My old Westie has started to act quite strangely recently. He will stare into corners, suddenly stop and bark at nothing in particular, and then doesn’t stop until I call him or touch him, when he seems a bit startled. What is going on?
James Farrell advises…
Dogs that are getting on in years can start to suffer from dementia. Unlike in humans, not a lot of research has been done into this for dogs. However, there are some supplements available, which can be given to support their brain function. A balanced diet (senior variety with good-quality, easily digestible ingredients) is also important in helping dogs as they get older.
A trip to your vet is wise before assuming that not much can be done. Your vet will probably recommend blood tests to check liver function (a failing liver can affect the brain) and check out your dog’s heart and circulation. If there are problems with these, then medication can often improve the situation, bringing back a quality of life to your pet’s daily routine.
If it has been of a sudden onset, it is possible it could be caused by poison ingestion, in which case he will need medical support while he overcomes the effect of the poison. It could also be a form of fit or indication that he has epilepsy – again, medical intervention will be needed and the sooner a diagnosis is made then the better his chance of recovery.
If nothing more can be done, then it is a case of keeping him as happy as possible. Avoid changing his environment too much so that he is less startled by things and knows his way around (his sight may well be failing too) but keep his interest up by regular fuss and trying to engage him with toys and food.
When you feel his quality of life is such that he is having more bad days than good, then it is time to consider letting him go. Your vet will discuss the options with you and help you through the difficult decision when the time comes.
One final thought is, if it is always occurring in the same area of the house and he is staring at the same spot all the time, then check it out thoroughly. Dogs have superior hearing and sense of smell to us and there may actually be something he feels he has to bark at that you can’t detect.