Dementia in dogs is a common occurrence with most of them experiencing cognitive dysfunction, as they grow older. The condition is marked by a decline in the mental ability and the memory loss. However, many owners are not aware of dementia in their pets. Animal research suggests that 68% of dogs aged between 12 and 15 years and 28% of dogs around 10-12 years are likely to have signs of this condition.
Cause of Dementia in Dogs
There are different reasons that lead to dementia in dogs. Accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain is one of them. When the brain accumulates abnormal proteins, plaque usually builds up – damaging the nerves. This leads to loss of brain function affecting your pet’s behavior, memory, and motor skills.
Symptoms of Dementia in Dogs
Dementia causes pets to forget where they usually relieve themselves. This behavior is noticeable especially when the dog is potty-trained. However, frequent accidents do not suggest dementia alone. These may also be symptoms of urinary tract infection. A trip to the veterinarian is a must to rule out the infection.
Confusion and Disorientation
Dogs with dementia often look disoriented. Owners have also reported seeing their senior dogs walk back and forth – as if they are lost. Some dogs even struggle to find their food bowls.
Indifference, Barking at Family Members
Dogs with dementia sometimes may fail to welcome their owners when they arrive home. Because dogs with dementia tend to “forget” things they used to know, including the people and pets they live with, they become indifferent and even bark at them. It is heartbreaking to see such signs of dementia in dogs, especially when the dog fails to recognize the family he once aspired to be with and longed for.
Loss of Appetite
Dementia in dogs may lead to eating problems. Canine cognitive dysfunction may cause dogs to forget their mealtime. Depression, tiredness, lack of activity, and behavioral issues interfere in the eating habit. This turns out to be a problem for senior dogs, as they have little body reserves. If your old dog starts losing his appetite, take him to the vet for a check-up.
Unable To Obey Commands
Dementia does not make your dog stubborn. When a dog has dementia, his brain is not able to process the voice commands you give. Some dogs with the disorder may not even recognize their own names when they are called.
Unusual Sleep-Wake Cycle
A dog with dementia may experience changes in his sleeping pattern. Some dogs sleep more than he used to when he was younger. Some dogs stay awake at night and asleep during the day.
Decrease in Activity
Because dementia in dogs is caused by nerve damage, affected pets tend to become less focused and active. Their response to stimuli is slower. Though there is a decline in their activity levels, some dogs tend to become restless exhibiting confusion.
Unusual Muscle Movements
Some dogs with cognitive dysfunction experience lack of muscle coordination that manifest in leg shaking and head bobbing.
How to Help Dogs with Dementia
Dementia is considered normal in aged dogs. Although it is not treatable, the progress can be slowed down with proper management of symptoms. Here are some tips to help your senior dog deal with dementia.
Keep a Record of Your Dog’s Behavior
The early signs of dementia in dogs are similar to signs of other diseases. Ruling out those diseases is the first thing that must be done. Some symptoms of dementia in dogs are too subtle and ordinary, and this makes detecting dementia difficult. Keeping a log of your senior dog’s behavior and unusual habits helps a veterinarian make a proper diagnosis at the earliest. By detecting the condition early, medications can be given to your pet to slow down the deterioration of his cognitive functions.
Check Your Senior Dog’s Hearing, Vision
Like aging men and women, senior dogs too experience sensory deficiencies, such as vision and hearing impairments. When your senior dog cannot rely on his eyes and ears, he can become disoriented and the everyday life can be difficult for both you and your dog.
Blind dogs can be trained to respond to the clicker and vocal commands, while deaf dogs can be trained to respond to hand signals. If your senior dog suffers from both sight and hearing loss, training him to respond to smell and vibrations may help maintain your communication with him.
Follow a Strict Routine
Dementia in dogs can be stressful. However, following a strict routine benefits them. Senior dogs when following a schedule tend to become less confused. If your old dog is having trouble sleeping at the night, exercising him during the day and turning off the lights at night may keep him oriented. Routines also lessen your pet’s anxiety.
Talk to the Vet About Medications
There is only one FDA-approved drug – Anipryl – to treat canine cognitive dysfunction. The drug is also known by its generic name selegiline hydrochloride. It is a relatively new drug but some owners report dramatic improvement in their senior dog after taking the drug.
However, the drug comes with possible side effects, including diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, restlessness, seizures, and more.
Add Antioxidants in Your Senior Dog’s Diet
A 2011 dog research suggests that antioxidants in the diet slow down the progress of dementia in dogs. Giving your dog vitamins, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and selenium help improve his cognitive health.