As with humans, canine aging comes with changes, both mental and physical. While “senior moments” may look different in dogs, it’s important to understand and be aware of the changes that could be happening in your dog’s brain as he gets older. Dementia isn’t limited to humans, and knowing how to help your dog cope with cognitive dysfunction is essential to the relationship you share.
“[Canine dementia] is a big issue, and there’s not much awareness of it, even among vets,” says Letitia Fanucchi, DVM, PhD, veterinary behaviorist and director of Veterinary Medicine Behavioral Services at Washington State University. “I get that question: ‘do dogs get dementia?’—even from colleagues.” But, she says, canine dementia is nothing new.
Types of Dog Dementia
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is an umbrella term which refers to the aging of a dog’s brain which leads to behavioral changes—in other words, “dog dementia.” CCD, which primarily affects memory, learning, and comprehension abilities, is found in 50 percent of senior pups over 11 years old. There are four separate forms of CCD/dog dementia:
Involutive Depression—depression occurring in a dog’s senior years, not unlike chronic depression in humans. This form of CCD can also lead to anxiety with symptoms including abnormal sleep, loss of curiosity, and more frequent vocalizing.
Dysthymia—loss of conscious self-awareness; dogs with dysthymia can forget their body length and size, and end up stuck in different parts of the house in a confused and disoriented state.
Hyper-aggression—altered serotonin levels in the brain, resulting in a less-than-happy dog. Dogs with this form of CCD lose their ability to communicate and read signals effectively, which can result in aggression.
- Confusional Syndrome—a significant decline in overall cognitive function; this form of CCD is the closest thing to Alzheimers’s/Dementia in humans. Dogs with confusional syndrome will forget familiar places and faces, and have a hard time learning new things.
Symptoms of CCD/Dog Dementia
Unfortunately, aging is an unavoidable part of life for humans and animals alike. While dog dementia is currently considered irreversible, detecting symptoms early on can prevent or slow down its progression.
One widely accepted acronym, DISHA, is helpful for dog owners when it comes to recognizing and characterizing symptoms. DISHA refers to:
- (altered) Interactions with others
- Sleep-wake cycle changes
- House soiling
- Activity level changes
Other symptoms of CCD/dog dementia include:
- Pacing back and forth/walking in circles
- Getting lost in familiar places/general confusion
- Staring at seemingly nothing
- Walking into and staying in corners/tight spaces
- Waiting at the wrong door to go out (or the wrong part of the door, like the “hinge” side)
- Forgetting routines or leaving them incomplete
- Lack of grooming
- Slow/unable to learn new tasks
If your pooch is struggling to cope with the anxiety that comes with doggy dementia, consider PetHonesty’s Premium Hemp Calming Chews to reduce anxiety and stress, and temporarily reduce your dog’s demeanor.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Before you attempt to self-diagnose your four-legged friend, keep in mind that some of the above-mentioned symptoms could also point to another medical issue, such as other diseases or brain tumors. If you notice any concerning symptoms in your dog, your first step of action should be to consult the vet.
While research is currently being conducted, there is unfortunately no cure for CCD. However, once a diagnosis is confirmed, treatment involves managing your dog’s behavior, environment, diet, and medication with the goal of slowing down the progression of the disease and improving quality of life (for dogs and owners alike).
Help your dog cope with his changing brain by providing plenty of daytime activities. Exposure to sunlight helps to regulate the sleep cycle and keep the mind alert. Plenty of structured social interaction is also good for your furry friend’s mental and physical stimulation; remember to know your dog’s limits, though, to avoid causing any unnecessary stress or tension.
If your dog is struggling with feeling lost and confused, keep the environment as consistent as possible. Avoid rearranging the furniture or staying at new houses overnight, since navigating a new environment can be tough for your senior. Be sure to be proactive about providing plenty of bathroom opportunities, too—some dogs with CCD may not always be aware of their needs until it’s too late.
Of course, always offer plenty of love to your pooch. Patience and empathy are key. These changes may be tough on you as an owner, but your dog is relying on you to help him through the hard times.
Because the exact cause of dog dementia is unknown, there’s no exact science when it comes to preventing CCD. However, lifelong holistic care starting from puppyhood is important when it comes to overall physical and mental health.
A balanced, whole food diet is crucial. Consider an anti-aging diet with sustainably sourced, raw ingredients. Avoiding exposure to toxins is also helpful for preventing CCD and boosting overall mental health.
Keep your pup’s body and mind healthy with regular exercise, along with regular socialization and exposure to new experiences. Avoid consistent exposure to stressful situations, as this can have long-term effects on your dog’s mental health.
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