As a pet parent, you must accept that dogs do age, and several studies have shown that they age faster than humans. The American Veterinary Medical Association says, "... small dogs are generally considered 'senior' at seven years old, but we all know they've got plenty of life left in them at that age. Large-breed dogs tend to have shorter lifespans compared to smaller breeds and are often considered senior when they are 5 to 6 years of age..." Sadly, as their health declines when they go through the aging process, they are prone to getting sick, including dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Yup, even dogs can get dementia too. "The advances in veterinary medicine and improved owner care that have helped dogs live longer have also increased the incidence of CCD," The Bark reports. CCD stands for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction syndrome. PetMD defines it as "a condition related to the aging of a dog's brain, which ultimately leads to changes in awareness, deficits in learning and memory, and decreased responsiveness to stimuli."
Signs your dog has dementia
Eileen Anderson, the author of Remember Me?, an award-winning guidebook for owners of dogs with CCD and owner of the website, dogdementia.com, created a checklist of CCD symptoms, as follows:
- Pacing back and forth (or turning in circles)
- Getting lost in known places
- Staring into space or walls
- Suffering from disturbed sleep
- Wandering or crying at night
- Appearing lost or confused
- Waiting at the "hinge" side of the door to go out
- Failing to remember routines
- Forgetting cues and trained behaviors your dog once knew
- Failing to respond to their name
- Sleeping more during the day
- Forgetting house training
- Having difficulty learning anything new
- Acting frightened of people your dog once knew
- Getting trapped under or behind furniture
- Read the complete list here.
What is like to have a dog with dementia?
It is natural for dogs or pups to do funny things like chasing their tail, taking their head out of the car window, or running around and getting dirty after bathing. Okay, the last one is not that funny, but you have to admit that it is still silly nonetheless.
However, this is not the case with senior dogs with dementia. It might be amusing at first to catch your pup attempting to leave at the side of the door and not through the door. Or finding them "stuck" under a chair. But if this behavior goes on, it is not a laughing matter anymore. Then you have to deal with the heartbreaking truth that your loyal furry companion is suffering doggie Alzheimer's.
In an article from ABC News, several dog owners shared their experience with dealing with this situation.
Cynthia Forshaw, a retired volunteer at a Sydney-based animal shelter Doggie Rescue, recalled the shattering changes in her dog named Molly. "There was one occasion where she forced herself through the front gate. [She put her head] through the front gate and didn't know how to go back, so she forced her whole body through the front gate. I heard this screaming and was running around looking for her. She'd gone into next door and got her head stuck in some wire fencing in their front garden," she said.
Another dog owner called Ms. Williams painfully reiterated how they let go of their dog, Murphy. "And that's when it was … 'Okay, we're keeping him alive for us.' You could tell he'd lost the sparkle in his eye. He went easy. He kissed my boyfriend on the nose [and] he just went. It wasn't like he fought it. He didn't twitch; he didn't cry; he didn't do anything. And the vet said that when dogs go that fast, it means their bodies are done fighting."
Is there a treatment for CCD?
"Treatment involves the management of behavior and environment, enhanced diet, and medication," Leticia Fanucchi, DVM, Ph.D., a veterinary behaviorist, told The Bark.
When your dog is experiencing the symptoms above or noticed something unusual in their behavior, it would be better to visit a vet right away. You may also do the following to help alleviate their difficult situation:
- Dogs with dementia often get disoriented even in familiar surroundings, for example, your house. Try to stick with a routine to wake up, feed, go outside and go to bed at the same schedule every day. It may help lessen their confusion.
- Keep your dog's brain active by giving them puzzle toys. But if they become agitated while playing with it, better try other brain workout tools.
- Don't change the position of furniture, feeding bowls, and dog beds to help prevent your dog from being disoriented.
- Physical activity is still necessary to stimulate your dog's brain as they can capture new smells and sights. So don't cancel any walks with them in the future.
- Try giving them Anipryl (also known as Selegiline), a medication that can help treat CCD and improve their cognitive function.
- Explore options like natural supplements such as melatonin, coconut oil, Omega 3s, or canabidio (CBD) oil.
Take note that you must consult your dog's vet before administering any medicines or supplements to ensure its efficacy and safety.
While you navigate caring for your pet with dementia, it is essential to have loads of patience because it will be a difficult time for you and your dog. Yes, it is frustrating to deal with, but remember that your fur baby is suffering and hurting the most as they go through unexpected changes.
When should you say goodbye?
We will make this part short because, honestly, there is no rule of thumb about when you should permanently say goodbye to your dog with dementia. Of course, it is natural to hesitate at first. However, you should carefully assess your dog's current quality of life and if they are still functioning correctly. Will you let your dog suffer longer? Are they still happy? Sad to say, it is really up to you to figure out what is the right choice for your best buddy.
How to cope with losing a dog?
Typically, dogs with dementia can live up to 16 doggie years. So imagine how painful it is when you lose your furry best friend that was with you for less than 16 years.
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