He's already ruined my carpet
April 15, 2015 6:37 PM   Subscribe

My dog is showing signs of dementia, including numerous bathroom accidents and quite a bit of bad behavior. I haven't slept through the night in at least a year. Can you help me make this situation better, or at least better assess my options?

Basically, my current dog situation is not making me happy anymore and I suspect it's not making him happy anymore either. Dog and I have belonged to each other for a little more than 10 years. I adopted him when I was a student living by myself. We then spent 7 years or so living with another dog and human while I was in a relationship. Now it's just Dog and me again and I work slightly more than full time.

I love Dog to pieces but he makes me crazy. He is only calm and quiet when I'm home alone. When I have company, he barks and whines and demands attention. His potty training has never been perfect, but until about 12 months ago around 90-95% of the time he would properly ask to go outside. Now it's more like 60% of the time he asks, 25% of the time I make him go even though he hasn't asked, and 15% of the time he just goes whenever and wherever he pleases in the house, including often with no warning. This last 15% includes when I try to sleep through his whining in the middle of the night, so he goes and pees on the carpet somewhere.

Dog is only calm and quiet when I'm home alone with him. When I'm talking on the phone or have guests, he whines and barks and demands attention. This is a new behavior since I've been back living alone with him.

Additionally, poor Dog is now home alone a lot and I feel guilty about it. Dog used to get significantly more play time when we lived with another human and another pup. Dog now spends about 10 hours per day home alone while I'm at work. I would be more okay with this if I didn't also want to do social things in the evenings and on weekends, again out of the house.

Since about a year ago, it's become clear that Dog's age is starting to affect him more. He's lost some vision. He can no longer go on long walks or he'll be sore for a few days. He has increasingly frequent moments of odd forgetfulness or other odd behavior (like standing and staring at the wall next to the door, rather than the door). And I assume his worsening bathroom habits have something to do with age and forgetfulness, too.

He's waking me up at least once per night (often 2-3 times) to go outside or get a drink of water. Previously when I've tried to keep him in a crate or confined to the laundry room overnight, Dog's response has been incessant barking.

I can't afford to have a dog walker come every single day (I do have one come occasionally when I have a long day planned). I also can't imagine giving Dog back up for adoption. But he's alone so much that I'm starting to wonder if that would be the more loving option (though I also feel like I may never forgive myself if I do this). I want to do more traveling and backpacking this year, which means I either have to find a housesitter or take him to a kennel more. While I am fine with doing those things, they just add to my guilt and wondering if there's a better place for him than with me.

To answer a couple of questions I'm expecting: I've taken him to the vet several times this year. The lab tests did not indicate a UTI, diabetes, or Cushing's. There's no obvious cause of his lost vision other than age (and possibly SARDs). We go for at least one 15-20 minute walk every day, and his little legs can't seem to take much more.

So: what can I do to improve this situation? At what point does mild craziness + incessant barking + lack of nighttime sleep mean that I can think about other options? And what are some of those other options?
posted by singlesock to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you talked to your vet about medicating him with something like Prozac? I have no personal experience with it but I know many, many people who have their dogs on Prozac to help manage anxiety and late-in-life dog crazies.

I don't know that it would help with the peeing issue at all, though.
posted by phunniemee at 6:51 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is it possible for former human companion to take dog?
posted by k8t at 6:54 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I want to be sensitive in my answer because clearly you're working really hard and want reasonable things like a social life, and you're working within a certain amount of financial limitation. However, you have an aging dog who needs things your current routine can't give him. Even if he's unable to enjoy long walks, 10 hours per day is a long time to be alone (and longer than most dogs can comfortably last without a potty break). I suspect his behavior is a mix of not just aging but also loneliness/boredom.

So, I think you need to take a sober look at a few things:

If you were to prioritize keeping Dog and used your social/travel budget for Dog-related expenses, could you afford a daily dog walker (or person to come hang out with Dog for a midday potty/play break)? Could you hire a trainer or behaviorist to assess and work on the behavioral issues? (In my experience, much of "dog training" is really training the human to work better with the dog.) Alternatively, could you arrange a different work schedule, such as working from home part time, that would allow you to spend more time with Dog?

Also, what is his current quality of life? Is he able to enjoy things like short walks, eating, playing with you, etc.? What does your vet think is an appropriate metric to determine whether to euthanize him? In my opinion, euthanizing an old dog who is no longer enjoying a good quality of life is absolutely an option even if the dog isn't obviously sick. I'm not suggesting you should rush to have Dog put down, I'm just suggesting that you should have a conversation with your vet about how you will know if/when it's time.

If you want to explore options other than finding a new home for him, I think those are your first steps.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:16 PM on April 15, 2015 [13 favorites]

Really truly: what is his quality of life, and have you reviewed that metric with a decent vet?
posted by Lyn Never at 7:32 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with LynNever, but also wanted to suggest that you can try Benadryl (totally OK for dogs) to hopefully get him to sleep longer.
posted by mmf at 7:37 PM on April 15, 2015

Please do not give dog up for adoption. As an older dog with medical problems it is HIGHLY unlikely he will find a home. If you are really at the point where you would do that, euthanasia seems kinder. I have volunteered walking dogs at the humane society and that kind of bedlam is not how I'd want to live out my old age.

Your vet may be able to prescribe medication that will help your dog controll his bladder. We did this for our 15 year old Rottweiler. It really works. Our vet warned us that the medication did have side effects that might be shortening the dogs life but we decided to choose quality of life over quantity and our dog seemed much happier while she was on the medicine.

Keep up as much walking as your dog seems to enjoy. Do you know any kids in the neighborhood you could hire, maybe for less than a professional pet sitter, who could just come over and spend some time with the dog every day? Let him out for pee breaks and maybe just watch TV or something while petting him and being with him?

Can you take the dog to some of the social events? Maybe that's not a good option but I thought I'd throw it out there. If the dogs bladder were under control would that may be make bringing dog along possible?

I wish I could think of something more helpful. It's a tough situation (I know, I've been there) my heart goes out to both you and the dog.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:16 PM on April 15, 2015 [10 favorites]

I can't tell from your question: how old is Dog, and what is your living situation (i.e. house with yard, apartment, what?)

I think you are about to get a lot of answers here saying you shouldn't feel bad about exploring 'other options' - which, euphemistically, means 'putting the dog down'. Unless a vet says otherwise, I'm going to disagree. Your dog doesn't sound as if he has a bad quality of life that can't be improved. And I say that as someone who has had to put dogs down, but only when they had kidney failure at the age of 16, or their legs had gone from under them so they couldn't stand up and had to lie in their own pee if I didn't move them in time. :(( Your dog, OTOH, just sounds as if he is ageing and not adapting well to a changed lifestyle. His circumstances, and behaviour, sound quite similar to my own dog's, so here are some ideas:

- get a dog door installed. May not be an option, depending on your living set-up, I understand that. But it's been a lifesaver for me: dog can go out to drink, pee, etc. without disturbing me. Dog also has the run of the house (except the bits I close off) and the yard during the day when I'm at work.

- walk the dog more. Frankly, I'd be overjoyed if I could get away with 20 minutes a day. My dog is a greyhound mix, and I run her for an hour bare minimum, every single day. I don't 'have' time, I make time. I've had to quit an after-work hobby to facilitate it, but that's what I took on when I got a dog - until I can either afford a dog-walker or she loses energy as she ages.

- find a great pet-sitter. Join local online groups and forums and look for someone highly recommended who will come to your house and stay overnight with the dog while you're away. Much kinder and easier for an old, nervy dog than taking them to a kennel. It can be surprisingly inexpensive, actually: if you have a university near you, try advertising there - especially in the vet science faculty if they have one. You might find an animal-loving student living with their parents who'll jump at the chance of a weekend housesitting.

- get a dog behaviourist to do a home visit and assess your dog. Admittedly, this one is not cheap; I recently paid $250 for someone to come to my home and assess the way the dog behaves and the way I interact with her, in her own environment. It was worth every cent; the behaviourist gave me some really good, simple, common-sense ways to deal with the dog. Dog and I are both enjoying our lives much more, and anxiety levels have gone way down.

In your position, I would start by joining a few local online dog forums and trawling them for advice. Post questions, and ask for recommendations for great pet-sitters, dog behaviourists, college students who might walk your dog for cheap on a regular basis. Get proactive about finding ways to make life easier and more pleasant for yourself and your dog.

I think your chances of rehoming a dog that age are slim, and it will be quite traumatic for both you and the dog. And I don't think the issues you mention (some vision loss, forgetfulness, etc.) are 'terrible quality of life' territory. Your dog can be old and doddery and forgetful but still perfectly happy if she's not in physical pain or discomfort.

I really do sympathize. I know it can be damn hard work, and very expensive, to have a dog with behavioural issues; I've spent many nights tearing my hair out over my dog and, quite frankly, sometimes wishing I didn't have her. But I think you need to exhaust some more avenues before you think about the irreversible options (rehoming or euthanizing your dog), or you'll have regrets.

Best of luck!
posted by Salamander at 8:19 PM on April 15, 2015 [8 favorites]

Oh, and re: the carpet - can you rip it up? I'm dead serious; that's what I did. I ripped up the wall-to-wall bedroom carpet (but I hate the stuff anyway) and painted the bare concrete as a cheap/temporary option, while I toilet-train my dog. And then I took up the loose floor rugs in the living area, because she ate the fringing. *Sigh* Whaddaya gonna do?!

(Again, depends on circs - obviously no good if you rent.)
posted by Salamander at 8:25 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with Meg_Murry.

The frustrating thing about old dogs is that, like humans, they can linger in that half-bad/half-good state for a long time. So, this could be the new normal for another 2-5-7 years. Are you prepared to do this that long ? If not, you know what your options are - adoption or...

If you are committed, then there are some things you might try. More frequent, shorter walks. More play time, and maybe some puzzle toys. That sort of thing. For a dog accustomed to an active social life, 10 hours alone is a hard thing to adjust to.

If you cut some expense somewhere, could you afford a dogwalker or visitor for him ? Then, you should do that. Or maybe arrange to take a long lunch so you can come home.

As for peeing in the house, you might try litterbox training him. I've known a few dogs that has worked well for. It has worked well for everyone, but it's a low cost thing to try.

Good luck. I've had a few old dogs, and my current dogs are getting there. I feel for you.

Next time my wife talks about getting a puppy, I'll just suggest she take a spoon and scoop out some of my heart and bury it in the backyard. It'll be faster and cheaper with the same effect.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:05 PM on April 15, 2015

I second the dog behaviorist suggestion. It would help you figure out what can and can't be changed in the dog. e.g. if it turns out to be possible to fix some of the problems, such as getting Dog not to pester you all the time, you might have more energy for his other foibles. I used a "Pure Dog Listener" who was extremely helpful. (Expensive but provided free follow-ups and worth every penny and very kind to both the human and the dog.)
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 9:37 PM on April 15, 2015

Euthanising a dog who is miserable when you can't find a safe happy home for them, or adapt your life further (and you've already gone pretty far) can be a good decision. You are not a horrible person for not giving up everything to fix what can't be fixed. Love your dog fiercely for the rest of his twilight days, and make an appointment with a kind vet who will do a home visit to put your dog to sleep in familiar surroundings while you hold him and say goodbye. Think about the long happy life he's had, and make the rest of his life as good as you can, replacing a long span of miserable with a shorter span of wonderful.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:47 PM on April 15, 2015

Wee Wee pads might help with controlling the smell if you can get him to use them.

I really feel for you. I agree with others about having a talk with your vet. It doesn't mean it will happen right now but it will happen one day, and that day will be sooner rather than later. What I did with my older dog was decide in advance on what the end was going to be. For me, it was her not being able to stand up anymore on her own. The first day that happened I took a beautiful pic of her and called the vet. She peacefully went to sleep in my lap and I still miss her terribly.

I have no regrets about her passing. I took great care of her till it was done. As a human being I have a right to set limits. I have a right to say I am tired and can do no more. As her human I had a responsibility to make her passing as painless as possible.
posted by cairnoflore at 11:13 PM on April 15, 2015

Maybe your dog would be less lonely and need less attention if you had another pet in the house?
posted by gt2 at 1:56 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to read your question with compassion, but honestly, absolutely nothing in your question sounds like your dog is ready to be euthanized. Nor does it sounds like giving him up--- abandoning a senior you've had for a decade---- is somehow in his best interest, rather than yours. It sounds like you, now single, just don't want to be a dog owner anymore. It also sounds like, if you cared enough about the commitment you made to this dog, many of your problems could be solved.

until about 12 months ago around 90-95% of the time he would properly ask to go outside. Now it's more like 60% of the time he asks, 25% of the time I make him go even though he hasn't asked, and 15% of the time he just goes whenever and wherever he pleases in the house, including often with no warning.

Just take him outside on a schedule. He clearly needs to go more than he did before, and even then depending on him to "ask" was never reliable. If he is only having accidents 15% of the time, putting him on a schedule might solve a huge part of this problem.

Additionally, poor Dog is now home alone a lot and I feel guilty about it. Dog used to get significantly more play time when we lived with another human and another pup. Dog now spends about 10 hours per day home alone while I'm at work. I would be more okay with this if I didn't also want to do social things in the evenings and on weekends, again out of the house.

10 hours a day is way too much to ask any dog, much less an older one who is plainly in need of more potty breaks to spend by himself. Want to go out after you've been gone for 10 hours? Guess what? You can't. Read any question where people ask if they should adopt dogs. Having a dog means you are pretty much obliged to go home to your friend if he's been alone all day. Regardless of what others here have said, going out for funsies on weekdays is not a reasonable expectation when you are the solo caretaker of a dog. Fulfilling your obligation to him will almost certainly take care of some of his behavior problems.

On that note, you absolutely must get a walker for him during the day. You say that you can't afford it, but also say you "want to do more traveling and backpacking this year." Having a dog means, at minimum, putting his needs above your wants. Justifying your neglect by referencing all the fun you aren't having because of your loyal elderly companion doesn't really take you anywhere good in the moral calculus.

Finally, this--- "wondering if there's a better place for him than with me." Sometime it's true. Sometimes we really can't, no matter how much we try, care for a particular dog. It happens. For the reasons I've just said, I don't think this is your problem. But even if it is, this kind of magical thinking has to stop. Elderly dogs who, by their returning owners admission, have "mild craziness + incessant barking + lack of nighttime sleep" are not exactly the top of the adoption barrel. Maybe it would help you to give a call to a local shelter and outline what you've told us here. I guarantee you the response is not going to be that they just have the perfect home waiting for your friend.

He's given you a decade of love and companionship. To abandon him as he becomes inconvenient, without making any effort to remedy the problems you are having, is wrong.
posted by MeadowlarkMaude at 4:50 AM on April 16, 2015 [21 favorites]

My husband and I have an old dog who is blind and has dementia like yours. He's also lost bladder control so is wearing a diaper. At this point, the vet told us he is basically in hospice. We give him his pain meds and change his diapers and basically treat him like a baby and he spends his time happily eating and snoozing.

I'm not gonna lie though: it's hard work and sometimes frustrating especially as we have other pets. But we consider it the fulfillment of the responsibility we took on when we adopted him as well as what we need to do because we love him. We've basically accepted we aren't going to be doing any traveling for the rest of our dog's life and I think you need to accept that too. You're going to have to give up some of your pursuits temporarily because your elderly dog is your priority right now.

I also agree that giving him up for adoption would not end well. You asked about options and if you truly love your dog I think your best option is to talk to your vet again about symptom management (I know there are drugs for doggy dementia) and re-prioritize your life temporarily, financially and time wise. This too shall pass, but right now you have an important obligation to someone who loves and depends on you.
posted by Jess the Mess at 6:42 AM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, you might experiment with having Dog wear a belly band or doggy diaper in the house to prevent accidents and waking you up in the middle of the night so much. Doggy diapers have definitely taken away a decent chunk of stress for us.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:03 AM on April 16, 2015

Would fostering another (very calm) dog help? It'd mean your dog would have a companion so he wouldn't be lonely all day.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:25 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Getting another dog could help your current dog or create a whole butt load of new behavior problems. Like an incredible increase in indoor marking by both dogs. Major jealousy issue resulting in fighting and incessant barking, especially when you are not present for 10 hours plus a day.

Please, please do your homework before going down this path.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:03 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do not get another dog as a companion for this one. In addition to the extra work now (having to be home to walk, feed and play), you will find yourself in this same position in another 10 years when that dog, too, is elderly and leaking pee and interfering with your social life because he can't hold his bladder and entertain himself all day and night without you.
posted by VioletU at 2:15 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes I have to chime in and agree with others who say don't get another dog. You don't really sound like a completely committed pet owner and I think it's going to be best for everyone if you don't get anymore dogs after this, at least until you've been able to get all the socializing and traveling and backpacking out of your system.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:06 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have an elderly dog who is just starting to have accidents in the house. The vet has
- checked urine for UTIs and other problems
- discovered that her urine is slightly dilute (and that she is drinking a LOT of water)
- checked her blood to determine if there might be kidney issues (looks like it's probably early stage kidney problems)
- now she has an appointment to get a blood pressure check (apparently a very inexpensive blood pressure medication can head off kidney disease if it's a contributing factor) and x-rays (she has a nagging cough and dizzy spells, so we will eliminate-hopefully- tumors and pneumonia and maybe get antibiotics for the cough). In other words, even though we probably won't be able to put her through cancer treatments if it comes to that, there are a lot of other possible and very treatable causes for her old-dog-issues. Maybe give your vet a call and ask what next steps are available? Or trade favors with a neighbor-- maybe there's a retiree who would happily walk your dog at lunchtime if you walked her dog at dawn?
posted by instamatic at 5:54 PM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, I meant to say that I've considered pulling up the carpet, but as her legs are getting stiff, she's gotten more scared of walking on the non-carpeted areas of the house. Instead, I bought a rug shampooer. It's a total pain to have to shampoo the rug once or twice a week, but it does seem to work pretty well.
Also, I embarked on a program of "every single time she barks, go on a walk" for a week, and she mostly stopped peeing in the house. Her medical issues make it harder for her to hold it, but because I hadn't been responsive enough ("but I just took you out an hour ago! What do you want now?") I had accidentally un-potty-trained her. A week was enough to fix it.
posted by instamatic at 6:00 PM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not going to try to defend myself here, as I already feel bad and I know this whole situation is attributable to me (well, me and a naturally aging dog). I just wanted to reassure people that I will not be getting a second dog right now, or anytime soon, for that matter. I do intend to do what's best for Dog and to take good care of him. He is a great dog and my little buddy.
posted by singlesock at 10:39 PM on April 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

One thing that has really helped our senior dog with both his potty issues and in general is an anti-dementia medicine called selegilene. It's a kind of antidepressant, an MAOI, I think, but it apparently can also help with symptoms of doggie dementia. He still has accidents, but he's gotten much better about realizing when he has to go out and letting us know.

I completely agree that if there is any way you can work with a dog sitter or walker, it will both help out your old boy and take a huge load off your mind. At the moment, it seems to me that your stress, guilt, and worry is the part of the situation that needs to be addressed more urgently than the accidents. You love your dog and are going to do what's best for him, so the sooner you can let go of the guilt, the better.

Keep working with your vet to find out how you can increase his quality of life and your own. It's frustrating to deal with a senior dog's issues, but if you can break the stress cycle and stick with him, it'll be so rewarding.
posted by inky_the_pinky at 10:56 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

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