It’s not just humans that may experience cognitive decline, senility, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease in old age. Pets too can be affected, and dogs and cats are known for displaying changes to their mental function and personality as they become geriatric.
Called Canine (or Feline) Cognitive Dysfunction, dogs display a more pronounced version of this than do cats, in general. It happens because the elderly brain shrinks, brain cells die, and toxic proteins build up. Over a quarter of dogs aged over eleven years will display some sign of cognitive dysfunction; this figure rises to seventy percent by age fifteen. Sex and breed makes no difference to the likelihood of developing doggy dementia.
Signs (in both dogs and cats) include:
• Forgetfulness – where did I hide that toy? How do I get outside again?
• Disorientation – bumping into things
• Inappropriate wake/sleep cycles – sleep all day, up all night.
• Repetitive behaviours – pacing and wandering
• Increased vocalisation – barking, whining
Many of these signs and symptoms are exacerbated by age related hearing loss and vision decline.
It’s important to manage the signs of doggy dementia so that your pet suffers as little as possible. Many of these are treatable. For example:
• Confusion and disorientation cause anxiety, and a chronically anxious dog’s physical health will suffer.
• Cataract removal can help maintain visual acuity
• Incontinence may be due to pain caused by arthritis.
• Barking may be a way to gain attention; a deaf dog might not realise he is making noise.
• Maintain a strict feeding, walking, and playtime schedule. It will help him to minimise confusion.
There are some medications and supplements which may help some dogs in this scenario. Lots of love and gentle care are imperative.
Not every dog will suffer Dogzheimer’s or doggy dementia, but most very old dogs will experience decline in one way or another. Dogs with dementia can live for a long time. Euthanizing a dog purely because he has dementia is not ever recommended (unless his quality of life is too negatively impacted), as he may have many very happy months or even years ahead of him; you don’t pack off your elderly aunt when she gets “a bit funny”, so why would you dispose of your dog for the same reason? Many dogs with dementia can be very happy and content if managed properly.
Expect to lavish the same amount of attention and care on a geriatric dog as you would a puppy; he still loves and needs you as much as he ever has and can still be a wonderful companion. Your vet is the best person to see for advice on handling and helping your best friend lovingly through his twilight years with the best quality of life possible.