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Help! My Senior Dog’s Whining Is Out Of Control

Senior dogs may whine because they need help with basic needs, are in pain or are feeling anxious. charovalenzuela/iStock/Thinkstock

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I recently had a bittersweet experience. As I was going through this experience, I was humbled by the observations I made and the lessons I learned. This is Max’s story.

I had the pleasure of meeting Max more than 10 years ago on the very first day his owner brought him home from the local pound. At that time his veterinarian estimated his age to be approximately 9 weeks old. As a puppy, Max was a very vocal dog. His vocalization of choice was whining. He whined for attention. He whined for food. He whined if he was left alone. He whined when put in situations that were unfamiliar. If Max stubbed his paw, good grief, it was like he just had surgery without anesthesia! You could tell that everything was right in Max’s world when he was at home curled up in his favorite chair and cuddling with his humans. As Max went through adolescence and adulthood, he rarely caused any problems; even his whining went to a level that everyone could tolerate. Max was a very lucky and spoiled dog.

As Max started to enter his senior years, his whining returned. At first, it was not very often. His veterinarian thought the whining was the result of the normal again process. Perhaps in response to aches and pains. As he aged, his level of whining continued to increase. He whined for attention. He whined for food or to indicate that it was time to go outside. He whined when left alone and whined when he moved.

What I observed was that, in many ways, Max was returning to the behaviors that he displayed when he was a puppy. When speaking with other owners who have or are raising senior dogs, many indicated they also noticed the same thing. Sadly, Max has passed, but not before teaching me some valuable lessons about living with and caring for a senior dog.

So, what should you think about and do if your senior dog is beginning to whine in situations that never produced a vocalization before?

  • First, identify the situation(s) that cause your dog to whine.
  • Second, identify the frequency and duration of the whining behavior. Being able to quantify the behavior is the best way to help your veterinarian come up with the perfect plan for your situation.
  • Third, make an appointment to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian.

Let’s take a look at some of the more common reasons why our dogs may begin to whine as they enter their senior years.

Need Help With Basic Needs. I find this interesting. Puppies are born both blind and deaf and have limited mobility. Essentially, they are 100 percent dependent on their caregiver for survival. Many times, because they cannot take care of themselves, they whine or vocalize to get their caregiver’s attention in order to get a need fulfilled. This can also happen with our senior dogs. For example, many times as our dog’s age, they experience a decrease in sensory perception and develop mobility issues.  If you think this sounds like your situation, it’s important to identify ways to keep your senior dog(s) comfortable and independent. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Move dog bowls closer to your dog’s favorite resting spot.
  • Take your dog outside more frequently to toilet.
  • Place dog toys or bones nearby so that your dog can continue to have opportunities for mental stimulation.

Pain. One of the ways our dogs indicate that they are in pain is by whining. As our dogs age, just as with humans, the body gets a bit creakier and medical conditions can occur that may impact mobility.  A good start is to speak with your veterinarian about homeopathic or pharmaceutical options intended to relieve your dog’s discomfort. There are also some simple changes you can implement in your home if you think your dog’s whining is the result of pain.

  • Think about getting ramps to help with stairs or getting into the car.
  • If your dog likes to sleep on the couch or bed, think about purchasing a dog bed that can be placed on the floor and is much more appealing and comfortable than the couch.
  • Look at alternative entrances and exits in your home that might make going outside easier.

Anxiety. Sometimes our senior dogs get confused and develop symptoms of cognitive dysfunction. This can also be referred to as doggy dementia or canine senility. Some dog’s respond to this by becoming anxious or stressed; they begin to whine as an attempt to self-regulate their internal anxiety. If you think your senior dog’s whining is the result of anxiety, here are some simple ideas to help maximizing relaxation.

  • Keep daily routines as consistent as possible.
  • Maintain low energy levels to reduce any excitement within your home.
  • Play soothing music throughout the day.
  • Try to keep your senior dog away from situations that will increase his anxiety or stress.

Bottom line: If you notice that your senior dog’s whining is increasing, look at the whining as a communication tool indicating that something may not be right. Identify those situations when your dog is whining, quantify how long and how often the whining occurs. Finally, take that information and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss what you can do to help your senior dog.

By: Donna Gleason, CPDT-KA