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Dementia in Dogs – Symptoms and Treatment

Dementia in Dogs – Symptoms and Treatment

You may have noticed signs of aging in your elderly dog. As our canine friends grow older, they will show signs of aging both physically and mentally. Your once sprightly and energetic pup, which has given your household joy for several years, may now require special care and attention because of his advanced age. Among the most noticeable signs that your dog is aging is deteriorating cognitive functions, which may manifest as doggie dementia.


Can Dogs Get Dementia?

The short answer is yes, signs of dementia in dogs can be quite similar to what we see in elderly people with dementia. Dog dementia, officially called CCD or canine cognitive dysfunction, is a neurobehavioral syndrome that affects cognitive function when dogs reach an advanced age. There isn’t much awareness about the condition, even in the veterinary community. But a significant percentage of the canine population is affected by dog dementia, with about 85% of cases remaining undiagnosed.


CCD may come in different forms including:

  Involutive Depression – This is similar to chronic depression in people. If a dog has untreated dog anxiety, this could lead to Involutive depression when he’s old.

 Hyper-Aggression – How do you know if your dog has dementia? Hyper-aggression can be another indication of cognitive dysfunction in dogs. In some cases, there may be cortical tumors causing the aggressive behavior.


 Dysthymia – This form of dog dementia is likely present in older dogs that often get stuck in tight spaces. The odd behavior is mostly due to loss of perception regarding their body size.


 Confusional Syndrome – This form of dog dementia can be compared to Alzheimer’s in people. In severe cases, a dog may forget who his owners are. Forgetfulness can be one of the most obvious signs of dementia in dogs.

Causes of dementia in dogs aren’t well known. Dog dementia symptoms likely occur when sticky proteins called beta-amyloid plaques accumulate around neurons. This causes neurons to break down, interrupting impulse transmission between nerves.


What Are the Signs of Dementia in Dogs?

Some dog dementia symptoms don’t start to show until it’s too late. But if you want to be able to know how to tell if a dog has dementia, the following are some of the symptoms to watch out for:


·         Unusual pacing, especially at night

·         Sleep /wake cycle changes

·         Staring into walls or space

·         Appearing confused or unstable at times

·         Suddenly getting lost in familiar locations

·         Staying or cowering in corners or tight spaces

·         Forgetting routines or restarting mid-way through

·         Waiting at the wrong side of the door before going out

·         Not getting out of the way when someone opens the door

·         Unwillingness to go outside

·         Disorientation and memory loss

·         Urinary accidents

·         Slower response times

·         Other behavioral changes


Experts caution that any of the major signs may also indicate an entirely different and perhaps treatable medical condition. It’s best to take your dog to the vet for a complete diagnosis.


Caring and Treatment for a Dog with Dementia

Dog dementia affects around 50% of dogs over the age of 11 years and 68% of dogs over 15 years of age. It could be disheartening if you start to see early signs of dementia in dogs. When your smart and jolly pup barks at nothing or is unable to find his water bowl for some reason, you’re faced with the imminent possibility that your dog’s life is waning. But remember that this is a time when your canine companion needs you more than ever. And the good news is, there are things you can do to cope and care for a dog with dementia.


Currently, CCD or dog dementia, isn’t considered reversible. This means, there currently is no cure. For canines, the condition would require behavior and environment management, as well as diet adjustments and some medication. Once your dog has been diagnosed with dementia, the goal would be to slow down the progress of the disease and give your dog the best possible care as he lives out his remaining days.


Environment and Behavioral Management

Animal behaviorist Leticia Fanucchi, DVM, PhD, has offered some advice on how pet owners can cope with dementia in dogs. Symptoms can be managed, but you need to be patient and to provide your dog with the attention he needs.


·         Continue to provide opportunities to play during daytime.

·         Socialize your dog to stimulate him mentally and physically.

·         Allow exposure to sunlight for regulating sleep/wake cycle.

·         Use a wagon or stroller if your dog is unable to walk.

·         Start pet-proofing your home for your dog’s safety.

·         Allow your dog to relieve himself more frequently to avoid accidents.

·         Use dog diapers and waterproof your furniture if necessary.


Diet and Nutrition

Keeping your dog physically healthy becomes even more important once his cognitive functions start to fail. There are commercial pet food products formulated to meet the needs of senior dogs. Natural or home-prepared foods is also an option. A balanced diet with supplements can be helpful. Your vet would likely have some recommendation on how your elderly dog’s diet can be further enhanced to keep him healthy and to potentially improve his cognitive functions.


Medication for Dog Dementia

While dog dementia has no cure, there are medications a vet may prescribe to improve brain function and relieve any physical symptoms. CCD treatments are focused on controlling oxidation in the brain and improving brain function. Your vet may prescribe antioxidant supplements that can moderate signs of dementia in older dogs. Antioxidants, vitamins, and Omega-3 fatty acid can supplement your dog’s diet to moderate symptoms and reduce dementia-related anxiety. Consult your vet before giving your dog any supplement.


Our canine friends spend but a short time with us and when they eventually get old, it could be tough for everyone. Loving and caring for an elderly dog with dementia can be a trying experience, and at some point, you may even have to make a tough decision if it’s no longer possible to achieve any quality of life. Just do everything you can to keep him as healthy and as comfortable as possible. Take comfort in knowing that you’ve done everything to keep your dog happy during his short but fulfilled life.


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