As dogs age, their bodies and behaviors can change, evolve and even regress, and they start to show signs that they’re getting older. While you may think that an old dog is whining for no apparent reason, in fact, they may be trying to tell you something important.
If your old dog is constantly whining, especially in situations that never produced a vocalization before, you’ll want to try to figure out what your pooch is trying to tell you and what’s bothering them. If you can’t easily identify the cause, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss your concerns and get your pup a proper checkup.
Whining in Senior Dogs
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Why Is My Old Dog Whining for No Apparent Reason?
They Need Help With Basic Needs
Just like puppies, senior dogs can be almost 100 percent dependent on their caregiver for survival. As dogs age, they can experience decreases in sensory perception and develop mobility issues, according to Donna Gleason, CDBC (Certified Dog Behavior Consultant), dog trainer and founder of TLC Dog Trainer in Connecticut.
If you notice your dog has more trouble getting around or seems to be bumping into things, this could be one of the possible causes of their continuous whining. While your older dog likely won’t regain full independence, there are ways you can keep them more comfortable and happy. Gleason recommends:
- Moving dog food and water bowls closer to your dog’s favorite resting spot.
- Taking your dog outside more frequently for potty breaks.
- Placing dog toys or bones nearby so that your dog can continue to have opportunities for mental stimulation.
They’re in Pain
Since dogs can’t talk, whining is often their way to tell you that they’re hurting. It may seem like your dog is whining for no apparent reason, but that whining may actually be a sign of pain.
Just like humans, as dogs age, they can start to develop aches, pains and soreness, as well as medical conditions that impact mobility and make them feel less comfortable.
If you suspect that your dog is in pain, the first step is to talk to your vet about potential support to help alleviate their discomfort. This may involve treatment for any underlying health issues.
In addition to working with your vet, there are some changes you and your family members can make in your home to help make your old dog’s life easier (and hopefully ease some of their discomfort and pain).
- Set up ramps, like the PetSafe Happy Ride foldable pet ramp, to help with climbing stairs or getting into the car. Mobility aids like these make it easier for your dog to move around without having to jump.
- Purchase a new dog bed, like the Frisco Sherpa Orthopedic bolster dog bed, and try to entice your dog to sleep there instead of on the couch or bed. Like a mobility ramp, this can decrease the need to jump onto and off of furniture.
- Consider how you’re bringing your dog outside. If you have an entrance with stairs and one without, for example, consider using the one that is less cumbersome.
Excessive vocalization may be a sign of stress and anxiety. According to Gleason, some dogs attempt to self-regulate some of their anxiety by whining. She recommends the following tips to help your dog relax:
- Keep your daily routines as consistent as you can.
- Keep your environment as low energy and calm as possible.
- Play soothing music throughout the day and consider more ways to create a zen space for your dog. Do your best to avoid loud noises.
- Try to keep your dog away from stressful situations, like meeting new people or pets.
Why Is My Old Dog Whining at Night?
Pain or Discomfort
Dr. Nicole Savageau, VMD, a veterinarian with The Vets in Austin, TX, says pain and discomfort can often become more noticeable to your dog in the middle of the night when the house is quiet and there are fewer distractions.
When the house is quiet, you can also hear your dog whining more clearly, so it may seem like they’re more uncomfortable, but really, you’re just more aware of it.
Older dogs can develop separation anxiety, leading to whining when they are left alone, especially at night.
For example, if your bedroom is on the second floor and your older dog can’t climb the stairs, they might get separation anxiety when you head to bed for the night and they can’t get to you.
Often, senior dogs get confused and start showing signs of canine cognitive dysfunction, also known as dog dementia. Dogs with impaired cognitive function may become more agitated and vocal at night due to confusion and disorientation.
Older dogs also deal with a lot of changes in their senses, such as hearing loss and vision changes, and so anxiety can increase as they get older, says Dr. Monica Tarantino, DVM, small animal veterinarian in the Charlotte, NC, area and founder of Senior Dog Revolution. This can lead to more whining at night when they’re feeling especially confused or disoriented.
In addition to confusion, canine cognitive dysfunction can cause:
- Disturbances in sleep patterns
- Reduced activity and withdrawal from pet parents
- Abnormal or excessive vocalizations like barking and whining
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
Why Is My Old Dog Whining in a Crate?
Some dogs, especially as they age, may develop anxiety associated with confinement, leading to whining in the crate. This can result in separation anxiety and more vocalization.
If the crate is not comfortable or if the dog has arthritis, lying down on a hard surface in a confined space can cause discomfort and whining, according to Dr. Savageau. Your dog may also not be feeling well. If you notice vomiting or lethargy, this could indicate something is wrong and that a medical issue needs to be addressed.
They Have To Go to the Bathroom
If the dog needs to relieve themselves while they’re in their crate, they might whine to signal the need to go outside. Dr. Tarantino says that many of her patients have had the experience where a pet has had GI upset and that has led to whining and a subsequent need to go outside to poop. In this case, you might also see signs of discomfort like wincing, shifting and/or an inability to get comfortable.
How To Help Your Older Whining Dog
- Try to isolate what’s causing the discomfort: Removing the cause of discomfort is the quickest way to stop the whining. Was anything new introduced to their diet? Could they have gotten hurt at some point during the day? If you can’t identify the cause, the next steps are to try to make your dog as comfortable as possible.
- Provide a comfortable environment: Give your dog a warm, soft and quiet place to rest. Make sure their bedding is comfortable and supportive, and give them their favorite toy.
- Make sure your dog is getting regular exercise: Senior dogs may not move around as fast as they did when they were younger, but some exercise is still important for their quality of life. Dr. Savageau says gentle exercise can also help alleviate joint pain and improve overall well-being.
- Consider behavioral training: If you and your vet suspect that an old dog whining for no apparent reason may be the sign of a behavioral issue, the appropriate training may help. Positive reinforcement training can help manage whining behaviors that are related to anxiety.
- Stick to a daily routine: A daily routine provides a sense of security and predictability that can lessen your dog’s anxiety and make them feel calmer. Try to feed, walk and play with them at the same times every day.
- Try a calming supplement: Tarantino says older dogs with suspected mild anxiety, nervousness or early doggy dementia may benefit from a senior-specific supplement like VetriScience Golden Years Calm & Confident. This supplement has a combination of a colostrum blend and L-theanine to help pups relax and, with antioxidant properties, also helps support an aging brain, she says. It can be used daily in older dogs to help promote calm behavior.
When To Bring an Older Dog to the Veterinarian
Dr. Savageau recommends seeing a veterinarian if the whining is sudden, persistent or accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as limping, changes in appetite, weight loss or increased thirst and urination.
Additionally, if the whining is disrupting their sleep patterns, it’s essential to seek veterinary advice promptly.
Dr. Tarantino adds that the vet can evaluate their teeth, joints and more and possibly run lab work to see if there are any obvious metabolic abnormalities.
Keeping dogs of all ages on a routine where they get consistent physical activity, mental enrichment and routine visits to the vet for screening will always be helpful.
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