Dementia in the Canine Senior Citizen

As your dog ages, her joints can become stiff and her hearing and sight can fade.

She may also start to develop signs of dementia, also known as canine cognitive
dysfunction.

Research suggests that as many as one third of dogs aged over 11 years have
some degree of dementia.

Symptoms of Dementia in Dogs

Often the first indication that your dog has a problem is that she appears to have forgotten everything she has learned. She won't do do what you ask her, even if she's been reliable in the past. Part of this may be because she isn't hearing or seeing as well, so make sure your commands are clear. She may start to go to the toilet inside the house, even if she's never done that before.

She'll seem confused and disoriented. Many owners of elderly dogs with dementia comment that their pet is unsettled at night and will pace the floor and may even whine. Separation anxiety is common.

The symptoms appear slowly so you may not notice them straight away. You may also wonder if you're imagining things, because early signs of dementia are vague and non-specific.

Diagnosing Dementia

There are other conditions that can cause similar symptoms to those of dementia. For example, if your dog has a bladder infection she may go to the toilet inside. If she is unsettled, it could be because she is sore from arthritis.

It's important that any other medical condition is ruled out before you decide that your dog has dementia. Your veterinarian can help with this, starting with a full physical examination and perhaps even some blood tests and x-rays.

Treating Dementia in Dogs

There are some things you can do to ease your dog's symptoms and make life easier for all of you.

Training is important in keeping your dog's mind active. She can still learn and using her brain will help to slow any mental deterioration. Work on basic obedience exercises and add some trick training. Make sure you accommodate her physical limitations - older dogs with stiff joints may not be able to do some behaviors.

Consider choosing a food that is rich in antioxidants and fatty acids. They are thought to improve mental ability. Again, your vet can help by recommending a suitable food. Many people have seen good results from something as simple as a change in diet.

Medication

Because dementia is thought to be due to a lack of dopamine in the brain, medication that enhances the effect of this chemical can improve your dog's symptoms. One such medication is L-deprenyl. Results don't happen quickly, it can take some months before you notice any response, but most dogs will improve on this drug.

Environmental Enrichment

Thers term basically means providing toys and activities that stimulate your dog's mind and senses. Some ideas are playtimes with gentle canine playmates and gentle strolls in different areas such as the beach or along a forest trail. Interactive toys like the Kong Wobble are also fun for her.

If you follow these suggestions, dementia won't dampen your canine senior citizen's life and you can still enjoy her company as she shares your day to day activities.