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Does my dog have dementia?

Have you ever noticed an older dog behaving a little oddly? A senior dog may repeatedly stare at a wall or wander around aimlessly. Such changes in behaviour could be a sign of canine dementia.
Does my dog have dementia?

Even a dog can develop dementia

A lot like Alzheimer’s in humans, CCD is a degenerative brain disease, which shows at least one symptom in 40% of dogs by the age of 15 years old. Unlike in humans however it tends not to be diagnosed until in the advanced stages when little can be done to slow it’s progress or reverse some of its symptoms.

On average, dogs live to a good 10 years; smaller dogs up to 15. Some giant breeds, on the other hand, can be elderly at just eight. Getting older brings many changes in a dog’s physical appearance but some people are also surprised to learn that it can also impact their memories.

Older dogs can experience the same impairments to memory and learning as humans in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, some of the changes found in the brains of humans with Alzheimer’s are also present in those of dogs. Symptoms in dogs are called canine cognitive dysfunction or canine dementia.

What are the symptoms of canine dementia?

Behavioural symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

  • Disorientation - may wander aimlessly or seem to get lost in familiar places
  • Loss of memory to training (including toilet training)
  • Difficulty in learning new things
  • Change in activity levels - this can be a lack on enjoyment in things they usually love doing
  • Changes in their interactions with people and other familiar dogs - or disinterest to interacting at all
  • Changes in sleeping patterns - so sleeping all day and becoming restless at night
  • Unusual vocalisations - barking for no apparent reason

Dementia impairs a dog’s memory, learning ability and spatial perception. In addition, it often changes an animal’s patterns of sleep and interaction. It is changes in memory and spatial awareness that are often first noticed by owners as odd.

A dog might wander, restlessly, without a goal. It might walk in a circle or backwards and forwards along the same route. In short, a dog might appear lost even when in what should be a familiar environment. Some simply just stand staring into a void.

Another symptom is incontinence, even in previously very well house-trained dogs. A dog with dementia might ask to go outside but once there can’t remember why it wanted to go out; no sooner is the dog back inside it makes a mess on the floor. A pet’s behaviour towards other dogs and people it knows well can also change.

Many dogs with dementia go undiagnosed

If you start to see changes in the behaviour of your older dog is it always worth taking them to the vet for a thorough examination. Almost all symptoms that suggest dementia can also be associated with other physical diseases and so it is important to exclude these and also ensure another problem does not go undiagnosed. A vet usually makes a diagnosis of dementia when no medical or physical cause can be found to explain a dog’s altered behaviour.

Brain aging affects every dog. However, the symptoms and their severity can vary. Also, because symptoms can appear and then increase little by little, it can make them harder to notice, and so many dogs with dementia go undiagnosed.

Treatment of canine dementia – the importance of routine and stimuli

The disease can’t be cured but it is still possible for a dog diagnosed with dementia to live a good life. The most important consideration is making its environment as safe and familiar as possible. Maintaining cognitive skills is another crucial aspect of care to prevent and slow dementia. This is done by providing mental stimulation. Even in older dogs, there are lots of opportunities to use situations in everyday life as training exercises: even a couple of minutes playing or practicing a trick for a treat is better than snoozing on the sofa nonstop.

A healthy diet can also slow the progression of dementia. Omega fatty acids are particularly important to brain function. Ask your vet about the different fatty acid and antioxidant-rich supplements that are available.

Maintaining routine is essential. A clear, daily rhythm will help reduce stress for your dog and remind him when it is time to eat, play, go for a walk and so on. Dementia itself can cause a dog anxiety and a lack of routine exacerbates this. In addition, make sure that food and water bowls are always in the same place as dogs with dementia can become confused even in familiar environments.

Ageing dogs require special care

As dogs get older, their risk of developing a range of ailments increases. Try to do small regular check-ups at home, such as checking teeth and ears, and feeling for lumps and bumps that may be tumours. Cases of vomiting and diarrhoea in older dogs can deteriorate quickly and so should be taken seriously.

Aging can bring various neurological issues. Diseases of the nervous system are diverse and symptoms can range from mild movement problems such as limping through to seizures.

Examining neurological issues requires special skills and so dogs presenting with such symptoms should always be seen by a vet.

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