by Hindy Pearson
It is sometimes called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), sometimes called doggy dementia but always called “heart breaking.”
Do we know what causes it?
Yes and no. Don’t you love those answers!!
Lesions on the brain; genetics; free radicals; not enough blood getting to the brain; decrease in dopamine production. You’ll probably never know the reason your dog has it, but all that matters is what you do about it.
We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.
What are the chances your dog will get it?
Who knows! Seriously! The figures I came across contradict each other and really, who cares. No one can predict if it will happen to your dog (no one predicted it would happen to my dog Red), so let’s not get caught up in percentages and read on.
Have you been noticing your dog doing any of these things lately?
- Wandering aimlessly, unable to settle
- Getting stuck under furniture
- Standing head first in corners or tight spaces
- Going out for a pee, nothing happens then pees when she comes back in
- Barks for no apparent reason
- Aggressive when she never was before
- Doesn’t respond to her name
- Difficulty finding her food and water bowls
- Fearful/startles easily
- Doesn’t remember her training
- Afraid of people she knows
- Sleeps more during the day, but less at night
- Walks away when petted
- Walks in circles, typically only in one direction
And I could go on…
Not every change is a normal part of aging
I’m exhausted from listening to the number of people who dismiss changes in their dog’s behavior, as something to be expected due to old age. I also want to scream when it’s obvious their dog is having trouble walking, or has lost interest in eating, yet the guardian does nothing.
Whether one, or many of the signs I’ve listed are familiar, or you’ve noticed other changes, no matter how slight, please make an appointment to see your vet sooner rather than later.
Do not dismiss every change as a natural part of aging, because often it indicates a health problem. Ignored, something minor can develop into something major that may be too late to treat.
If my dog is showing any of these signs, does that mean she has dementia?
Definitely not, so don’t work yourself into a panic. A lot of these symptoms can be due to other things, for example…
She may not respond to her name because she’s having trouble with her hearing. Peeing in the house could be because of a kidney issue.
How is dementia diagnosed?
Unlike many other conditions that can be diagnosed with a blood test for instance, there is no test to diagnose dementia. It’s more of a process of elimination. Once the possible explanations for your dog’s symptoms have been ruled out, then dementia it is.
The very same thing happened with my dog Red. About 1 ½ years ago she had kidney issues, and would drink and pee a lot. When she became unable to settle, then would wander aimlessly for hours (one evening she did it for 4 hours), I was beside myself with worry. I assumed she was uncomfortable or in pain from her kidney problems, and I spent a fair bit of time at the vet during that period, looking for answers.
When all the possibilities were discounted, and I was still at a loss about what to do, the word “dementia” literally just popped into my head. I can’t say why (meant to be perhaps!!) because I have no experience with anyone suffering from dementia (human or canine) yet there it was. I realized I had found the answer, and when I proposed that diagnosis to my vet he agreed.
But I digress…
Before your appointment I recommend you do 2 things –
Make a list of all the uncharacteristic/new/disturbing behaviors you’ve been witnessing. I created a downloadable checklist you can print off and take with you to your appointment if you prefer.
Take a video. Trust me it will help your vet a lot. You can tell him she’s been wandering, or staring at the back of the door, but it’s best for him to see it and it’s not going to happen during your appointment.
Your vet will conduct a physical exam which will, in all probability, include taking urine and blood samples. Not much can be done until those results come back.
Sadly there is no cure and no way to stop dementia’s progression. I’m feeling quite ill just writing this because I know this is happening to the love of my life Red. The good news is there are drugs and supplements that have been known to help with the symptoms.
The ingredient Selegiline hydrochloride – known also as Selgian® and Anipryl®, has been shown to be effective in prolonging the activity of your dog’s remaining dopamine. This helps by improving memory and helping dogs think more clearly.
I was so worried about Red I couldn’t wait to give her that first Selgian tablet. It didn’t take long for me to start noticing a difference, in just a few days she was calmer, and stopped wandering. Thank goodness! I can’t imagine how much better she was feeling!
Since I’m interested in a more natural solution when possible, I did some research into supplements to see if there was anything else I could do to help Red. There wasn’t.
I found several that have been known to be effective in some dogs, but I don’t recommend you do anything without the advice of your vet. If yours isn’t familiar with holistic medicine or doesn’t believe in it, there is nothing stopping you from having a meeting with a holistic vet to discuss an alternative approach to your dog’s care in general, and dementia in particular.
Here are a few being talked about
Coconut oil (decreases amyloid protein buildup)
Sam-e, or adenosyl (antioxidant that supports brain health and improves sleep quality and memory)
Omega 3 fatty acids (decrease inflammation, improve cognition, and lower blood pressure and triglycerides, all of which improve brain health by improving heart health and circulation)
Neutricks (helps protect brain cells during the natural aging process)
Melatonin (improves sleep and decreases anxiety)
Rosemary (antioxidant that helps improve memory and slows the effects of free radicals)
Lemon Balm (performed well in Alzheimer’s studies; reduces depression and agitation in dogs with CCD)
Acupuncture (has been known to slow the progression of ccd)
Fruits and vegetables (antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties found in certain fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of cognitive decline)
What else can help??
Environmental enrichment and mental stimulation
Important for dogs of all ages, this can include doing mini training sessions, taking your dog for a drive, arranging a play date with a favorite canine friend, and using interactive toys and puzzle games.
Stick to the schedule
All dogs need routine and a schedule, so if your dog never had one now is the time to start. Do
your best to stick to a regular feeding, walking and mental stimulation schedule. It doesn’t have to be exactly 7:00 on the dot (for instance), but within a few minutes whenever possible.
Don’t move furniture or leave clutter on the floor. One will confuse him, the other will cause him to trip.
My second favorite lifesaver
The first has been Selgian, the second a CD called “Through a Dog’s Ear.” It is bio acoustically engineered music created by a psychoacoustic expert and veterinary neurologist. Studies have shown it reduced anxiety behavior and induced calmness in 70% of dogs in shelters or kennels, and 85% of dogs in households.
I have seen Red go from wandering for a couple of hours to sleeping in less than one minute. Sounds impossible but I can tell you it’s the absolute truth. There were times in the early days of her diagnosis when that CD would be playing for hours. Luckily the music is so beautiful I didn’t mind, because it helped me relax as well.
Red has been doing well for about a year and a half now, but there has been the odd occasion recently when I did have to cue the music, but it’s rare.
There isn’t a way to prevent a dog getting dementia per se, but there are lots of things we should be doing, no matter what age our dog is, to keep them in the best health possible…physically as well as mentally. A healthy being has a better chance of dealing with medical issues than an unhealthy one.
The number one priority is to feed your dog a nutritionally balanced diet. That means different things to different people, and certainly different things to different vets. The nutrition category on my website (to the right of the page) has several interesting articles about this subject so have a read when you get the chance).
A regular physical exercise routine, appropriate for the abilities of your dog.
Daily mental stimulation – teaching her new tricks, interactive toys, puzzles and games.
Keep your dog at a healthy weight.
Good oral hygiene, which means regular vet checks and daily brushing.
Supplements as recommended by your vet.
Please, please, please – see your vet if you notice any change in behavior, I don’t care how slight. If something is off, have it checked.
Taking care of your dog
I know from personal experience how tough things can get, but it’s not your dog’s fault so patience and understanding are key. When you feel like you’re about to lose it, go out for a walk, go shopping, meet a friend, whatever you need to do.
I mentioned not rearranging furniture or leaving clutter on the floor for your dog to trip over.
If she’s having trouble figuring out the stairs, how about a ramp?
Play with her and comfort her.
Keep the new “stuff” and even visits with new people to a minimum.
Keep commands short and simple.
How about a couple of extra pee breaks during the day? That extra time may get her peeing where she’s supposed to. Puppy pads have been a lifesaver for me, so a few where she hangs out can reduce your stress levels when you see a pee stain on the carpet.
I also mentioned the importance of having structure, so if you’ve never had a schedule before, now is the time to put one in place. It can help confused dogs cope better.
Taking care of yourself
Depending on how long a diagnosis has taken, as well as the severity of your dog’s dementia, caring for a dog with CCD can be exhausting. I want to say physically, mentally and spiritually! The constant worry and stress can make you sick, and you may not realize the toll it’s taking until you’re ready to snap.
There were plenty of times in the early days, mainly before Red was diagnosed, then until the meds kicked in, I would get to the point where if I didn’t get out of the house I would simply fall apart. I would grab my music and headphones and head to the beach for a long walk. When my husband was home I would take a few hours and go shopping alone. Anything to get myself away from the situation and the pressure cooker it had become.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Red more than life itself, but when there’s nothing you can do in between vet visits and test results, the helplessness can get you down. I’m a control freak which doesn’t help.
Taking time for yourself doesn’t make you a bad dog mama, it makes you a better one. Setting aside time each day to rejuvenate yourself, will allow you to take better care of your dog. By the way, meditation and yoga are excellent stress reducers and they don’t take much time. Five or ten minutes of meditating in a quiet space is all you need when you’re pressed for time.
Please don’t freak out
I fear I may have freaked you out a bit. Please don’t take my story as an indication of what yours may be like. Each case is different, and my experience doesn’t have to be yours. I just want you to understand how important it is to have behavior changes checked out, and to find time for yourself when caring for a dog that is unwell.
How I care for Red
As I’ve mentioned, caring for Red prior to her diagnosis was incredibly tough. Here’s a dog I’ve loved for many years, even before I rescued her, and she was wandering constantly, I was afraid she was in pain, and answers weren’t quick in coming. The only thing I found that helped her in those early days was a CD called “Through a Dog’s Ear” which I mentioned above. I would play it for hours at times, and it would calm her down in seconds.
I have played it for her a couple of times lately, but so far she’s still doing well. The scary part is there’s not anything more I could do if her symptoms should worsen. It will then become a quality of life issue, and that’s a road I don’t want to have to go down.
I don’t think about what might be, I only think about how lucky I am to have found Red. I love her more than anything and do my best to ensure she is happy and as healthy as she can be.
Doggy dementia – conclusion
So, what did you think? My hope is you found the information helpful, and you might even have finally found the explanation that fits your dogs’ symptoms. I know things can get tough when our beloved furry family members aren’t well, but they rely on us to do our very best for them, so remember how important looking after yourself is in that overall plan.
If your dog does have dementia, what treatments have been recommended? Are they helping?
If you’re feeling alone or frustrated about anything to do with your senior dog, please get in touch through the contact form on my website. I’ll do my best to help.
This post was written by author Hindy Pearson. She is a long time shelter volunteer, dog trainer, and runs the Saffy Pearson Resource Centre. A mobile centre offering free advice for people who share their lives with cats and dogs. She has a website called Caring For a Senior Dog and thinks the pet stroller is the greatest invention.