A client's senior dog asks to go outside and then eliminates in the house upon its return indoors. Is there something I can do for the client and her pet other than just chalking up the behavior to old age?
For elderly pets to display signs of deteriorating memory and learning ability, such as house soiling in a previously house-trained pet, is relatively common. Identifying that a problem exists is the first step in making a diagnosis, as many owners incorrectly assume the behavior problems are an untreatable aspect of aging and do not discuss the changes with their veterinarian. A client questionnaire can help screen geriatric patients for such problems; then it is necessary to determine whether the cause of the problem is behavioral or medical. For example, a dog may house soil because of a variety of medical problems that cause increased frequency of urination or defacation and decreased bowel or bladder control, or both. Dogs that have sensory decline, pain, or reduced mobility may no longer signal their need to eliminate or may be reluctant or unable to access the elimination area.
A presumptive diagnosis of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is made when clinical signs consistent with the condition are present and any underlying medical causes or primary behavior problems have been ruled out. The acronym DISHA has been used as a convenient way of remembering the signs of CDS: Disorientation; Interactions may be altered with family members or other pets; Sleep-wake cycle alterations; House soiling; and Activity changes, including an increase in restless or repetitive activity. Pets with concurrent medical and cognitive disorders may be better able to respond to behavior therapy after the medical and cognitive problems have been treated.