Taking Care of Dogs with Dementia

Just like humans, dogs get sick. They get colds, stomach viruses, and horrible diseases, such as cancer and dementia. My family’s dog, Gidget, is 16 years old and began experiencing symptoms of dog dementia earlier this year. We noticed she kept walking aimlessly throughout the house and standing in corners. When the vet diagnosed the disease, it was all new to us. So, I did a little bit of research and realized there was a lot I didn’t know. Scientifically, it is known as canine cognitive dysfunction; this condition affects a dog beginning at the ages of 11-15, as their brain ages. The exact cause of the disease is still unknown, but genetic factors contribute to an animal’s diagnosis. Over time, they will have changes in awareness, a decreased response, and a loss in learning and memory ability, as symptoms worsen.

Symptoms can include disorientation and confusion from changes in hearing and vision, restlessness and irritability, urinary incontinence, loss of appetite, and changes in sleep cycle. For example, waking up in the middle of the night and sleeping during the day. Also, be on the lookout for decreased energy, repetitive behaviors, such as pacing, standing in corners, and staring at walls, and not following everyday routines. It is important to recognize the symptoms early and talk with your vet. Some of the early signs are difficult to detect and can be misinterpreted as part of getting older. A typical exam for dementia will begin with you and your vet going through the history of your dog’s health. Some things you might discuss will be the symptoms and when they occurred. Then, a physical exam will be completed to see the overall health and cognitive functions of your dog. Some vets might also do routine blood tests, ultrasounds, and X-rays to rule out other diseases.

While there is no cure for dog dementia, there are several types of possible treatment. Maintaining a healthy environment and a balanced diet improves cognitive function and helps keep your animal on a routine. Part of that routine should include exercise, play, and maintaining a set feeding schedule. As for the balanced diet, vets sometimes will put the animal on a special diet, filled with antioxidants, vitamin E and C, and Omega-3. Medicine and behavioral therapy are also forms of treatment to reverse the symptoms. However, be careful of the side effects of certain medications, because they can cause drowsiness or other symptoms. Veterinary behaviorists are trained to help owners recreate a pet’s schedule and ease stress and confusion. For changes in hearing, some owners will train their pets to recognize hand signals. For changes in vision, most pets will learn their way around if furniture and objects remain in the same place and aren’t moved. Dementia in dogs is diagnosed and treated on an individual basis. Speaking with your vet will help in determining the right type of treatment. Periodic checkups will be needed to reevaluate your dog’s symptoms and changes.

However, one of the most important treatments for all furry friends is love and support. Anxiety is a huge part of the disease and causes stress on a dog. As for my dog, when she is lost in a corner, doesn’t know her way out of a room, or is awake during the night, she gets stressed out. Managing anxiety is figuring out what works best for your dog. Some will respond to soothing music, aromatherapy or a walk. For my dog, she loves to be picked up, wrapped in a blanket, and hugged. Just knowing we are there comforts her. Some days she is more alert than others. Like everyone, dogs with dementia will have their good days and bad days.

Dogs with dementia can live full lives for many years. Like humans, as pets get older, they get slower and experience the different aspects of aging. Dementia isn’t fatal on its own and sticking with a schedule, a healthy diet, and maintaining treatment can help the dog’s symptoms remain stable. As for Gidget, she is doing fine with no medicine and is still young at heart.