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Insight Into Dog Dementia

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A majority of senior dogs will be affected by dementia, with the probability of a diagnosis increasing as they age. Although dementia is a well-known condition, it can still be helpful to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and preventative measures.

What Causes Dementia in Dogs?

Dementia in dogs, also called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), is often compared to Alzheimer’s in people—there are many shared symptoms. Canine dementia typically appears in senior dogs, though dogs with brain trauma are also predisposed to developing this condition. As dogs age, their brain and chemical functions change, including the breakdown of neurons and the accumulation of proteins. Each of these items can disrupt the normal transmission of information in a dog’s brain, which can lead to dementia.

Beyond head trauma (i.e., diseases or brain tumors) and the natural aging process, there is no other known complete root cause to dementia.

Dog Dementia Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of dementia in dogs will often begin appearing gradually, then progress as your dog continues to age—usually, symptoms worsen over time. Since many of these common dementia symptoms are similar to behaviors a dog would naturally experience by aging, dementia can easily go undiagnosed for quite some time.

Common dementia symptoms include:

  • Accidents in the house
  • Confusion with commands, tricks, or name
  • Disorientation in familiar settings
  • Unusual barking
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lack of interest in playing and greeting people
  • Anxiety
  • Unusual sleeping patterns
  • Shorter temper and uncommon signs of aggression
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Staring at walls

Pet parents to older dogs may be curious if there’s a link between dog dementia and seizures. Dementia is not known to cause seizures in older dogs, but dogs with epilepsy can be more prone to cognitive issues. Typically, with senior canines, seizures are often brought on by several other problems, including kidney failure, liver disease, or a brain tumor.

With dog dementia, licking may also become a new behavior or habit for your pup. There are many reasons why your dog feels the need to lick their lips or paws more than usual. This could mean that they feel more uneasy than normal or that they are experiencing some separation anxiety.

A few other reasons behind excessive licking could include an allergy or your dog feeling nauseous. These issues are not necessarily related to dementia, so it is best if you take your dog in to see their veterinarian if you catch this habit.

If you notice that your dog is beginning to show even just a few of these symptoms, it’s crucial that you take them in for a check-up with their veterinarian. Though it’s recommended that all dogs have one check-up per year, you may find that switching to a visit every six months is a better fit for your senior pal. These regular appointments will allow your veterinarian to keep a closer eye on your pup’s condition. Plus, these will allow a better chance for an early diagnosis.

Since dementia shares many similar symptoms with other dog health issues, it is often necessary for veterinarians to run through multiple steps and tests in order to officially diagnose your dog and rule out other possible illnesses.

Dog Dementia Stages

After being told that your dog has dementia, one of the first questions that can come to mind is, “How fast does dementia progress in dogs?”

Initially, dementia is a slowly progressing condition. You may notice only a few minor symptoms, which can easily be mistaken for signs of aging. These can include your dog not being as social or wanting to sleep more during the day.

As your dog grows older, you will begin to see more noticeable symptoms such as accidents in the house, even though they are house trained. Over time, more symptoms will appear, usually getting worse.

There are no specific dog breeds prone to dementia—any dog could develop it. However, smaller dog breeds can have a higher risk of developing dementia, but this can partially be attributed to the fact that they, on average, live longer than larger breed dogs. Since small breeds live longer and the risk of dementia increases with age, your little pup could begin showing signs of this condition by the age of 12.

Dementia in larger dog breeds, who do not typically live as long as smaller breeds, can begin appearing at a younger age, such as 10.

Other Names for Dog Dementia

While researching this condition, or perhaps while talking to your veterinarian, you may hear multiple terms used, which can naturally cause some confusion. Other names for dog dementia include:

  • Canine Alzheimer’s
  • Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)
  • Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)
  • Sundowners syndrome or sundowners dementia
  • Senile dementia

Though this condition goes by many names, the symptoms are still the same.

senior black dog sitting in the snow

Dogs With Dementia: Quality of Life

Learning to be a dog parent to a pup with dementia isn’t always the easiest job. However, after taking some time to understand your pup’s new habits, you can help provide them with a comfortable lifestyle for years to come.

Though some things may need to change in your schedule to accommodate your aging dog better, their quality of life does not need to suffer.

  • Take them outside more often. Between older age and the onset of dementia, your dog may start having more accidents in the house. Try taking them outside for potty breaks more often to help limit this problem. Plus, allowing your dog to have more time in the sunshine during the day could help regulate their sleep schedule.
  • Don’t rearrange furniture or move their food bowls. One symptom of dementia is confusion or disorientation. You may notice your dog getting lost in your house or have to think more about where to go. Leaving their stuff and the furniture where your pup is most familiar with it can help eliminate any additional disorientation and possible stress.
  • Pet-proof your home. This is similar to how you prepped your home whenever you first introduced your puppy to the new environment. Possibly roll up rugs that you don’t want there to be an accident on, put away loose items lying around such as shoes or bags, and set up baby gates if you don’t want your dog unsupervised in certain areas of your home.
  • Establish a schedule. You may already have a tight schedule you and your pup stick to, but if you don’t, it may be beneficial to start one as your dog ages. A routine can provide comfort and stability to your pup. This can include waking up and going to bed, going on walks, and providing your dog their meals around the same time every day.
  • Keep commands and tricks short and easy. As your dog’s dementia progresses, you may notice that it will become more difficult for them to follow complex tricks and commands. Be easy on them and keep instructions short and sweet. You may also need to help them along and be more patient as it may take them a little extra time to do what they are asked.

Learning to live with a dog who has dementia may require some adjustment in your lifestyle, and there could be a temporary learning curve. However, one of the most beneficial things you can do for your best pal is to keep stressors to a minimum.

A side effect of dementia in canines is that they may be prone to stress, anxiety, and a shorter temper. Try to stay a step ahead by limiting things that may cause your dog stress. This may also mean limiting how much time you leave your dog alone.

The other vital part of caring for a dog with dementia is to embrace their new behaviors. You may notice your dog will start exhibiting odd behaviors like licking their paws more often, staring at walls or nothing at all, or they may even go into barking fits for virtually no reason.

Though some of these behaviors may be odd, it’s best not to scold your pup and instead encourage them to stop barking or guide them to where you think they may want to go.

Of course, the most important part of being a dog parent is to shower your best pal with love.

Treatment and Preventative Measures

Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia in dogs at this point. There are, however, multiple treatment options that pet parents can consider, such as medications, supplements, surgery, diet, and lifestyle changes. Even though these are not an end-all-be-all, they can help slow the progression of dementia for some dogs.

In order to stay ahead with your dog’s health, there are additionally some preventive measures you can take before your dog is ever given a dementia diagnosis.

  • Switch food. Most dog food brands offer tailored options just for senior dogs. Ask your veterinarian about the ideal time to switch your pal over to some new food.
  • Provide supplements. Similar to those that people take, there are many supplements dogs can take that can provide them with additional nutrients they may need. If you believe that your dog will benefit from some added supplements, talk with your veterinarian about suggestions.
  • Continue socialization. Socialization is often heavily stressed for young dogs, but it is equally essential for older dogs. Continue to take your dog to the park, their favorite dog-friendly restaurant, and your friends’ houses. If your pup has more mobility issues in old age, then continue to invite friends and family over to your home, encouraging them to bring their dogs along.
  • Don't eliminate walks. As your dog becomes slower-moving over the years, you may be inclined to stop taking them on walks, but that may cause more issues. Walks can help provide your pal with necessary physical exercise, mental stimulation, time in the sun, and socialization opportunities. Instead of eliminating walks, try going on shorter or slower walks, choosing a more leisurely route with no hills, or just not going in the heat of the day. Some dog parents have even taken their pups for a stroll in a wagon.

Not every senior dog will be diagnosed with dementia, but this condition is relatively common in the canine world. Learning to recognize the symptoms of this condition and treatment options, can be beneficial for you and your dog.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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