As dogs get older, their fur may gray. They become less mobile, and their senses are less acute. These are changes that naturally occur with age, in dogs as well as humans. However, if you’ve noticed that your senior dog seems to be confused, is acting distant, or has a dramatically altered personality, another issue may be afoot. Whether referred to as dementia or canine cognitive dysfunction, physical and chemical changes in the brain are the cause. The result is a deterioration of your beloved pet’s ability to think, learn and remember.
According to PetMD, researchers found clinical signs of canine cognitive dysfunction in 50 percent of dogs over the age of 11. By the age of 15, 68 percent of dogs studied present at least one symptom of the dysfunction. Common symptoms include:
- Becoming lost in familiar places (the home or backyard)
- Trouble finding doors or using stairways
- Lack of response to name or commands
- Unwillingness to play or go for walks
- Withdrawn behavior
- Aggression or irritability
- Easily startled
- Excessive barking or whining
- Trembling and shaking while standing or lying down
- Pacing or wandering aimlessly
- Sleeping during the day rather than at night
Veterinarians once believed that dementia was an unavoidable part of the aging process –but there is new hope. According to an article in the New York Times, veterinary medicine has seen many advances in the last two or three years –a multitude which benefit older pets. Veterinarians are diagnosing and treating cancers with a greater rate of success. Urinary-tract disorders and kidney diseases are also more treatable, as are joint failures and canine dementia –all due to better imaging technology, new drugs, advanced surgical techniques and a wider acceptance of holistic approaches.
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from dementia, tell your veterinarian. Many of the symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction are shared with other serious ailments, and you vet will need to rule them out. If dementia is the final diagnosis, you can then explore treatment options. While there is no cure, it is possible to manage the dysfunction. Some dogs respond very well to treatment with prescription drugs containing L-deprenyl or selegiline, which increase the level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that is essential to nerve impulse transmission for normal brain function.
Other dogs respond well to an increase in moderate physical activity and mental stimulation as well as diets rich in antioxidants. Your veterinarian may recommend specific types or brands of food as well as activities and interactive toys to help you increase your pet’s brain activity, which is helpful in preventing further advancement of the dysfunction. Additionally, there are considerations you can make to help your dog maintain familiarity with your home environment. These include avoiding rearrangement of furniture, elimination of clutter to create wider pathways, building ramps for stairways, and sticking to a feeding routine and walking schedule.
Whether you and your veterinarian choose to address your dog’s dementia with medication, lifestyle modifications, or both, patience and understanding are essential. Give your pet plenty of reassurance that you love him just as he is.
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