Editor's Note: This is a guest post on the Grey Matters Blog and not written by anyone affiliated with Grey Muzzle. We allow guest contributors from time to time in order to provide our supporters with a wide range of topics pertaining to senior dogs.
Dogs, like humans, can suffer from degenerative brain conditions in their senior years. These conditions are called canine dementia or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD).
There are many symptoms of canine dementia. The warning signs can be slow to develop, which is why dementia is often undiagnosed.
Common symptoms include disorientation, less interaction with family, interrupted sleep, and house-training issues. Dementia can also cause a dog to not recognize a familiar person or fail to respond to commands.
While canine dementia is a progressive condition can’t be cured, there are many things you can do to improve your dog’s quality of life. Here are seven easy examples.
Note: It’s important to visit a vet if you suspect your dog has CCD. Medication can relieve symptoms and slow the progression.
1. Have Patience
Dogs with canine dementia often show strange behaviors. They may become less responsive to commands, lose their house-training, or find it difficult to eat and drink. Dogs suffering from CCD also often bark more when they feel anxious.
It’s vital that you’re patient with your dog through these changes. While it can be frustrating if your dog has an indoor accident, for example, he didn’t do it on purpose – and scolding him will just cause additional stress and anxiety.
2. Make Sure Your Pet Can Always Find His Food, Water and Bed
A dog suffering from canine dementia is more likely to become confused, especially if he’s also struggling with vision loss.
To make things easier for your pet, always keep water, food and bed in the same place. Try to avoid placing new items or furniture near his bed or water, as this can cause anxiety.
On a related note, make sure your dog’s bed is comfortable and supportive. Orthopedic dog beds are often the best option for senior dogs, as these avoid pressure points which can make joint pain worse. If you’re not sure which to buy, The Dog Clinic has a list of the best orthopedic beds.
3. Exercise is Still Important
Exercise is closely linked to brain health and mental wellbeing, so walks are important for dogs with dementia. Moderate exercise gets blood flowing, which brings more oxygen to the brain. New smells and sights are also brilliant for mental stimulation.
Gentle walks are best for older dogs with dementia. A strenuous walk could be too much for your pet, and may not provide the same brain benefits. Give him plenty of time to sniff and walk at his own pace.
4. Brain Training is Also Essential
Mentally stimulating games can keep the brain active and potentially slow the progression of dementia. Some examples of games to play include:
- Using a snuffle mat to encouraging natural foraging behaviors
- Teaching basic tricks or reinforcing commands your pet already knows
- Giving food or treats via simple puzzle toys, such as a stuffed Kong
- Hiding treats around a room and letting your dog find them
It’s best to keep these games short and straightforward. You don’t want to make your dog tired or frustrated. If you notice signs of stress, end the game on a positive note and try a different activity next time.
5. Keep a Consistent Routine
Most dogs enjoy routines, but a regular schedule is even more important for those with dementia.
Disorientation and anxiety are amongst the most common symptoms of CCD. These can be made worse by a lack of routine, as the dog never knows when it’s time for play, food, exercise, or relaxing.
To help your pet, try to be consistent about when your dog wakes up, goes to bed, has a walk, and is fed. This isn’t always easy, but can help reduce anxiety. A consistent sleep schedule may also make it less likely for your dog to become confused during the night.
6. Make Sure Your Dog is Easy to Identify
Dogs with dementia often become disorientated or confused. It’s common for them to wander out of the back yard or get lost on a walk during these episodes.
For these reasons, a dog with dementia should never be left unattended. This is particularly important in yards that aren’t fully secure, new places, or on walks. Always ensure your dog is microchipped with up-to-date information and wearing a collar with his name and contact number.
7. Adjust Care Depending on Your Dog’s Symptoms
Canine dementia is a progressive condition. It’s impossible to predict exactly how it’ll affect each dog, but symptoms are likely to change over time.
Regardless of how your dog’s condition affects his behavior, you can still have a close bond with your pet. Make sure everyone in the household is aware of these changes and is willing to adjust how they interact with the dog, so he feels safe and loved.
Keep in mind that elderly dogs may be suffering from additional health problems. These can include diabetes, vision loss, and kidney disease. It’s important to discuss any new symptoms with your vet, so he or she can provide an accurate diagnosis.
Managing your dog’s dementia isn’t always easy. CCD can be complex and requires multiple forms of treatment. Symptoms are also likely to change over time.
Fortunately, there are many ways to help maintain your dog’s quality of life. Your vet may recommend medication and supplements to relieve symptoms and slow the disease progression. The tips above can also help manage your dog’s condition.
The most important thing is to treat your dog with kindness, patience and lots of love. Many symptoms of dementia are worse when the dog is anxious, stressed or confused, so keeping him calm and happy is a vital step.