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One of the scariest health conditions for humans is dementia, as you may not only forget how to care for yourself but may even forget who you are. But did you know that dogs can get dementia too?
It is not uncommon for older dogs to develop cognitive dysfunction as they age. This can negatively affect their quality of life, and yours as a pet parent as well.
Not only can they develop negative behaviors such as doing their business inside, fighting with other animals, and forgetting where their food bowl is, but they can also become distressed as they may no longer recognize the people who love them most.
But what exactly is canine dementia, how do you know if your dog has it, and what do you do if they develop this serious conduction?
Read on as we answer these questions and share advice on how to care for a senior dog with deteriorating cognitive function.
What Is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?
Dog dementia is an umbrella term used to refer to a variety of degenerative cognitive conditions in dogs. They are also often referred to collectively as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD).
There are four primary conditions that are considered under this term, all of which are age-related neurobehavioral syndromes.
It is not uncommon for dogs to develop chronic depression as they enter their later years.
This usually manifests in unusual behavior such as constant circling (usually in the same direction) and forgetting their house training.
Their sleep patterns may also become disrupted, with them being lethargic during the day and not sleeping at night, sometimes accompanied by an increased tendency to bark and vocalize.
Pet parents often unwittingly make this condition worse for their pups by punishing them for bad behavior or confining them for long periods of time to prevent certain behaviors. This tends to further deepen their depression.
This is when a dog loses spatial awareness, primarily because they lose a clear understanding of their size.
This means they can have a tendency to bump into things, and also get stuck as they try to fit into spaces that are too small for them.
They can become distressed, as they no longer realize that they simply need to back out to free themselves.
Other symptoms associated with this issue are a disrupted sleep-wake cycle, regular growling, whining and moaning, and uncharacteristically aggressive behavior toward other animals.
This condition is often associated with Cushing disease or long-term steroid therapy.
As dogs get older, they can also lose their ability to properly communicate with other animals. This probably results from dysfunction of the neurotransmitter serotonin or from cortical tumors.
They are no longer able to send or properly understand appeasing signals. As a result, they are much more likely to feel threatened by other animals and to respond with aggressive behavior.
Also called canine Alzheimer’s, this is a general cognitive degeneration that causes dogs to lose their ability to learn new things, and to start to forget familiar features of their lives.
This can commence with small things, such as not remembering where their bed is, but can progress to the point where they forget who their pet parents are.
These degenerative cognitive conditions are relatively common among dogs as they age.
Studies suggest that 28 percent of dogs between the ages of 10 and 12 years suffer from one of these forms of doggy dementia. This increases to 68 percent as dogs reach 15 to 16 years.
Curious how long Labradors live? Find out here.
When your dog is likely to develop this kind of condition depends on the breed and their average lifespan.
Shorter-lived giant breeds can start to develop these conditions from as young as five years of age. Smaller breeds probably won’t start to develop these problems until they have reached at least ten years of age.
All of the conditions are progressively degenerative and there is no known cure.
Symptoms Of Dog Dementia
There are no reliable tests for canine dementia, so it is up to pet owners to recognize symptomatic behaviors and consult their vet to make a diagnosis.
Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with canine dementia.
As dogs develop dementia, their surroundings can become unfamiliar, and they can lose spatial recognition. Both of these problems can result in them appearing disoriented in spaces with which they should be familiar.
Common manifestations of this behavior include circling, usually in the same direction, sitting at the wrong side of the door (the hinged side) while waiting to be let out, and not getting out of the way when people open doors.
Altered Sleep Patterns
Dogs suffering from cognitive dysfunction tend to suffer from a disrupted sleep pattern. This will see them lethargic during the day and unable to sleep at night.
They may well cry during the night, disrupting other members of the household.
House Training Issues
Dogs with dementia may forget their house training and become confused about where they can do their business and where they shouldn’t.
This problem is exasperated by the fact that older dogs tend to have less bladder control, which also means they cannot wait for as long between bathroom breaks.
If they start peeing in the house out of necessity, this will contribute to them forgetting that they shouldn’t do this.
Fail To Respond To Commands
Just like dogs can forget their house training, they might also forget some of the other training they have received and therefore fail to respond to familiar commands.
They are also more easily distracted, which makes it harder for them to concentrate on commands they are given.
As an extension of this, they may also fail to remember regular routines such as walks, feeding, and grooming times.
Less Interaction With Family
Dogs with dementia will sometimes forget the other members of their family, both humans and other animals.
For this reason, you may notice them interacting with others less often, as they are wary of humans and animals that they don’t recognize.
While these are among the most common symptoms of canine dementia, any consistent change in behavior that does not have a clear cause can be a warning sign that something is not quite right with their mental function and can be worth discussing with your vet.
How To Care For A Dog With Dementia
There is no known cure for doggy dementia, and it is progressive, so once it starts you can expect it to get worse.
So, when it comes to caring for a dog with dementia, rather than treating the symptoms, your focus should be on maintaining their quality of life.
How exactly this can be done depends on how their symptoms manifest, but below are our top tips for supporting dogs with dementia that have some of the most common symptoms.
There is no denying that dogs with dementia can start developing some very annoying behaviors, whether they are doing their business inside, barking throughout the night, or nipping at the heels of younger family members. But the worst thing you can do is to get angry at them or punish them.
Dogs with dementia already tend to be stressed, as they are constantly faced with new and challenging situations, since their diminishing memories fail to provide them with the information to understand what is happening.
Piling punishment on top of this will only increase their stress. This is more likely to produce other negative behaviors than to solve the problem.
Dogs, like children, crave stability and routine. This doesn’t change just because they start to forget their routine. In fact, it becomes more important as they struggle to learn new things.
So, maintain a strict routine when it comes to when they eat sleep, exercise, and so forth.
This should extend to where you keep their things. Don’t move their food bowl or bed, as they may struggle to find it even if it’s only a few feet away.
If possible, also do not move the furniture around the areas of the house that your dog uses the most, as this will cause them further disorientation.
Pet-Proof Your House
Dogs with dementia often lose spatial awareness and become clumsy. This means they are more prone to accidents such as walking into hard corners or falling down the stairs.
Reduce these risks by dog-proofing your home, much in the same way that you would for babies.
Gate off stairs and other dangerous areas, and put protective padding on hard corners that are at a height to do real damage to your dog if they stumble into them with force.
Maintain Appropriate Exercise
While your dog might seem lethargic and less mobile, this is not a reason to let them languish inside.
When it comes to fitness, it is a case of use it or lose it. While you do not want to push them with intensive exercise regimes, don’t miss their daily walk.
The sights and smells of the great outdoors also provide essential mental stimulation. And exposure to sunlight can be very important to maintaining their sleep patterns.
If they are unable to walk for themselves, it is still advisable to take them out in a cart, just to ensure that they get their daily requirement of sun exposure.
While nothing can reverse the cognitive degeneration that accompanies dementia, there is some evidence that mental stimulation can slow the process.
So make sure that your dog has lots of things to keep their brains active while at home.
Look at feeding practices that stimulate their natural instinct to forage. Use puzzle toys to dole out treats.
You can even teach them some new tricks, which should also help reinforce some of the training that they are at risk of forgetting.
Choose Foods Rich In Antioxidants
Again, while there is no known way to reverse cognitive degeneration, there is evidence that food rich in antioxidants and medium-chain triglycerides can slow the degenerative effects on the brain and give your dog a better quality of life for longer.
Make Sure They Are Identifiable
While they might seem a bit dull and docile, dogs with dementia can still be wily. If they do get out, they are also much more likely to forget where home is and wander off in their disorientation.
It is a good idea to make your dog clearly identifiable so they can be returned to you if this happens. As well as up-to-date microchipping, it is a good idea to put your phone number on their collar.
This means that neighbors can contact you directly without having to wait to have their chip read to be returned to you.
Regularly Assess Their Quality Of Life
Dementia has a significant effect on your dog’s quality of life, and it is a sad truth that there may come a time when they are so badly affected that you may need to say goodbye.
If they are a healthy weight and look like they are enjoying life, then occasional forgetfulness and inside accidents probably aren’t having a huge impact on them if they are receiving the support they need.
However, when dementia becomes extreme, it can be emotionally painful for your dog as they may live in a constant state of fear.
And if it is accompanied by problems eating and sleeping, their physical health can also deteriorate rapidly.
When it reaches this stage, it may be time to speak to your vet about options.
If you have a Labrador, you can read our complete guide on caring for senior Labradors here.
How Do You Know If Your Dog Has Dementia?
There are no reliable tests for canine dementia, so you must look out for symptoms of their changing cognitive state.
These include disorientation and clumsiness, forgetfulness including forgetting essential training such as house training, aggression toward other animals, and generally less inclination to spend time with family members.
What Can I Give My Dog For Dementia?
There is no known cure for canine dementia, which is progressive. But there may be some things that can slow the progression and give your dog a better quality of life for longer.
For example, it is recommended that you feed your dog a diet rich in antioxidants and medium-chain triglycerides. Giving your older pup lots of mental stimulation will also help.
Can Dementia In Dogs Come On Suddenly?
How quickly dementia can progress in dogs varies greatly, and it can sometimes seem like it comes on suddenly, especially since early symptoms are not always easy to identify.
It is not uncommon to feel like your dog has suddenly deteriorated overnight.
At What Age Do Dogs Get Dementia?
The age at which dogs are likely to develop dementia depends on the average lifespan of the breed, with large dogs with shorter lifespans being affected at a younger age than smaller dogs with longer average lifespans.
You could expect some of the giant breeds to start developing dementia as young as five years old. In contrast, it is uncommon to see smaller breeds develop these issues before the age of 10.
Is Dementia Painful For Dogs?
While dementia is not physically painful for dogs, it can be very emotionally distressing. In addition, they tend to be more accident-prone, so are more likely to hurt themselves.
Disrupted sleeping and eating patterns can also have a negative impact on their health that can lead to pain.
Does Dog Dementia Get Worse At Night?
While a dog’s overall condition will not be worse at night, they can display challenging behavior during the night which may make it appear that way.
Disrupted sleep patterns mean they may spend the night howling and crying, and if they do sleep, it is not uncommon for them to suffer from night terrors.
Canine dementia is a devastating disease for both dogs and their owners, and it is more common than we might imagine. By the age of 12, almost a third of dogs are likely to have developed the condition.
This can result in behaviors that can be very disruptive to the household, such as forgetting toilet training and crying through the night, and can be emotionally stressful for your dog.
There is no known cure for canine dementia, so the best thing that a dog parent can do is to take steps to maintain the quality of life of their pup in their degenerated state.
Avoid punishment and confinement and instead focus on support and love, and you will find that your pup is happier for longer, and that you can keep this member of the family around for a few more treasured years.
Have you ever cared for a dog with dementia? Share your experiences with the community in the comments section below.
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