By Alli Wittbold
As dog owners, it goes without saying that when you get a puppy you’re signing up for some degree of chewing. We work hard to train our puppies from the start what’s okay to chew and what’s not.
That’s why when you come home one day to find your usually well-behaved adult dog has chewed (or even destroyed!) objects in your home, it can seriously throw you for a loop!
You’re left wondering, why is my older dog suddenly chewing? What’s going on with them that would cause this sudden change in behavior? And more immediately, what can I do to stop my older dog’s sudden chewing?
When an older dog suddenly starts to chew, it’s usually a clue that something is up with them. The most common culprits are a sudden increase in boredom, new or returning separation anxiety that is brought on by age, or a response to pain.
Below, we’ll discuss the root cause of your older dog’s sudden chewing, and address what you can do to help curb the behavior when your dog needs to be left alone.
Why is my older dog suddenly chewing?
Sudden chewing in older dogs is usually brought on by an underlying cause. It might be as simple as boredom, more complicated like separation anxiety, or a direct response to pain. Whatever the case ends up being, any significant change in your older dog’s behavior is worth a call to the vet.
Because our dogs can’t tell us what’s going on as they age, behavior changes are our best clues that something more serious could be going on. Hopefully, your dog’s sudden chewing isn’t indicative of a larger issue, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution. It’s best to schedule a vet visit in addition to the troubleshooting tips we’ll discuss below.
Chewing as a response to boredom
Has your dog’s daily physical activity time decreased?
Your older dog’s sudden chewing might be a result of boredom. Take a minute to think about your dog’s daily routine for a minute. Has there been a recent decrease in your dog’s usual physical or mental stimulation?
As our dogs age, they make it easier for us to skip a day of walking, or shorten their off-leash time because they can handle it occasionally. But sudden chewing may be your dog’s way of letting you know this “new normal” isn’t providing them with enough stimulation.
As our lives get busier, kids enter the picture, or jobs change we often let our dog’s needs fall by the wayside. Take this chewing as a reminder to recommit to your dog’s needs, or consider hiring some help.
Need some fresh ideas? Check out: 10 Ways to Exercise Your Dog
What about when you have to limit their daily exercise?
You may need to decrease your dog’s physical stimulation or activity due to health reasons, but their chewing might be letting you know they are bored and need stimulation in another form.
For example, our husky suffered a bad accident at age seven. This forced us to limit her to on-leash, short walking pretty much permanently after the fact. She certainly let us know that even though her body couldn’t handle more than that, her mind was going nuts with boredom!
We found that allowing her more time to be outside on a line, or in a confined area helped her fulfill her mental stimulation needs significantly. Additionally, we do a lot of mentally stimulating games with her in the house.
What to do about boredom chewing in older dogs?
- If they can handle it physically, increase their exercise time before you leave them alone
- If exercise needs to be limited for health reasons, give them time outside for mental stimulation and spend time playing training games in the house to get their brains working (more specific ideas listed below)
- Provide them with interesting and challenging chew toys when they are alone (but be sure to supervise them safely with their dog toys)
- Rotate toys so that your dog doesn’t get bored with their options
- Take a safety check of your dog’s space and go back through the dog-proofing you might have done when they were younger
Destructive chewing due to separation anxiety
Some older dogs start chewing because of new or recurring separation anxiety. As your dog ages, fear associated with their ailments can make them scared to be away from you. This can be especially true in dogs that develop blindness, deafness or have pain that makes it difficult for them to get around.
It can also appear in dogs that are developing hormonal imbalances with age (hypothyroidism for example). In some cases, changes in behavior are our only indication that something is amiss.
If your dog had a history of separation anxiety that you’ve handled in the past, age can definitely bring it back to the surface. Other reasons older dogs develop separation anxiety are because of new dogs joining the family, new babies or children, and less one-on-one time overall with you, their number one.
Chewing may calm your dog’s nerves
Interestingly, chewing serves as a stress-reliever for dogs. This is why a dog suffering from separation anxiety might suddenly turn to chewing. Dogs also know how to get the attention of their owner, and might use chewing as a way to tell you somethings up.
How to help your dog cope with separation anxiety and stop unwanted chewing?
- Spend intentional one-on-one time with your dog before leaving every day
- Don’t make a big deal about leaving the house or returning, you want to normalize coming and going. In fact, it’s actually best to not say goodbye at all
- Switch up your routine and the order you do things before leaving, your behaviors are what put your dog on high alert
- Try to leave your dog for shorter lengths of time and increase gradually as you reestablish trust
- Talk to your vet for more specific advice and possible medication in extreme cases
Note that this is a very brief overview of separation anxiety. This can be a serious challenge for many dog owners and their furry friends. Please don’t take this issue lightly.
Sudden chewing as a response to mouth pain
As your dog ages, more and more ailments might start to pop up. One of these might be mouth pain. Gum disease, swollen gums, tartar build-up, infections, and even cavities might be plaguing your dog. Chewing can provide temporary relief from mouth pain.
You might be able to take a peek into your dog’s mouth and see what’s going on, or it might require a professional. Either way, if you think pain could be the culprit, don’t wait to contact your vet.
General tips to stop my older dog’s sudden chewing
While you are working on addressing the root cause of your older dog’s sudden chewing, there’s no doubt that you have some responsibilities that can’t be put on pause.
Here are some immediate things you can do to help the chewing situation:
- Confine your dog to a dog-proofed area of your home by using gates or shutting doors
- If your dog was crate-trained in the past, or the situation is severe, consider using a crate
- Hire help to come in to help with your dog, this might be to provided exercise, mental stimulation, or simply shorten the time they are alone
- Leave your dog with things they can chew. Dog toys that can be filled with treats or peanut butter will keep their mind occupied.
- Antlers and Monster K9 toys are both options for tough chewers that will last and last
When you are with your dog refocus your efforts on stimulating your dog when you are together, and especially before you leave. If physical exercise is no longer a safe option for your older dog, try to start introducing more mental stimulation.
Mental stimulation ideas for older dogs:
- Hide and seek for treats or toys throughout the house (this is a go-to with my dogs, especially on really cold days when it’s hard to run them)
- Maze feeding bowls or scattered feeding
- Revisiting base command training or working on new commands and tricks
- Increased time spent outside, even if it has to be in a confined area or on a line
For more advice and information related to destructive chewing, don’t miss my other article, A Step-By-Step Guide: Stop Destructive Chewing When Left Alone.
Don’t worry, you’ll get your older dog back on track!
It might take some time and extra energy, but your older dog’s chewing can be curbed. Getting to the root cause of the problem, addressing health and medical issues, and reconnecting with your canine are all steps toward the solution.
In the meantime, start implementing the general tips mentioned above to protect your home and belongings.
Are you dealing with an older dog that’s suddenly chewing like a 16-week-old puppy? Feel free to chime in below with your story so that we can troubleshoot together!