How I Care For A Dog With Dementia

Red after her nap cropped

how I care for a dog with dementia

If you have a dog with dementia like I do, I hope you will find this post helpful. I had quite a struggle before Red was diagnosed (by me initially, then my vet agreed), and I know how tough it can be to handle, so I wrote this post all about how I care for my dog in the hopes it will help others. 

Red has been living with dementia for about 2 1/2 years now, and I admit there have been some challenging times. It’s not something that affects only the dog, but has an impact on everyone in the household, How I care for my senior dog Red who has dog dementiaespecially the primary caregiver which is me! I find that most of my day is devoted to making sure she’s okay. Whether that’s having to work on my laptop while sitting on the couch rather than at my desk so she can sit with me, taking her out umpteen times to pee, trying to calm her down when she circles endlessly or hand feeding her because she’s not quite sure how to eat at times. 

I have written other articles about this condition, so if you’d like more information….

Read this  All About Dementia in Dogs

Read this  Diagnosing Dementia in Dogs

What a surprise

I have adopted a few senior dogs over the years, but all their problems were eyes, ears and kidney related. When Red’s behaviour started to change dementia never even entered my head. I can tell you from now on it will!

What I saw going on with Red

There was a period of a few weeks when she would pace endlessly, and nothing I did helped her settle. She would go in her bed for a few minutes, then get up and wander. I remember one evening she paced for 4 hours, I was stressed beyond belief and when I could no longer cope I closed the door and went to bed. Thankfully she eventually fell asleep.  

Red had some kidney issues and also wasn’t concentrating her urine around that time, so I assumed her inability to settle was due to some pain or discomfort as a result of those issues. Naturally we made more than one trip to the vet to try and solve the mystery. He ran tests and found nothing wrong, and he said whatever problems she was having would not make her uncomfortable and cause her to pace. He’s a great vet but there wasn’t anything he could do for me, and the word “dementia” was never mentioned as a possibility.

The importance of knowing your pets

This situation is a perfect example of the importance of knowing your pets. My vet couldn’t find anything wrong with her, but because I know Red so well, I knew there was. A couple of days later the words “doggie dementia” Red uses the confidence deluxe four wheel pet strollerpopped into my head. I have no idea why because, like I mentioned earlier, I had no experience with this disease and knew nothing about it. All I can say is, luckily it did. I went to my vet with my diagnosis and he agreed it made sense. Red had never displayed any unusual behaviour during her appointments, she seemed perfectly fine so my vet only had my observations to go by.

Because of my experiences I recommend you take notes of your concern, and a video if it’s about a specific behaviour and bring them to your appointment. That video can go a long way to helping your vet diagnose a problem if your dog isn’t exhibiting any signs he can see.

I am including this printable checklist for you to fill out and take to your appointment. It is another tool to help him determine if your dog does have dementia. 

Treatment

As soon as we decided it was dementia my vet prescribed Selgian (in the UK, Anipryl in the US), and by the third day I noticed she had calmed down significantly. To keep her calm she takes a product called Nutracalm twice a day,  sprinkled on her food. This product is only available through vet offices and is manufactured in the UK so I don’t know if it’s available in other countries.

I have also started giving her Nutramind – a capsule containing high strength omega 3s, vitamin E, B vitamins and Ginko Biloba. 

The other thing I did a lot at the beginning was play a CD called Through a Dog’s Ear. It is bioacoustically engineered classical music proven to help calm dogs, and it worked/works miracles. When she would start to pace endlessly I would play the CD, and within one minute she would be resting. The music is so beautiful and calming, it would help me relax as well. 

You must take care of yourself

You’ve taken your dog to the vet, you’ve started treatments, you’re playing the calming CD, and you’re loving her. That’s all you can do. Wait, there is one more thing you can do and that’s take care of yourself.

I hate to admit it, but I didn’t always cope as well as I would have liked. It was unbearable seeing my precious Red like that. She’s the love of my life, and I was helpless. She’s blind, so I have to be extra aware of what she’s doing and separate what is because of the blindness, and what is not “normal” behaviour for her.

Because I work from home (running this website), I’m with her all the time, and don’t get much of a break. At times I found myself close to breaking point, helpless and stressed. I left my husband in charge a few times when I had to get out of the house. One day I went shopping, one evening I went for a brisk walk along the beach, sometimes I listened to guided meditations.

Go to a yoga class, meditate, go shopping, have dinner with friends… Whatever you like to do to unwind or escape, do it. It will help you stay calm and patient while helping your pup cope.

How Red is doing

Red is 16 with a few health issues, all of which are under control except her dementia. In the past several weeks I have noticed it’s started to rear its’ ugly head again. I always have my dogs on a schedule and a routine, and it’s more important than ever for Red to stick to that routine. Other than her usual walks and a short outing here and there, she’s much more comfortable in familiar surroundings. She still eats but mostly I have to hand feed her, and she won’t eat her canned food unless it’s baked first.

I do not believe in heroic measures – meaning keeping my animals with me no matter what I have to do, just because I can’t bear to say goodbye. Of course I can’t, Red has been with me for 8 years and I love her like crazy. So much that my only concern is the quality of her life. Those are the absolute worst decisions to make, but unless something major happens, the decision will boil down to that.   

How I care for Red, a dog with dementia – conclusion

If you notice your dog circling, wandering aimlessly, getting stuck behind doors, not seeming to recognise you, having trouble eating or anything else out of the ordinary please see your vet right away. Dementia can only be diagnosed by process of elimination so if all test results come up normal, mention the possibility of dementia to your vet and start your dog on medication right away. There are also supplements and alternatives many people have had success with like melatonin, omega 3s and CBD oil. If your vet cannot help you, speak to a holistic vet for additional treatment options.

I do hope you have found this post on how I care for a dog with dementia helpful.

Does your dog have dementia? Do some of the symptoms sound familiar but you don’t have a diagnosis yet? Please leave your comments below and I will do what I can to help. 

I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, a new Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.

How I Care For A Dog With Dementia
Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

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15 thoughts on “How I Care For A Dog With Dementia

  1. Hi Hindy
    Shame, that is horrible and it must be terribly hard on you. At least now you know what the problem is.
    I wonder if our Labrador we had last had dementia. It never occurred to me that might be what he had too.
    He definitely was blind and deaf and had arthritis… but he seemed a bit out of it at times but I put that confusion down to his failing senses.

    1. Hi Lynne, It can be quite difficult to diagnose dementia, since many of the symptoms are similar to other issues. I had a blind and deaf dog as well, and sometimes she would just be standing in one place “staring” at the wall. I don’t think that was dementia, I think it was a result of her lack of senses. Shame what some of our pets have to go through, and it can be difficult knowing when enough is enough.

  2. Hello
    Thanks for this information. It was very interesting. I had never considered my dog may have dementia until recently. The signs you were discussing are almost identical to what is happening with my dog. It makes sense and it is funny how dementia in a dog is quite similar to that in a human! What is Selgian and where do I get it? Thanks in advance.
    David

    1. Hi David, yes it is very similar. In order to be sure your dog has dementia, it’s best to take him to the vet to rule out other possibilities, unless you’ve already done that. Symptoms of dementia are very similar to other illnesses. Selgian is a medication they use here in the U.K. Anipryl in the States I believe and it’s by prescription. There are also many alternative treatments available if you were interested in exploring that avenue. I have an article publishing on the 18th about alternative options. Once I had a diagnosis confirmed I would find out what options my vet could offer (although I don’t believe there are other medications, at least none my vet mentioned), and I would be curious to know what treatment plan a holistic vet could offer. Let me know how you get on.

  3. Hi Hindy, I can totally relate to this. I was just visiting my brother over the weekend. He and his wife have three dogs and Bobo, their oldest, has began showing signs of dementia. He does not get anxious like Red does but he seems to get confused. He is such a lovable dog, though and still a joy to be around. I hope he has received as much joy from his people as we have received from him.

    Thanks for writing this. We were unaware that there might be a medication to help Bobo. I’m going to forward this to my brother so he can ask his vet about it.

    1. Hi Christian, glad this article was so timely. Hopefully your brother has taken, or will be taking Bobo to the vet, just to rule out other possibilities. If he does have dementia, there is definitely medication available, but there are also a lot of alternative treatments if your brother was interested in exploring that route. I have a post about it publishing on the 18th. A holistic vet would be the one to consult with about possible courses of action to take. The earlier Bobo starts treatment, the better. Let me know how he gets on.

  4. hi Hindy
    what a touching post! Your care for your animals certainly comes across. I can just picture Red sitting next to you right now 🙂 As you know, my friend’s dog has dementia (the signs are all there). She was just telling me how her dog was just going in circles, whining, seemingly afraid of everything. she has tried a lot and has a good relationship with her vet but it has taken a toll on her.
    Her dog also has numerous health and physical issues. So after a lot of thought and heart ache she has decided to have him put down. Huge decision but I will try to be there for her.

    1. Oh Emily, I remember you telling me. I’m so sorry to hear that, I know how gut wrenching that decision would have been. My friend recently lost both her dogs within a few weeks of each other. We used to volunteer together and we know each other’s dogs, and how we feel about them. There’s not much to say, except to listen. One thing I did for her, if you’re interested. Here is a link to a website http://www.in-memory-of-pets.com/ where you can light a candle for her dog. Go to candle light ceremony on the left hand side, then To Submit Your Own Candle Light. You just submit the name and day he died and they will send you the link to see the candle, which you can then send on to your friend. I did that for one of my dogs, and although I have never gotten over the loss of that particular one, it made me feel a little less helpless. I hope this helps. Let me know.

  5. This is exactly what we are experiencing with our 15 year old dog, Bandit. It came out of no where! I have been looking for natural treatments also. Thank you for writing this page!!!

    1. Hi Monica, I’m so sorry to hear about Bandit. I’d be interested to know if you manage to find any natural treatments that are effective. What are you doing for him at the moment? I did take Red to a holistic vet who did not have anything natural to recommend. I mentioned a lot of the items from my post, but because he didn’t have experience using them he would never advise trying something he has not tested. I did try the coconut oil after asking my other vet, and although I gave her a much lower dose than suggested, she developed a touch of pancreatitis so I stopped it there and then. She’s doing fine on Selgian (Anipryl in the U.S.). Please keep me posted.

  6. My dog has dementia and my vet is amazing but there is nothing that helps his barking and whining…when it gets gong it doesn’t stop. in the middle of the night , all morning …its awful and I am becoming more and more irritated by it. I have had another dog with dementia and it was two of the most trying years of my life that I fear I can’t repeat. If this next bout of natural brain supplements doesn’t help along with all I am doing now I will have to put him down. He has one back leg that works so walks are hard on him, he is anxious most of the time if he’s not sleeping which seems to be happening in shorter and shorter rounds…it’s hard on me and my husband as we are awake at all hours. There is NOTHING easy about dog dementia, including the coping.

    1. Hi Carmen, I am so sorry to hear what you’re going through, and I know how you feel. Dealing with a dog with dementia can be incredibly stressful, and we even find ourselves losing patience. There were times before I realised Red had dementia when I couldn’t cope with her wandering for hours at a time. She’s blind so it’s even worse. For the sake of my sanity I would have to go out for awhile – a long walk to the beach, a bit of shopping anything to take a break. I’m glad to hear your vet is amazing and I assume supportive as well. You know your dog better than anyone and I have no doubt you want only the best for him. At the end of the day the only thing that matters is their quality of life. It’s more than heart breaking to have to say goodbye, but as you know it isn’t about the pain we’re going to feel, it’s about doing the right thing for our animals who rely on us.

      I don’t know what treatments you’ve been giving your dog, but I know Selgian (I’m in the UK) or Anipryl in the US has really helped Red. When she wouldn’t settle I would play a CD called Through a Dog’s Ear which I bought. You can find an 11 minute or so snippet on YouTube and see if it helps. I could suggest a stroller for when your dog can’t walk, and acupuncture has been known to be of some benefit but like I said earlier, quality of life is all that matters and yes dementia is so difficult for us to cope with.

      Red has had it for 2 1/2 years, and lately I’m seeing she’s been getting a bit worse. I know that one day, sooner rather than later I will have to make that decision as well.

      Please contact me anytime you need to chat, have a question or simply need to vent.

  7. Thank you for your reply…Yes Chip has been on Selegeline (Anipryl went off the market before he started with this stuff so my vet had a script done-same stuff basically). He also has been on high dose Omega 3’s and Trazadone for anxiety and when it gets terrible? Xanax..but that doesn’t seem to help much. He is deaf so music doesn’t help and the YELPING (so loud it echos) doesnt even stop when I am holding him…his head jerks (vet says its the brain wiring just not firing right and its making him more anxious) and it’s awful. Last night was the worst…he would NOT settle down…I have been awake since 4 am. Even shutting him in another room doesnt work bc the yelping is THAT loud. We are all awake, the other dogs are up at 4 am to eat bc of him….I have one more supplement coming in that is supposed to help the brain but I just don’t know if I can keep this up. He has had a walk (mostly I carry him but I want his eyes exposed to the light to regulate melatonin, had two bones, pooped, peed had water and is literally sitting there yelping right now at me. I was super patient with my other dog…and she finally lost her spark so it was time. This guy won’t stop moving and whining. I am just lost. I have put down 7 pets in my life, but they were obviously physically ready….is mentally ready the same reason? I am beginning to think it is. How happy can he be not able to walk the same, chase squirrels, sleep and play and anxious 15 hours of the day? 🙁 My heart breaks.

    1. I know your heart breaks, and in my experience I found that making a quality of life decision was way harder than a decision made based on illness. Only one time has it been quality of life and it was my blind and deaf dog Josephine. I questioned myself a lot afterwards – did I wait too long? Should I have waited longer. Having said that it was a different scenario than the one you are facing with Chip. Sometimes I try and imagine what they would want me to do. There are times when dementia is so far advanced nothing will give them peace, except to let them go. I’ve had to say goodbye too many times and I can’t even bear the day I will have to say goodbye to Red. What I do know is when things get bad for her I will accept the pain I know is coming and do the best thing for her. I know how hard it is to see things objectively because you’re so emotionally involved, but perhaps if you re-read the comments you’ve just written you may find the answer you are seeking.

      1. Thank you again…I have decided after a very hard night last night with him that today it is time to rest for him. My vet comes to my home so he will not have any fear at a vets office or anything. This is my 8th animal to put to sleep…it NEVER gets easier but I can’t handle worrying about how scared he is at night…why his head jerks and shakes and I am out of ideas (and medications) to try and just help him along. He deserves more than that…hes been limping along on three legs long enough and the dementia has just gotten to be too much. Thank you for your support. 🙁

        1. Hi Carmen, I’ve been thinking about you the past couple of days, wondering how you and Chip have been. I’m sorry it’s time to say goodbye it’s awful even thinking about it, but if you’re at peace with your decision (which you obviously are) that’s all you can ask for. It’s certainly not my place to comment but that never seems to stop me! but based on everything you’ve written it sounds like you are making the right choice for your dog. You have done everything you possibly can and that’s all you can ask of yourself. It absolutely never gets easier, but imagine how much emptier life would have been, at least that’s the case for me, if you hadn’t shared your life with each of them. Just imagine he will be happy and healthy and running with the rest of the animals we’ve said goodbye to – at least that’s how I choose to look at it. I’m here anytime and I am sorry.

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