6 Tips for Managing Dementia in Senior Dogs by Ann-Marie Fleming

20 January, 2021


You know your dog better than anyone else does. You know your dog’s go-to chew toy. Your dog’s favourite treat. You know exactly where your dog will stop for sniffs on those evening walks. Over the years, you’ve even learned how to read your dog’s moods as easily as your own, even anticipating his reactions.

So you’ve noticed lately that your senior dog is acting unlike himself — showing alarming symptoms in older dogs such as disorientation, anxiety, a change in temperament. As dogs get older, it’s common that they change, but your dog might be going through more: suffering the onset of dog dementia. 

Can Dogs Get Dementia?
Yes, unfortunately dementia in senior dogs does happen. Otherwise known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS), dog dementia is similar to Alzeimer’s disease in humans. The age of onset depends on the breed, but, by 11 years old, one in three dogs shows signs of dog dementia. Symptoms are often mild at first but worsen over time in what is called “cognitive decline”. 

 

Signs of Dog Dementia:
As your dog gets older, keep an eye out for these six most common dog dementia symptoms:

1) Disorientation or Confusion
Wandering aimlessly, getting stuck in corners, walking without his usual confidence and purpose — is your dog navigating his surroundings differently? Does he seem lost? These are common signs of canine cognitive disorder in older dogs.

2) Change in Personality
Your dog is usually happy, laid back, and gets along with other dogs and humans. Lately though, he is anxious, more aggressive, and barks without provocation. These behaviours can be especially alarming symptoms in older dogs. Pay particular attention to his body language and non-verbal cues to figure out what’s wrong.

3) Whining and Pacing
Senior dogs with dementia often experience anxiety. This shows up as an increase in whining or in pacing about the house.

4) Peeing Inside the House
For house trained dogs, frequent “accidents'' in the house might be a result of the confusion he’s experiencing. Or, it could indicate a different health problem altogether. Schedule a visit with your veterinarian to pinpoint the cause.

5) Shifts in Sleep Cycle and Activity Level
Is your senior dog sleeping more hours during the day and less throughout the night? Are his activity levels and patterns different? Changes in a senior dog’s sleep and awake cycles could be caused by dog dementia, or by physical health reasons. Monitor your dog’s activity level, too. Senior dogs need a modified exercise routine with less activity and more breaks.

6) Changes in Your Dog’s Interaction With You
Your usually sweet and loyal companion is acting fearful and aggressive. He’s not interested in tug-of-war with you and his rope toy. He doesn’t want to snuggle up beside you on the couch like before. If your dog is experiencing canine cognitive disorder, he could be relating to you out of his confusion and disorientation. 

So How Do I Care for My Senior Dog’s Dementia?
Now that you know the signs and symptoms of dementia in senior dogs, you, of course, want to do everything you can to help. Improve your dog’s quality of life with these practical steps:

• Go to the Vet
The vet will do a full physical exam of your dog to evaluate overall health and cognitive functioning. Blood tests, ultrasounds, and/or x-rays will rule out or confirm if your dog’s symptoms are related to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome or to physical issues.

• Alleviate Your Dog’s Anxiety
Like with humans, touch can have a calming effect on your senior dog. Take time to pet your dog in a calm and quiet setting. This act of touch releases the chemical oxytocin in both your dog and you. Oxytocin is dubbed the “love hormone”, making the receiver and giver of touch feel more connected to each other. Oxytocin reduces stress, increases pain tolerance, and enhances the wellbeing of your dog.

A simple dog massage can do wonders for calming your dog’s nervous system. Repeatedly run your hand from the base of your dog’s neck to the base of his tail as he lays on his side. You could also try ear massages and targeted squeezing along his body.

Your senior dog might also benefit from pet gear made for dog anxiety. Worn like a doggy sweater or coat, an anxiety vest applies gentle pressure along your dog’s body, providing a sense of security. 

• Change Unsafe or Triggering Walking Paths
Next time you’re out for a walk, notice when your dog exhibits senile dog symptoms: Are there places where your dog now barks, whines, or shrinks back? Try a different street or take a different path. 

At home, notice if your dog is tripping over things that weren’t tripped over before or tight places where your dog now gets stuck. Keep your senior dog safe by redirecting his routes throughout the house. Dog Quality’s Bamboo Blocker™ is pet gear that can help. Inspired by our own Bamboo’s dementia symptoms, the Bamboo Blocker™ is a customizable barrier that allows you to block unsafe areas and redirect your pooch’s path. 

• Take Charge of Your Dog’s Incontinence
If your senior dog is relieving himself inside the house, consider using reusable doggie diapers or pee pads. And you thought you were done with those years ago! Take your dog out more often. Move his toys and bed to areas of your home that don’t have carpet.  

• Ask Your Vet About Medications & Therapies
Your veterinarian can suggest medications and therapies that may help alleviate your dog’s dementia symptoms or slow its progression. Prescription food and supplements might also benefit.

Keep Your Dog Mentally (and Emotionally) Stimulated
Explore new places with your senior dog. Keep on playing the games and giving him the treats that he’s always liked. Take a few minutes everyday to look into your dog’s eyes and talk with him. 

The most important thing to do for your dog is extend patience. Dementia’s alarming symptoms in older dogs stem from his confusion, anxiety, and loss of control. Shower your dog with compassion and help, ensuring his senior years are the best they can be.

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