How to Recognize Dementia in Dogs
Could your beloved pooch be suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction?
Her ears are still silky and her face is still cute, but you’ve noticed your older dog isn’t as peppy as when she was a pup. Walks are shorter, games of fetch less vigorous. Physical changes are inevitable as furry family members reach their golden years. Some dogs also experience mental decline in the form of canine cognitive disorder (CCD), a neurological degenerative disorder in which parts of the brain atrophy and change in other ways similar to people with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Recent studies in people with different forms of age-related dementia have found anxiety, mood disorders and agitation increase as dementia worsens. These changes may be analogous to agitation and distress seen in some senior animals,” explains Katy Nelson, DVM, a veterinarian in Alexandria, Virginia.
One survey estimated around 14 percent of dogs of an average age of 11.6 years have CCD, yet veterinarians diagnose it at a rate of 1.9 percent, says Nelson.
What’s more, CCD is on rise. “This condition is becoming more common in aging dogs, possibly due to an increase in environmental toxins,” explains Anthea Appel, an animal naturopath in New York City.
Related: Is My Dog Depressed?
Not a bad dog at all
One reason CCD is missed is it can be mistaken for a behavioral problem. Once your dog becomes a senior (age 7 if she’s a small breed, age 6 if she’s larger, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association), be on the lookout for these symptoms and signs of CCD:
- changes in personality
- going to unusual places in the yard or house
- changes in sleep
- disorientation (wandering, staring into space or at walls)
- apparent deafness
- peeing or pooping in the house
- being overly affectionate
- moving slowly
- not coming when called
- unwilling to go for a walk
- making unusual noises
Helping a hound with CCD
“Sadly, there’s no cure for CCD, but you can ease symptoms,” says Nelson. The drug selegiline has been reported to be effective in approximately 77 percent of dogs, she notes. You also could ask your vet about dietary therapy, such as adding foods rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids like omega-3s, adds Appel.
Obesity is a contributing factor in dogs with CCD because excess fat is associated with oxidative stress, which has a major impact on the central nervous system, explains Appel. If your pup is plump, talk to your veterinarian about steps you can take to help her shed the extra pounds.
Keep up the walks and play sessions too: The activity will help with weight control and stimulating games and toys have been linked to improved symptoms, says Appel.
Finally, stick to a routine — a dependable schedule of meals, walks and play time — just as you would with an elderly person. When your senior dog knows what to expect, she’ll be less stressed and agitated, according to Nelson.