Dementia, senility or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) – whatever you call it, dementia in dogs does exist.
I know you’re not liking the sound of this right now, but if you have noticed definite changes in your dog’s behaviour, isn’t it better to know the reason? At least once you do, you can help.
Read on my friends…
What causes it?
Some vets are sure of the causes, others less sure.
Here is what I have discovered.
- Lesions in the brain (caused by an accumulation of a protein called beta amyloid) destroy healthy brain tissue and cause deterioration in how your dog thinks, learns and remembers. This is similar to what happens in Alzheimers patients.
- Free radical damage which harm healthy cells in the brain
- Decreased dopamine production (a neurotransmitter essential for effective nerve transmission)
- Not enough blood getting to the brain
You probably will never know the exact cause, but that has no impact on your ability to help your dog cope.
Will my dog get dementia?
It is thought the rise in cases of dementia is a result of our pets living longer.
I haven’t been able to find any definitive statistics on the percentage of senior dogs likely to be afflicted with dementia. The figures I did find were wildly different, but I’ll share them anyway.
- Around 25% of all dogs over 10 will be afflicted
- 50% over the age of 11
- 23% 12 and over
- 41% over 14
- Over 60% or 68% have at least one symptom by the age of 15
See what I mean?
If I were you I wouldn’t get too hung up on these figures, but rather spend time on the rest of this post.
There is no evidence to suggest certain breeds are predisposed to developing dementia.
Signs of senility in dogs
Paces or wanders aimlessly through the house
Appears lost or confused
Becomes trapped under or behind furniture
Stands head first in corners or tight spaces and just stays there
Stands on the hinge side of the door, waiting for it to open
Has trouble finding and using doors
Doesn’t move out of the way when someone opens the door
Trouble using the stairs
Difficulty learning new things
Howling, barking, or whining for no apparent reason
Aggression where none existed before
Does not respond to her name
Does not remember cues/commands
Seems scared of people she knows
Walks away when petted
Trembles or shakes for no apparent reason
Has trouble finding the food and water bowls
Difficulty keeping food in her mouth
Panting and restlessness
Has difficulty learning new tasks, commands…
Generally more fearful and anxious
Has accidents in the house, no matter how often she goes out
Sleeps more during the day, less at night
Stares at walls or into space
Doesn’t seek out as much of your attention
Less interested in, or stopped playing
May be less interested in food, forget to eat
Does not respond to commands
Walks in circles, typically in the same direction – Watch the video to see what I mean
This is something important to note: CCD shares many symptoms with other illnesses or conditions
- Accidents in the house could be a sign of urinary tract infection, or kidney disease
- Not responding to commands may mean she is losing her hearing
- Less interested in playing or going for walks may mean she is starting to feel the effects of arthritis
- Sudden aggression may signal pain
How do I know what the problem is?
You don’t know what the problem is, but your vet will. Many people either don’t see their vet often enough, or when they do, neglect to mention behaviour changes, often incorrectly assuming they are part of the natural aging process.
Make an appointment as soon as possible. A big help would be to keep a log of behaviours that are different (what, how often, when…) and take a video. The video would be of tremendous value, since it is unlikely your vet will see indications during the appointment.
There isn’t a test to diagnose CCD, but a diagnosis is typically made based on the exclusion of other possible explanations for your dog’s changed behaviour.
When you meet with your vet, he will want to hear exactly what you’ve been observing, then he will conduct a physical examination of your dog, including taking urine and blood samples for analysis. As I mentioned earlier, bring your checklist and video.
What comes next will depend on the results of the tests.
Unfortunately, there is no cure and the dementia will progress, but there are some drugs and supplements that have been known to be beneficial.
The ingredient Selegiline hydrochloride – known also as Selgian® and Anipryl®, has been shown to be effective by prolonging the activity of your dog’s remaining dopamine. This helps by improving memory and helping dogs think more clearly.
It seems some dogs given this drug may live longer, but it could take several weeks to see any improvement.
There are a variety of natural supplements including coconut oil, omega 3s, and Gotu Kola, but it is best to speak to your vet before giving them to your dog. If your vet does not recommend supplements, or isn’t in a position to advise, a holistic vet can help.
Interactive and puzzle toys
Giving your dog a challenge, using interactive toys, even teaching old and new tricks, will keep the brain active.
Through a Dog’s Ear
The other day I discovered this incredible CD called Through a Dog’s Ear: Music to Calm Your Canine Companion. I just ordered it today, but I’ve been playing snippets of it from Youtube for Red, and it’s done wonders to help. There are times when she gets into this zone, and she wanders. She just keeps going and going, and you can’t get her to stop. Well, holding her helps, but only if you’re standing. Somehow I came across this music and I’m not exaggerating when I say she would calm down almost immediately, and relax enough to fall asleep. It’s been so incredible I had to buy the CD. As soon as I get it home and play all the tracks, I will write a proper review.
**update** It’s been almost a year since I wrote this, and the CD has been nothing short of miraculous. Where Red would just wander aimlessly, within a minute or two of listening, she would fall asleep.
There isn’t necessarily a way to prevent your dog from getting dementia, but the tips listed below are really the things we should be doing with, and for our dogs, no matter the age.
- Feeding a nutritionally balanced diet
- Antioxidants to destroy free radicals before they harm healthy cells
- Regular exercise
- Mental stimulation – learning new tricks, using interactive toys and puzzles…
- Socialising with dogs, other pets and people
- Keep your dog at a healthy weight
- Good oral hygiene by brushing, providing dental sticks and dental checks
- See your vet when you notice any changes in your dog’s behaviour.
Dealing with the effects of dementia in older dogs
- The most important thing is to be patient and understanding
- Try not to rearrange your furniture – leave it as it is
- Don’t leave stuff on the floor she can trip over
- A ramp may be easier for her to use than stairs
- Engage in a little play time with her
- Comfort her when she needs it
- Don’t overwhelm her with too much “new” stuff – people, toys…
- If you don’t already have a schedule, create one for feeding, walking and bedtime. Structure is good for all dogs, but can help confused dogs even more
- Keep commands short and simple
Take care of yourself
Caring for a senior dog who isn’t well can be very stressful. You may not even realise the effect it’s having, until you feel like you’re going to snap.
You have to take care of yourself because living with the constant worry will make you sick, and that is unfair to you, and no help to your dog.
I know you’re worried about leaving him/her alone for too many hours, so don’t.
- Put your sneakers and headphones on, and go take a 30 minute walk on the beach, or in the park. You’ll feel so much better when you get back.
- Prefer something closer to home? Try meditating for a few minutes, it will do wonders.
- Have someone you trust come over and dog sit, then go to the mall, have lunch with a friend or both!
- If it’s become harder to let your dog sleep in your room with you, then set her up on a nice cozy bed in another room. You all may sleep better.
Believe me, I know how difficult it is to watch your dog wander aimlessly, and how helpless you feel. I’m going through that right now with Red. But no good can come out of you ending up a wreck.
The better you care for yourself, the better you will care for your dog, and she needs you to help her.
What I do (updated May 15, 2017)
Red has been taking 1 Selgian tablet per day for about 1/2 years. I saw a big difference not long after, which was a huge relief. She also takes a product called Nutri Calm twice a day. I tried a small amount of coconut oil but unfortunately she developed a touch of pancreatitis, so I stopped it immediately. Sadly there isn’t anything else we can do for her.
All About dementia in dogs – conclusion
Believe me, I know how scary, sad, and frustrating senility in dogs can be, but don’t despair. I am going through it right now with my beautiful sweet angel Red, and have written this guide to dementia in dogs.
Share your experiences in the comments section below, or on my Facebook page, dedicated to people who share their lives with senior dogs.