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, especially 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” 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, 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.
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.