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First, rule out physical illness.
First, rule out physical illness. / Jason Edwards / Getty Images

Q: Our 16-year-old mixed-breed dog often is confused and anxious — it’s like she has Alzheimer’s — plus she has started coughing. She was given her annual exam three months ago and was 100%. She drinks water but hardly eats; she urinates but has fewer bowel movements. Does a cough mean heart condition?

A: Please run, don’t walk, to your veterinarian. I am very concerned about your dog.

Anytime there’s a change in behavior, rule out a physical explanation before assuming there’s a so-called behavior problem. That’s especially true for older pets.

Although older dogs might experience Alzheimer’s-type symptoms, referred to as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, those symptoms generally don’t include a change in eating habits. Coughing is unrelated to cognitive dysfunction, but heart disease is absolutely a strong consideration.

Dale is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant. Read more and ask questions at

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Contributing editor Steve Dale is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant. He writes a twice-weekly syndicated newspaper column and is the host of two syndicated radio shows. Most recently he is the author of two e-books that answer common (and some not-so-common) pet-behavior problems, Good Dog! and Good Cat! (available wherever e-books are sold).