If you have a dog with dementia like I do, then I can relate to what you’re going through. As tough as the disease is I feel like the toughest part, at least for me was trying to figure out what was going on with Red. I never had a dog with dementia before, in fact I knew nothing about it, the symptoms and certainly not what to do about it.
There are so many pet parents struggling with how to care for their pups who have canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), I wrote this post to share my experiences so you’ll know you aren’t alone, and hopefully it will help you find relief and some answers.
UPDATED Feb. 23/19 – Since writing this post my sweet girl Red gained her wings
The picture above is of Red, the love of my life, and the cute puppy next to her was a foster. When your dog has dementia you live for those moments when they’re resting.
Red had dementia for about 2 1/2 years, and I admit there were some challenging times. If I’m honest they were more than challenging, they were “I need to get out of this house right now because I can’t take it any more” times.
It’s important to know this disease doesn’t only affect your dog, it has an impact on everyone in the household, especially the primary caregiver which was me! I found that most of every day was devoted to making sure she was okay. Whether that meant balancing my laptop while sitting on the couch rather than at my desk so she could sit with me (like in the picture above), taking her out umpteen times to pee, trying to calm her down when she circled endlessly or hand feeding her because she wasn’t always quite sure how to eat at times.
What a surprise
What I saw that had me concerned
There was a period of a few weeks when she paced endlessly, and nothing I did helped her settle. She would go on her bed for a few minutes, get up and wander, have a drink, pee and repeat. I covered my entire floor with pee pads because she seemed to forget she was a perfectly house trained little pup!! 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. Not something I would ordinarily do, but I needed a break. Thankfully she eventually fell asleep.
Red had kidney issues and also wasn’t concentrating her urine around that time, so I naturally assumed these behaviours were connected. Needless to say I was shocked when her test results were fine. A couple more visits and my amazing vet still couldn’t come up with an explanation…first time ever!! 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 my dog, but because I knew her so well I was positive there was a problem. A couple of days later the words “doggy dementia” popped 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 I’m grateful 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 so my vet only had my observations to go by.
I recommend you take notes of all behaviours you’re concerned about, and if possible a video as well. That video can go a long way to helping your vet make a diagnosis.
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.
My vet prescribed Selgian here in the UK (Anipryl in the US and Canada), and by the third day I noticed she had calmed down significantly. My vet also recommended Nutracalm twice a day, sprinkled on her food. It is a natural calming supplement manufactured in the UK and available through vet offices here. I don’t know if it’s available in other countries.
I added Nutramind (made by the same company), 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 miracles. When Red 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 helped 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 is 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 was the love of my life, and I was helpless. She was also blind so I had to be extra aware of what she was doing and separate what was due to blindness, and what was not normal behaviour for her.
Because I work from home (running this website), I was with her all the time, and didn’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.
After about a year I noticed dementia once again started to rear its’ ugly head. I always have my dogs on a routine, and it was super important for Red to stick to that routine. She had been a very well traveled dog since I adopted her, flying between Florida and the UK a couple of times a year, a visit home to Toronto from Florida, and lots of bus and train journeys. She also used to love riding in her stroller. During the last year of her life she was much more antsy, unsettled on day trips and could no longer sit still in the stroller. Other than her usual walks she was much more comfortable in familiar surroundings. I had to hand feed her a lot and she preferred her canned food baked.
I do not believe in heroic measures, keeping my animals with me no matter what just because I can’t bear to say goodbye. From the day I got Red when she was around 8 years old I would always say that I couldn’t imagine life without her.
Well, that day I couldn’t imagine came on April 18, 2018. She had lost weight, wasn’t eating well and the day before I had found out her urea levels were through the roof. It was her kidneys that got her in the end. I chose not to let her go that Thursday when we were at the vet’s office getting her results, because I didn’t want to do anything rash. When I got home I called and made the appointment for the next morning.
I hope my story helps you
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 a process of elimination, so if all test results come up normal, mention the possibility of dementia and start your dog on medication right away. There are also supplements and alternatives many people have had success with such as Melatonin, Omega 3s, Valerian, a Thundershirt and CBD oil. If your vet cannot help you, speak to a holistic vet for additional treatment options.
Does your dog have dementia? What behaviours did you notice that had you concerned? 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.
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