Canine Dementia, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), is a neurological disorder that affects older dogs. Just like humans, dogs can suffer from dementia and the condition can cause them to display signs of confusion, disorientation, memory loss and changes in their behaviour.
Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells and occurs when certain parts of the brain lose their ability to function normally. It is a progressive disorder that gets worse over time and can affect all dogs from small breed Spoodle Puppies to the gigantic Golden Retriever. Studies have shown that CCD affects 10–25% of dogs over the age of 11 years old.
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The exact cause of canine dementia is unknown but it has been linked to ageing, genetics and environmental factors such as exposure to toxins or trauma. In some cases, it may be related to an underlying medical condition such as hypothyroidism or kidney disease.
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Symptoms of Canine Dementia
The most common symptoms of canine dementia include:
- Memory loss: The dog may not remember familiar people or places, or may forget commands it once knew. They may also wander aimlessly or become lost in familiar places.
- Disorientation: The dog may get confused about time and place and not recognize familiar people or objects in its environment.
- Changes in behaviour: The dog may become more anxious, nervous or aggressive than usual. They may also experience changes in sleeping patterns, such as sleeping more during the day and less at night.
- Loss of housetraining: Dogs with dementia may forget where they are supposed to go to the toilet, leading to accidents inside the home.
- Loss of appetite: Some dogs with dementia will refuse food or water altogether due to confusion over mealtimes or difficulty eating due to dental problems associated with ageing.
Diagnosing and Treating Canine Dementia
Diagnosing canine dementia can be difficult as there is no one specific test for it; instead your veterinarian will look at your pet’s overall health and behaviour before making a diagnosis.
If a diagnosis is made, then the veterinarian may prescribe selegiline hydrochloride (Anipryl), the only approved treatment for canine cognitive dysfunction that helps improve cognitive functioning.
Additional measures may include:
- Supplements such as omega 3 fatty acids which helps reduce inflammation
- Dietary changes that help reduce inflammation throughout the body
- Cognitive training exercises
- Pheromones which help reduce stress levels
It’s important to note that medications should only be used under veterinary guidance as these drugs have side effects which must be monitored carefully for safety reasons.
In addition to medical treatment, there are some lifestyle changes you can make at home that can help your pet live the most fulfilling life possible, even with canine dementia:
Create a safe environment in the home
Some options can be blocking off stairs or steps so they don’t get lost on different levels inside your house, providing plenty of lighting if they get disoriented at night, and using baby gates if so they don’t wander off.
Provide mental stimulation
While mental stimulation cannot reverse canine dementia, it may help stave off the symptoms. Puzzle feeders and toys can help keep your dog mentally active and engaged throughout the day, as well as interactive toys during playtime. Nosework is a good way to keep most senior dogs stimulated, since they may not have the best vision or hearing in their old age.
Try not to change up routines too much as this could cause further confusion for your dog. While there may need to be changes after your dog’s diagnosis, once you have a set daily schedule try to keep to it as best you can.
Allow plenty of rest
Just like in humans, quality sleep helps restore your dog’s energy levels and helps repair the brain. Make sure you give your dog plenty of opportunities for naps throughout the day. You may place them in a crate if they feel more comfortable that way.
Finally remember that while canine dementia cannot be cured it can certainly be managed for most dogs. On average, dogs with canine dementia may live for 5 to 8 years after diagnosis; however, some may live longer if their condition is managed properly. Take all the steps necessary to ensure your dog enjoys life despite the challenges posed by this condition.