anxiety-making. Our dog got a whole lot better in those departments after having a couple teeth yanked.
    posted by tllaya at 5:11 PM on March 3, 2014

    Seems like dementia.
    posted by KokuRyu at 5:29 PM on March 3, 2014

    My dog was sick last year and there were a few similar behaviors that she was exhibiting. She was skittish, paced around, seemed anxious, had loss of appetite, was clingy, wouldn't sleep, etc. She was just not herself and i knew that there was something wrong. But physical exam and blood tests showed nothing.

    After a week or two with the behaviors not improving, I took her back to the vet and had x-rays done and it turns out she had eaten rocks and she had surgery to remove them from her stomach.

    This is probably not at all what is wrong with your (adorable) pekingese, but maybe have some x-rays done?

    Good luck!
    posted by fourpotatoes at 8:40 AM on March 4, 2014

    An update: we spoke with our vet one more time, and they suggested testing her urine again in the rare case something went wonky at the lab. This time, she came back with a UTI, which explains many of the symptoms - possibly even the weird ones, if she's in pain/feels like she has to pee all the time. She's on a course of antibiotics, so I hope this is the solution. I'll let you know! Thanks for your help.

    Koku: She has 3 teeth total (she had a bad first half of her life as a breeder in a puppy mill) which are cleaned/checked regularly and is up for her cleaning in a week. This might also help.

    fourpotatoes: Rocks! Oh my goodness. Terrible! I'm glad you caught that in time.
    posted by Zosia Blue at 1:53 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Glad to hear a potential solution is in the works!

    Again, this is anecdotal and obviously something that should be run past your vet: I have had fantastic results in clearing up and preventing chronic UTIs in my pets with a daily sprinkle of D-Mannose powder on their food.

    It's essence of cranberry, the same stuff that enables cranberry juice to flush bad bacteria out of the system. I did extensive, borderline obsessive reading on this before starting to use it, because I'd never given my animals any supplement before. I found no reason to think it could affect them adversely, so at worst, it's harmless voodoo, and at best it could really help you or someone in a similar situation. (Mega-anecdotally, it's human-safe and worked on me, too!)

    YMMV and I am not your vet. Good luck!
    posted by jessicapierce at 2:59 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Update again: she's just about to back to normal. Looks like the UTI caused all of those symptoms!

    Jessicapierce - thanks for the recommendation. I'm going to pick some up.
    posted by Zosia Blue at 1:51 PM on March 10, 2014

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