Marion says: My spaniel is 15 years old and he has gone from a lively and fun much-loved pet to what appears to be a depressed animal. He has been diagnosed with dementia and paces up and down the house as if he is searching for something. He barks for no reason, sleeps a lot and sometimes appears not even to recognize me. It’s heartbreaking to think that we will have to give up on him soon and lay him to rest as he has been one very special member of the family.
It’s a very difficult time when one notices odd behaviours in your senior dog that you can’t explain.
Dogs may appear to be unable to figure out what to do next. Some dogs may stand in a corner, or at a door waiting for it to open. They appear to pace and anxiously wander round the house. Dogs may be confused when their name is called, and don’t understand commands.
Change in interaction and change of personality
They may no longer greet family members when they arrive at the house. They could walk away, while being petted. They may no longer actively seek out human companionship.
Changes in sleeping habits and loss of appetite
They may sleep more than normal during the day and stay awake and be confused at night-time. They may lose interest in food and forget to eat.
Housetraining goes out the window
They may purposely seek out places to void in the house, or may appear to be unaware that they are “leaking”.
Barking without reason
As they are generally confused, they could bark for no reason, particularly at night. They may not recognize family members.
Other signs include:
- social inhibition;
- food snatching;
- increased anxiety – sometimes separation anxiety is part of it;
- repetition of behaviour (e.g. attention-seeking behaviour);
- sensory impairment (blindness, deafness);
- destructive behavior.
What to do if you notice the above behaviours:
- Keep a note of unusual behavior;
- Make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out medical causes.
YEI spoke to Dr Quixi Sonntag in the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria about senior dementia in dogs. “The condition in dogs is referred to as canine cognitive dysfunction and is in fact equivalent to Alzheimer’s in humans (dogs are used as models in studies on Alzheimers). The Americans still use the term “cognitive dysfunction” for the Alzheimer’s-like disease in dogs, but I see the British talk about “cognitive dementia“. So I think we can safely say that the terms are interchangeable in veterinary medicine. There has been some amazing research on the topic e.g. interesting tests of cognitive function in dogs. The disease is diagnosed on the basis of certain signs (symptoms), not a specific test. ”
Dr Sonntag advised that the following treatment could be considered:
- Selegiline is only one of the drugs (most common) – mainly used for anti-oxidant effects, neurotransmitter (brain chemical) balance, and improved circulation of the brain;
- Make the environment more accessible to the pet e.g. ramps or steps to help them get onto furniture / bed etc;
- provide additional water bowls close to resting areas;
- provide additional resting sites;
- install baby gates to limit access to certain areas where they may not be safe, or you don’t want them to inadvertently mess;
- install a night light next to the dog’s bed and let him sleep with an item of the owner’s clothing in the bed (worn but not washed – the owner’s scent will help make him feel more comfortable);
- make sure the bed(s) are well-padded;
- try and keep things the same i.e. don’t move furniture around, especially where vision is impaired;
- more social interaction on owner’s initiation as opposed to on dog’s demand;
- provide stimulation – physical exercise if possible, car rides, toys;
- activity feeding e.g. scatter pellets for dog to find, special food-dispensing toys / games;
- short walks and games.
Dr Sonntag advised that there are special dog diets that contain the necessary anti-oxidants to protect the brain from the effects of ageing and they can play an important role in the treatment of these cases.