Dealing with an old mean dog?
August 31, 2022 12:54 PM   Subscribe

I have a 12 year old dog that's turned mean over the years. I just took him back from the vet and he's completely healthy. However, he's impossible to deal with, to the point where if I walk past him sometimes he'll bite and break the skin. What's the best way to deal with this and make him comfortable as well as me?

He was fine up until the last couple years and got worse. I think he has mild dementia as he will jump up on the couch to sit next to me but if I do so much as reach for the remote he'll snap at me. I work at home so he shouldn't feel there's no one around, he has his own room with a bed so he has a space he feels safe if he needs to.

Other odd behavior, I'll give him a treat and he'll sometimes look at it, move it around with his nose and walk away. If I then go and take it away after a couple minutes of him moving into a different room he'll give incredibly defensive so I obviously stopped that.

He's a mutt, and small and I do have a larger dog that's 4 years old. They get along fine to the point where the older and smaller dog will follow her around everywhere. The younger dog is a golden retriever so there's no aggression at all and she puts up a lot with his behavior. My biggest concern is that if the older dog gets aggressive with me and bites me the younger dog will get in between us and lay down to defuse the situation. I am worried that there may be an instance where the younger dog won't stop and get aggressive with the larger one but that's not happened at all. In fact the larger dog is really tolerant.

I asked the vet if we should have an end of life discussion and he said besides some mild arthritis with age and a bit of glaucoma there's nothing physically wrong with him and the behavior is somewhat typical of dogs of that age.

Both dogs have the run of a very large yard but the older one tends to just sit in the shade and rarely plays. I obviously don't take him out to the dog park or let other people around him as I don't want to create an incident to make things worse.

Any suggestions? I want to make his last years the best as possible but also I want to watch television without getting bit. Since he has no physical ailments, would it be appropriate to perhaps look into euthanasia now? I've had dogs all my life and only had to put them down when they've had cancer or similar issues.

Again, this is beyond "this dog is annoying me" and into I have bandages on and I'm taking antibiotics due to the last time he bit me. He also rarely shows signs of aggression like growling before he does so there's no warning which leads me to believe dementia is at play. Trust me I'm not taking this lightly, I've had dogs my entire life and love them but the current situation is untenable.
posted by geoff. to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think the answer might be doggy valium. I'm surprised the vet didn't suggest that.

But on the euthanasia side, while there is not much wrong physically, there is obviously some problem on the mental side, perhaps dementia as you suggest. If that's the case and it progresses, this could get worse and other problems could show up. I would not feel bad about euthanizing a dog with increasing dementia, any more than euthanizing a dog with, say, cancer.
posted by beagle at 1:02 PM on August 31, 2022 [20 favorites]

I admit that I have no reason to ask this but a gut instinct - has the vet checked the older dog's vision and hearing? I can't help but wonder if the biting is coming from your dog not seeing or hearing you coming and then suddenly you're there and he's startled.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:03 PM on August 31, 2022 [20 favorites]

Another option that works for some dogs (and cats) is prozac. If your vet won't discuss medication options and you really don't want to euthanize the dog, maybe find another vet who will discuss drug therapies.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:06 PM on August 31, 2022 [9 favorites]

I'll be the one to bluntly say that you don't need your vet's permission to euthanize. You can even go to a different vet or call in a mobile vet.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:08 PM on August 31, 2022 [17 favorites]

It's possible that your dog is experiencing pain that hasn't been detected by your vet. If your dog hasn't had his teeth checked in a while, look into that. Ask your vet if you can try administering pain medication to see if the behavior improves. If you exhaust all physical causes for the aggression, you have this internet stranger's permission to end his distress and give him a peaceful end of life knowing that you did all that you could.
posted by mezzanayne at 1:10 PM on August 31, 2022 [20 favorites]

I asked the vet if we should have an end of life discussion and he said besides some mild arthritis with age and a bit of glaucoma there's nothing physically wrong with him and the behavior is somewhat typical of dogs of that age.

This really isn't the way to think about if a pet has reached the end of their comfortable life span & it kind of makes me suspicious of your vet. Doggo is obviously unhappy and uncomfortable. I'm guessing too it could be dementia or some pain that hasn't been identified. Either way if the dog is obviously uncomfortable and there's nothing that can be done then it's time. It doesn't matter what's typical for other dogs.

I'm sorry you're going through this and I hope things work out for your good old boy!
posted by bleep at 1:27 PM on August 31, 2022 [13 favorites]

If your vet didn’t test for Cushing’s disease, go in and have that done, particularly if your dog is a small breed. A very similar change in personality happened to my 12 year old Shih Tzu and we eventually learned the cause. It is treatable.

Before we knew of the Cushing’s, Prozac really helped!
posted by nancynickerson at 1:27 PM on August 31, 2022 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Whoa! It is a Shih Tzu mix so it might be Cushings. I did not ask for that test nor do I know if he did it. Valium or other calming medication might be a good idea. My vet actually is very good and I've had him for many years but he's of the opinion that with elderly dogs expensive treatments and diagnosis actually creates more trauma and expenses so he may have been just going palliative to make sure the dog wasn't in pain or had a serious medical illness. I'm surprised he didn't recommend prozac or valium as I assume both are cheap. I'll definitely calling up now and see if I can get that today, and buy peanut butter to put the pill into because I don't want to lose a finger trying to give him a pill.
posted by geoff. at 1:42 PM on August 31, 2022 [8 favorites]

The mention of glaucoma makes me also wonder if it is an issue with his sight. I had a dog with pretty advanced dementia (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is the term you want if you are googling) and while obviously all dogs are different, this doesn't sound terribly similar.

I think I would be seeking an opinion from another vet. Because even if they don't recommend euthanasia, they should be able to make some sort of recommendation about assisting with this kind of behavior. Having to deal with injury to yourself is a pretty serious thing.

That said, I do want to echo the person who said that you don't need your vet's permission. They aren't the one living with this.

I put down my 17 year old dog last year when his dementia was pretty advanced. He wasn't aggressive, but his behavior & movement was becoming more unpredictable in a way that was inciting aggression from my younger reactive dog. When his body started to slow down, I didn't hesitate in making that decision. It sucked for sure, but I kept coming back to how many times I heard people (here and elsewhere) say they felt like they waited too long and I didn't want to do that.

Adding on preview -- absolutely check for Cushing's! That's one of the things that was strongly suspected with my dog as well. As was diabetes insipidus (though that was mostly due to his housetraining symptoms).
posted by pixiecrinkle at 1:54 PM on August 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

The vet said biting and breaking skin is typical behavior for an older dog??? That's really surprising. Depending on the dog, I'd either be having the end of life discussion with a different vet or consulting a behaviorist to see if there are interventions to try before taking that step. It's not fair to you or the dog to just... let him stay unhappy and keep biting.
posted by theotherdurassister at 2:10 PM on August 31, 2022 [10 favorites]

The glaucoma diagnosis jumped out at me; in addition to visual disturbances it can cause eye pain. Both of those could put a dog (or person!) on edge. Sounds like there are definitely some things to to look into before considering euthanasia. I have an 8 year old dog with similar (but much milder) behavioral issues, so will be watching this thread.

I’m not entirely comfortable with just giving psychotropic meds to dogs (or people) without knowing what you are treating. I suspect some of my dog’s recent grumpiness may be because unbeknownst to me he was getting tramadol at his other house (a co-parenting situation) ostensibly to keep him from barking at the TV and may have been suffering from withdrawal symptoms when I did not know he had been taking it and did not have any to give him (and wouldn’t give it on a regular basis anyway without a good reason).
posted by TedW at 2:11 PM on August 31, 2022 [3 favorites]

I don't have the right answer to this, but I have lived with old dogs that had degraded vision and hearing (and have been around more), and they never became snappish. Different dogs are different, of course, but I don't think that's a good one-size-fits-all explanation.
posted by adamrice at 2:30 PM on August 31, 2022 [5 favorites]

If your vet didn’t test for Cushing’s disease, go in and have that done, particularly if your dog is a small breed. A very similar change in personality happened to my 12 year old Shih Tzu and we eventually learned the cause. It is treatable.

I used to sit for a Shih-poodle who had something like this, and before it was diagnosed, she was a terror to be around. My then partner and I sat for her because she was aggressive to everyone else (and even us sometimes). After it was diagnosed and she got on meds (I think a quarter of a prednisone tablet every other day and something else), she was so much more relaxed and was able to have much better days for the remainder of her life. I hope you can get a second opinion and figure it out!
posted by limeonaire at 2:41 PM on August 31, 2022 [6 favorites]

My old healthy shithead of a dog is on daily prozac and trazodone. A full year supply of both drugs costs me $150.
posted by phunniemee at 3:02 PM on August 31, 2022 [7 favorites]

Oh also, ymmv but the greenies pill pockets for cats work great for us. They're smaller than the dog pill pockets, and conversely to what it seems like, that actually makes it easier for my dog. You'd think more pocket = better to hide the pill, but for us less pocket = smaller single bite for a small mouth, no need to chew and find the pill.
posted by phunniemee at 3:06 PM on August 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

You're getting a ton of great advice but I talked to my veterinarian daughter who said this type of behavior is not at all typical for aging dogs; this behavior is typical of sick dogs or those with vision issues.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:05 PM on August 31, 2022 [18 favorites]

Not just vision and hearing, but smell. Does he respond to a bit of liver or some bacon? If dogs can't smell much, they lose a ton of information about the world. I might try to reduce his range; gate off a room or 2, or gate him in a room to see if he feels safer.
posted by theora55 at 5:49 PM on August 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I just wanted to chime in with everyone else saying it’s not acceptable that your vet wrote off these behaviours as typical in a dog that age. They’re not! I really do think it’s second opinion time.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:52 PM on August 31, 2022 [5 favorites]

I've had many older dogs in my life who were deaf and blind with aches and pains they were not snappish at all. They were on meds, though, because to my vet, palliative care means we medicate for pain/discomfort that comes with an aging dog body, and for the anxiety that comes because the dogs are dealing with their aging dog bodies.

If you have the means to, find another vet for a second opinion. "This is not my dog's personality, and I think he's anxious and/or in pain" is an excellent opener.

I hope you both find answers!
posted by kimberussell at 4:45 AM on September 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

Nthing that it sounds like either your vet didn't understand what was really going on, or they are taking an extreme anti-euthanasia stance. I'd take my dog elsewhere for a second opinion as well. Good luck, I know this is tough stuff!
posted by nosila at 6:10 AM on September 1, 2022

Ah, if it’s a Shih mix absolutely pursue Cushing’s testing because it’s very common with them in older age. There are two types of tests, and unfortunately my memory is a bit fuzzy now because this was years ago, but you want the one that involves staying at the vet for a few hours because it’s much more accurate.
posted by nancynickerson at 6:44 AM on September 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're dealing with this. Both you and the pup are clearly having a rough time, and good on you for trying your best. I have a grumpy, reactive Shi Tzu. Recently diagnosed with chronic bronchitis and probable Cushings. He's about 8 years old.

We are currently titrating down his prednisone to find the lowest dose we can use. He is also on hydrocodone twice a day. Both of these things are definitely helping him feel better.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!
posted by Glinn at 9:59 AM on September 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

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