Older Dogs May Show Their Pain with Behavior Changes.

Hidden problems like joint pain, organ disease, & thyroid trouble can be found with lab testing. Proper treatment can improve life quality & life expectancy.



My 14 year old Brittany Spaniel, Beckett, is beginning to show her age, a lot like her owners. Cataracts, hearing loss, and arthritis are among her maladies. She has gone from a very frisky youngster to a timid little baby in the last year or so. Her latest quirk is chattering her teeth, both when she is awake and asleep. I don’t think she is cold, since she has decided to become a house dog this past year. My husband wonders if this is a sign she is in  pain. Our vet says she is a healthy dog internally, based on her nice pink mouth. Should we be amused  or concerned by this behavior?


Dr. Nichol:

I share your concern about Beckett. It does sound like the years are starting to catch up. But that does not mean that she needs to be written off.


What’s important to understand is that aging affects many systems in the body. Trying to find just one cause for her problems probably won’t work. I would suggest a much more thorough evaluation of her health to look for every possible problem. While it may be disheartening to think that Beckett is “falling apart” I suspect that most of her problems are still within the manageable stage.


In our hospital we offer a Geriatric Health Survey, or “GHS”. This is recommended by specialists in internal medicine to ferret out hard to detect diseases on older pets. Many veterinary hospitals provide this service. The GHS for dogs includes a blood count and serum chemistry profile, urinalysis, an electrocardiogram, thyroid level, chest x-rays, blood pressure, and a thorough physical exam. For older kitty cats, the GHS is similar but different in ways that help us find problems particular to the senior feline.


What are we looking for? Common problems in senior dogs include cancer, organ failure, and hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). In Beckett’s case I suspect that she still has real joint pain. In addition she may be chattering her teeth because she has pain or it may be due to hypothyroidism. Both problems are treatable.


Be optimistic-get answers. I think we can help her feel more like a kid again.