Old Dog Pacing Back and Forth – I’m Concerned!

Do you have a dog that has passed its mid-life years? Or do you perhaps have a dog that’s entered its twilight years and is now an elderly dog? If you’ve got an old dog pacing back and forth and it’s a habit that has started rather recently, I can definitely understand the concern. My older dog Alfie never had such a habit when he was younger. But then the old dog pacing back and forth got me concerned when he started doing it frequently. Let’s be honest – we all love our dogs so much. With this much love, we want to do our best to keep them happy and healthy. I know I did. That’s why his new habit got me really worried at first.

An old dog pacing back and forth can mean a few things. To be quite honest, it can be a sign of scary things to come! This is basically why your concern is completely understandable. But on the other hand, it could also be completely harmless. Pacing can just a new habit that your dog picked up somehow. Still, when Alfie started doing the whole walking back and forth in a loop thing, I got really worried! I desperately wanted to find out why he was doing what he was doing. You know, so I could figure out if there was something that I could do to help him out.

If you’re here, then obviously you’re worried about your beloved pup. I understand – I did a ton of research about this because of Alfie, too. It’s for this reason that I’m happy to share all the information I gleaned. Let’s get started.

Why Do Dogs Pace?

Old dog pacing back and forth

If your pup has had a habit of pacing for as long as you can remember, then your old dog pacing back and forth should be less of a concern. For us humans, pacing can mean a lot of different things. It could mean that we are excited or that we are nervous (or even feeling anxious!). Pacing could also mean impatience. For example, when we are feeling really frustrated about something. Or, when we really want to get something done faster, faster, faster! I for one know that I have a tendency to pace when I feel the need to relieve myself, too. Pacing is also another way that I personally release my pent-up energy whenever I’m feeling rather hyperactive.

Certainly, pacing is something that is not exclusive to any one species. Humans do it, dogs do it, cats do it, many other animals do it. And while it can mean a ton of different things for humans, the same applies for canines. There are a diverse amount of reasons why your pooch could be wearing your floor down. Here are some of the reasons why your dog could be walking back and forth, from the harmless and benign to the scary and concerning.

Hyperactivity

One of the usual reasons for pacing is hyperactivity. Humans do it, cats do it, even zoo animals do it – and so, it only makes sense that dogs do it, too. While your old dog pacing back and forth could definitely mean that they are feeling a bit hyperactive, this reason for pacing is more of something that puppies to perhaps mid-life aged dogs do. Nevertheless, the pacing could just mean that they are trying to burn off a ton of excess energy that remains.

A good way to tell whether it’s hyperactivity or if it’s something else is to ask yourself a few things. Did you take your dog out for their regular walk today? If you didn’t give them their exercise, or if perhaps you’ve been unable to take them for a walk for a few days in a row due to one reason or another, chances are your dog could be feeling bored and hyperactive. With all the energy they have pent-up that they want to burn, they may also end up chewing on and barking at just about anything. If your dog is pacing, barking, and chewing on things that they normally wouldn’t even notice before, maybe it’s time to take them for a walk.

Separation Anxiety

Another reason why dogs tend to wear down your floor by non-stop walking back and forth is separation anxiety. This is another thing that is usually done by younger dogs or middle-aged dogs that have not been trained to deal with separation anxiety. As a result, it may not be the reason your old dog pacing back and forth is wearing your carpet thin. The pacing will usually start when your dog begins to notice signs that you are leaving. Even just walking to another room can affect them. Signs such as picking up your wallet or your keys, or walking to the door, for example. Separation is also accompanied by other behaviors that can be considered destructive. These behaviors include chewing and soiling inside the house despite being potty trained.

Note that if your dog never had a separation anxiety problem but all of a sudden, they appear to be getting anxious when you go, it may be a sign that they recently went through a traumatic event. You may want to investigate and see if everything is alright. You can also check with their groomer or dog walker, if any.

Compulsion

Sometimes, pacing can simply be a compulsion that your dog has. This is one reason I can say that pacing can be something harmless. This is especially so if it’s a habit your dog has had for the longest time. It’s less of a concern if it’s been this way before they entered old age. By compulsion, I mean things like your dog feeling the compulsion to chase his shadow. Or the compulsion to try and catch his tail. Another compulsion is your dog feeling the desire to bark all day at seemingly nothing. If this is the reason, you may be able to train your dog out of the habit of pacing. Alternatively, you can exercise them to a point that all they want to do is laze around afterwards.

If your dog is constantly feeling compelled to pace back and forth, try to spend time with him. Play fetch, cuddle, give belly rubs and whatnot. You may even find that your dog was just feeling bored, isolated, or needing human attention.

Feeling Urges for Mating 

An old dog pacing back and forth won’t necessarily have the urge to do so because of their desire to mate. Nevertheless, I figured I would include this reason in here anyway. Originally I thought this was the reason why Alfie, my dog, was starting to pace back and forth nonstop. My neighbor’s dog was in heat, and Alfie was not neutered, and so I thought there may have been a connection. But when Alfie continued pacing even after my neighbor’s dog stopped being in heat, I knew that I had a cause for concern.

If your pooch is fixed, of course, the urge to mate is most likely not the reason why they are pacing. Perhaps check the other reasons on this list, in that case.

Old Age

Of course, I have to be honest and say that one of the reasons your old dog pacing back and forth might be doing it is simply because of old age. Sometimes, older dogs just begin to pick up this habit of walking back and forth as they age. Most of the time, it could be because your dog is feeling disoriented and even confused, probably because they are starting to develop some cognitive issues as they grow old. If you suspect old age to be the reason, check for other symptoms such as not reacting to his name, quivering, excessive sleeping (in the daytime), and anti-social behavior.

For me, this turned out to be the reason why Alfie was pacing. At first, I didn’t really want to accept it because it made me sad that my dog was getting older… but of course eventually I had to come to terms. Accepting it was the only way for me to move forward so I could learn how to help my pet.

Cognitive Dysfunction in Dogs

Old dog pacing back and forth

Most everyone in the world today knows about Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, which are both degenerative conditions that affect the brain. It is a progressive condition that generally occurs when humans enter their later years. In rare cases, early onset Alzheimer’s can occur. The reason that I’ve brought up both Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia is because both of these things are essentially kind of similar to CD or Cognitive Dysfunction, which is essentially the dog version. Cognitive Dysfunction is basically when a pooch begins to go senile.

Cognitive Dysfunction affects dogs that have entered their twilight years – geriatric canines, as you will. 

Not much is known yet about CD and how exactly it affects dogs (and cats). because not a lot of research has been done at this time. In fact, researchers, at this time, are still in the process of figuring out all the different changes that happen in animals that begin to develop cognitive dysfunction. One thing that they do know, however, is that beta-amyloid – a protein – plays a part in it. When beta-amyloid deposits start collecting in the brain, CD begins to progress for the reason that this protein affects cognitive brain function adversely.

Now, you recall that I mentioned above that cognitive dysfunction is basically the canine version of Alzheimer’s Disease, right? Well, it kind of is, because research done on Alzheimer’s Disease shows that beta-amyloid also plays a role in its development.

How Common is Cognitive Dysfunction in Canines?

You would probably be surprised at just how common CD can actually be. It isn’t well documented per se and you may not find out all too much about CD (the exact percentage of prevalence is not exactly known) if you looked it up. However, there was one study done. It was found that cognitive dysfunction affected up to forty seven percent of 11-12 year old dogs. Furthermore, in dogs aged 15-16, this percent of prevalence actually goes up to eighty six percent!

It actually is quite shocking, isn’t it? Nearly half of dogs a little over ten years old can get CD… and if your dog is fortunate to live to fifteen or sixteen, they’re almost guaranteed to have cognitive dysfunction. It isn’t exactly like Alzheimer’s then, because Alzheimer’s doesn’t exactly have the same degree of commonness. I guess it’s much better to simply liken CD to senility or perhaps dementia. Either way, it’s still a condition that begins to affect elderly dogs.

What are the Symptoms of Cognitive Dysfunction?

Unfortunately, it can be quite difficult to distinguish between the usual signs of aging and actual signs of cognitive dysfunction. This is because a few of them are similar. However, animals affected by CD do show other signs and symptoms. Here are some of them:

  • They may forget their toilet training and, as a result, begin to soil inside the home. This can be hard to recognize as a sign in some cases where the animal may have trouble holding their bladder.
  • Lessened activity is another sign that can be simply confused with old age.
  • A dog with CD can suffer from attention span troubles and a difficulty to focus.
  • They may also appear disoriented.
  • An old dog pacing back and forth is certainly a symptom of cognitive dysfunction for sure.
  • Barking and vocalization – especially for no reason.
  • If your dog often stares into space, or stares at the wall, this can be a bit concerning.
  • Another thing is if your dog’s circadian rhythm gets messed up and their sleep schedule changes, where they wander at night and sleep too much during the day.
  • One word: anxiety.
  • Finally, if your dog is seemingly withdrawing socially and is beginning to pull away from interactions with humans and family members… it’s quite likely that it is cognitive dysfunction. However, please do make sure that your dog hasn’t recently undergone some trauma that could have caused this change in behavior.

More Things to Note:

These are less likely to happen, but I think they’re worth mentioning regardless. If your old dog pacing back and forth concerns you, check them for some of these other signs too:

  • Aggressive behavior when they weren’t normally aggressive (especially toward members of the family – acting as though they are strangers
  • Pets forgetting former training that they knew very well such as tricks, routines, and behavioral training

How is Cognitive Dysfunction Diagnosed?

If you suspect that your old dog pacing back and forth is doing it because they may have CD, the best thing that you could possibly do is bring them to the veterinarian. If you bring your pet to your regular vet, then they will likely have the records of your dog’s medical history. However, if you are going to be bringing your dog to a new veterinarian, then you will have to bring their records so that you can show them to your vet. This way, they will know as much as possible so that they can make the diagnosis more easily. Along with a physical examination and an interview, here are some of the tests that will likely be done to help in diagnosing cognitive dysfunction.

  • X-Rays are done for the purpose of looking for evidence of things such as arthritis. Radiographs are also used to help check your dog for growths and things such as cancer.
  • Urinalysis and also urine cultures are done to help evaluate the function of your dog’s kidneys. These are also done to check for any infections. 
  • CBC (complete blood cell count), chemistry panels, and further blood tests are usually done to check your dog for any problems.
  • An abdominal ultrasonograph may be taken.
  • Neurologists may be asked to check whether there are any tumors in the brain. They will also be consulted about issues of the central nervous system.

Is Cognitive Dysfunction Treatable?

It surely can be concerning to watch your old dog pacing back and forth – I know that I was greatly worried when Alfie started doing it. It’s never easy to see a dog that you knew and loved for the longest time beginning to suffer at…well, the hands of time. Therefore, it’s truly only natural to wonder: can you cure cognitive dysfunction? Is it treatable at all, and if so, what can you do to “fix”your pup and make their life much easier? If you find yourself asking these questions right now, truly you are not alone. 

I have asked these questions too. I spent hours calling veterinarians’ offices, poring over websites on the internet, and I even went to the library one point too – all to find out whether there is anything that I can do for my dog to make his life better.

However, it truly saddens me to report that as of this time, there is honestly not much you can do to cure CD. Yes, as of writing, CD is completely incurable and irreversible, just like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. When I first found out about this, it made me incredibly sad for my Alfie – after all, I would much rather bring back the Alfie I used to know – but that ship has sailed.

One thing that did give me comfort, however, is the knowledge that while CD isn’t curable per se, it can be treated. There are a few things that you can do to help improve your dog’s life and make him as comfy and happy as can be through the rest of his days.

How Do I Treat Cognitive Dysfunction?

The moment you notice your old dog pacing back and forth – along the other signs and symptoms I’ve mentioned above – it really is important to bring your dog to the veterinarian for a diagnosis. I say this because if you catch CD early enough and diagnose it in the early stages, you can then be prescribed medications to give your dog which can help them with their cognitive dysfunction. It’s fortunate that dogs do have some form of medication for this condition, whereas cats do not (as of this time of writing).

Be thankful that there is something that you can do for your pooch; I sure was – I am incredibly grateful that I could do something instead of simply watching Alfie fade away. So as I’ve said, bring your dog to the vet for a diagnosis right away so they can prescribe some of the medicines that are made to help with cognitive dysfunction!

Special Diets and Supplements

Additionally, there are some diets that are helpful to dogs with cognitive dysfunction, which you can also discuss with your veterinarian. I think that it’s best to ask for the vet’s advice because they will know best what your pup needs – plus, your dog may have special needs that only a vet with experience and knowledge will know how to address.

Another thing, however, that I was told to do for Alfie was to give him some dietary supplements. Apparently, vitamins and minerals are rather helpful for dogs that are developing CD, and so are supplements. I was given a multivitamin for Alfie. Then, I was also told to give him some Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acid supplements. It appears that both of these fatty acids have been proven helpful to pups that are going through a cognitive decline.

What Else Can I Do?

Aside from a special diet, vitamins, and supplements, you can also provide a routine along with some exercise. For dogs with cognitive dysfunction, giving them regular mental stimulation can help to slow down cognitive dysfunction’s progression. This means giving your dog regular exercise such as walks or visits to the park. You could even take them to the beach, if you are fortunate enough to live close by.

Although, you should and you must adjust to make sure that the exercise is appropriate to their age. Furthermore, you can also enrich their environment at home with some toys. Playing with your pet is one thing. Doing things such as teaching them simple tricks or helping them remember old ones can be quite helpful too.

Another thing that can help your pup if they’re entering their twilight years is to give them a stringent routine. This can result in lessened anxiety for your pet.

Prevention

For some, the thought of having to help their pet through cognitive dysfunction until the end of their days is a lot to handle. Personally, when Alfie was diagnosed it really made me question myself and wonder about so many ‘what ifs’. Like, what if I had thought about preventing the progression of CD long before Alfie ever came down with it? What if I had known about cognitive dysfunction early? Then… what if I decided to do the best that I could in terms of diet, exercise, routine, and supplements? What would have happened if I had made sure to take the best possible care of Alfie where I could?

Would he still have come down with cognitive dysfunction? Or would he have been able to escape being one of the 46% or one of the 86% in older dogs? Honestly, I kept beating myself up about this situation. But in the end, the only thing I really could have done was to make him as happy and comfortable as possible. I did all that I could as we managed the symptoms of CD.

Unfortunately, as of writing there isn’t really a known and proven method of preventing our beloved cats and dogs from developing CD as they age. All that can really be done is to establish routines, provide exercise, and make sure that their diets are high quality and as nutrient-complete as it possibly can be.

In the end, I think that the only real method of prevention is the above… that, and knowing that it surely still is possible for your pup to come down with the condition. Knowing is half the battle. Because at least then you will be ready to face off with this degenerative condition as time goes on.

Conclusion

When my old dog pacing back and forth alarmed me (because he was doing it so frequently, sometimes all through the night which kept me up), I found it important to do some research to figure out why. When I realized that it was because of cognitive dysfunction, it crushed me. Then, I wanted to do my best to get the word out. That way, other pet owners like me wouldn’t be hit with the gut punch like I did.

It’s deeply saddening to watch your pet begin to deteriorate in this manner, especially in terms of cognitive function. But what can we really do when sometimes, this is simply the course that nature takes. Just like when elderly humans begin to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

In the end, I hope that you found this article informative and helpful. Please remember to take your dog to the vet for regular check ups. Do this at least once or twice a year, especially when they are getting to their older years, past mid-life. And, finally, please do establish a good routine for your pup, along with adequate exercise and a good diet!