As our dogs live longer we may notice changes in their behaviour. Doggy dementia (sometimes called senility) is a degenerative brain disorder which happens with age and is similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans. Your vet calls this disease Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). According to studies, doggy dementia can begin as early as age eight in some breeds with 30% of dogs over the age of 11 showing symptoms of this disease.
Spotting the Symptoms of Dog Dementia
The symptoms your dog might have are quite wide-ranging and they can have several different symptoms at the same time. It often begins with subtle things which progress over time. The list includes:
V - vocalisation - your pet barks, or whines more than it used to or at times that seem odd.
I - changes in interactions - your dog may start to interact differently with you, your family, or other animals.
S - changes in sleep habits - does your pet wake more or sleep more or does it wake at different times?
H - house soiling - peeing or pooping indoors.
D - disorientation - they might not seem to know where they are or have changes in their ability to walk.
A - changes in activity - sleeping more, or increased restlessness.
A - anxiety - pacing indoors, and panting are common signs of anxiety.
L - decline in learning and memory - quite subtle, unless you have an Einstein dog but they may forget previous training.
This list is quite long and what you might be able to appreciate is that the symptoms are subtle and there can be overlap with other issues. So don’t freak out too much if you notice some of these things. But absolutely do book a check-up with your vet, who will likely want to perform a thorough physical assessment and run a blood and urine test to rule out other common causes like thyroid disease, diabetes, urinary tract infections and brain disorders. If this disease is caught early there are a few strategies and therapies that can slow its progression. Sadly, nothing is curative.
There’s a great questionnaire/survey resource available from the University of Sydney that owners can use (best done with the help of your vet) to work out the likelihood of doggie dementia. The survey can be found here.
Treating Dog Dementia
While doggie dementia is not curable, there is much that can be done to help dogs to slow progression and look better with the condition. These come in the form of diet changes, supplements, medications and home adaptations.
Diets & Supplements to Help Dog Dementia
Diets and supplements high in antioxidants, medium-chain triglycerides and vitamins B and E will slow brain degeneration and reduce the signs associated with the disease. Hills b/d and Purina neuro care are examples of diets with scientific data behind them.
Medications to Help Dog Dementia
Medication comes in many different forms including anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants and even melatonin. Your vet will be able to advise you as to which is the most appropriate for your pet and it may be that you need to try several of these medications to see what is most effective.
Home Adaptations to Help Dog Dementia
Environmental adaptations will depend on your home and your pet’s needs. Adaptil, a pheromone product for dogs, can help to reduce anxiety.
Pets will benefit from having raised food and water bowls in a consistent location. They may need mats, ramps or steps to help them navigate their space without slipping and a comfortable bed is vital.
Sometimes reducing the space to which they have access helps them to feel secure and safe and making each room feel or smell different so they know where they are can help with orientation. However, try to avoid sudden changes in routine or room layout and keep training simple for dogs who may forget their basic training. Small amounts of regular exercise are encouraged - whatever your pet can cope with - bearing in mind many dogs also have problems like arthritis at the same time.
Using puzzle feeders and other games to stimulate brain activity will keep them engaged and regular human contact throughout the day will also be beneficial.
The Effort Will Pay Off
Looking after a dog with dementia can be emotionally and physically tiring work. There is significant pressure on the family as caregivers for dogs struggling with this condition. Many families will experience grief for the life they led with their pets before the changes associated with dementia occurred. Whilst little will avoid this pain, sometimes it is a comfort to know that such feelings of grief are very normal.
As the disease progresses changes tend to get worse and at some stage, most families will reach a point at which they feel they cannot go on. This is a difficult time and, unlike other illnesses, such as cancer or heart failure, it may feel like there is no obvious reason to consider euthanasia. As a result, many families struggle more with the notion of when is the right time to say goodbye to a pet. At this point, we recommend engaging a palliative care vet to conduct a quality-of-life assessment. They will work with you to arrive at a decision that is right for your family and your pet. And should euthanasia be the outcome, you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you made the best decision for your dog with the support of an empathetic and caring professional.
Please contact us at Roundwood Pet Hospice if you would like an end-of-life care assessment. We can provide you with help and support if you are worried about doggie dementia. . We can provide a quality-of-life assessment at any point and advice on when it is time for euthanasia. This can all be done in the home setting gently and peacefully.