Ill or ageing animals will sometimes exhibit a number of odd behaviours, so being in tune with your pet’s normal behaviour can help clue you in to the first signs that something is off. Animals that are not feeling well will frequently have an overall decrease in energy and interest in their normal activities. Sometimes they will hide or start sleeping in unusual spots. Some will do the opposite and seek out human attention more than they normally do. Many owners describe their sick pets as being more “needy” than usual.
There are also several diseases in dogs and cats that will cause them to drink and urinate more frequently than normal; these animals will sometimes hover near the bathtub or other sources of water. Animals with true neurological problems will sometimes stare off into space, get stuck in corners, pace or walk in circles. Some will exhibit behavioural changes such as increased aggression or barking for no apparent reason. Cats and dogs rarely have strokes, but they are susceptible to other neurological diseases including cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which is similar to dementia in humans.
Because many of these changes are subtle and non-specific, a neurological exam is necessary to distinguish a neurologically abnormal patient from one that is acting abnormally just because he or she is not feeling well. It is important for any elderly pet with behavioural changes to be evaluated by a veterinarian.