If you think your elderly dog may be going senile and losing his mind, you may be right.
Studies have shown that over one third of 11 year old dogs suffer from dementia, or canine cognitive dysfunction. By the time they reach 16 years, they are all showing some signs of this condition, writes Audrey Harvey BVSc(Hons).
Dogs with dementia typically have memory loss, confusion and disorientation. They stare into space and wander aimlessly around your house. They forget their toilet training, and act like they’ve never had any obedience training at all. Night times can be difficult; they are often wakeful and pace the floor, which keeps you awake too. These symptoms are due to a lack of dopamine in the brain.
The characteristic behaviours associated with dementia in dogs appear slowly and progress gradually, so it’s easy to miss the early stages of this disease in your four legged family member.
What can be done to make life easier for your old friend?
Drugs such as L-deprenyl can improve your dog’s condition because it makes what dopamine that is left in your dog’s brain last longer. It can take a couple of months to see any response, but over 75% of dogs showed improvement on this treatment. The earlier your dog starts taking this medication, the better his response is likely to be.
Antioxidants and omega fatty acids can improve your dog’s mental abilities, and positive results can be seen within 8 weeks of changing his diet. There are commercial kibbles available from your veterinarian that are specifically designed to treat dementia in dogs.
Training and Environment
Even though your dog is getting older, he can still learn new tricks. It’s a good idea to use hand signals as well as verbal commands so that if one of his senses fails, he can still understand what you want him to do. Use food rewards and take into account his reduced mobility when you are training him. This will help to slow the onset of dementia.
Environmental enrichment includes such things as playdates with other dogs, and daily play time with interactive toys. These too have been shown to improve an elderly dog’s mind.
With a little bit of effort on your part, your older dog will be better able to cope with the changes in his mental abilities. Old age isn’t an illness and dementia shouldn’t stop you enjoying the company of your canine senior citizen.
Photo by normanack