Old Pets and Senility: Solving Training Problems in Senior Pets

It’s a truth all pet parents don’t want to think about: our animals do not live as long as us. In just a few years, your pet can go from wild, active, and rambunctious to old, tired, and barely mobile. It can be tough watching this change, especially when you notice your pet displaying regressive behaviors: snapping, no longer listening to commands, and what may be the most frustrating for pet owners: having accidents inside the home.

It may be time to consider that your pet has age-related senility, otherwise known as Cognitive Dysfunction. Luckily, there are ways to solve the problem of in-home accidents for your senior pet in their final years.

Other Reasons for Accidents

While it’s not unreasonable to assume that a pet regressing in their house training might be suffering from Cognitive Dysfunction, this may not be enough information to determine the cause of their accidents. Breakdown of house training is a common symptom of Cognitive Dysfunction, but here are some other explanations for this behavior:

1. Cushing's Disease

Cases of animals having accidents next to the front door may indicate an inability to hold their bladder until the owner gets home. The pet may be suffering with Cushing’s Disease and an increase in thirstiness has increased their need to toilet. A trip to the vet and prescribed medication may be enough to fix this issue.

2. Hyperthyroidism

Be alert for changes in weight, appetite, and energy levels. Like with Cushing’s Disease, Hyperthyroidism can cause increased thirstiness which may be leading to those in-home potty breaks. While this is more common in cats than in dogs, hyperthyroidism in dogs is caused by a malignant tumor, and medication to treat the hyperthyroidism will not treat the cancer, therefore getting a vet’s opinion is of the utmost importance.

If the visit to the pet turned up short and the above diseases have been ruled out, then it may be time to look into Cognitive Dysfunction.

Indications of Cognitive Dysfunction

  • Emotional changes: increases in anxiety, irritability, or aggression
  • Bad manners: animals may lose their social inhibition and start snatching food off the table or barging through doors
  • Attention-seeking: an increase in neediness

  • Night Waking: Pets with cognitive dysfunction may sleep more, but not restfully, and may wake up in the night due to hunger, a full bladder, or discomfort
  • Disorientation: this may cause increased barking and destructive behavior, especially at night
  • Memory loss: This is where the accidents come in; the pet may forget where they are supposed to do their business and start soiling in the house

So with these regressive behaviors, what can you do to help?

Solutions for in-home accidents

As with dementia in humans, there is no quick solution that can solve Cognitive Dysfunction. However, here are some things you can do to help:

Watch their nutrition

An ideal diet to stall Cognitive Dysfunction will be rich in antioxidants. For dogs a low protein, high carbohydrate diet that is supplemented with B vitamins can help. Focus on good quality protein such as actual lean meat (rather than meat derivatives or meat meal), eggs, or cottage cheese.


Talk to your vet about the drug therapies Selegiline and Propentofylline for helping to perk up your pet.

Routine, Routine, Routine

Keep your pet on a schedule for food, walking, and bedtime. Include a pre-bed massage if you can (some suggestions are available in the Animal Physical Therapy course). Put on a night light so they won’t wake up disoriented and, if feeling desperate, a doggy diaper may help for pets with incontinence issues. It may take time to get them used to it, but with a strict routine soon your pet will be waiting expectantly for their diaper to come on. Likewise, a litter box for multiple rooms may not be ideal, but will certainly reduce the risk of your cat having accidents. 

Learn about these solutions for Cognitive Dysfunction and more ways to help your older pets with our course Care of the Senior Pet.