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PetPourri: Normal Dog Aging or Doggy Dementia? By Ashlee Verba

Normal Aging or Doggy Dementia? 

By Ashlee Verba 

As dogs age, owners will inevitably see some changes; they may walk a
bit slower or sleep a bit longer, but they’ll still exhibit signs of
excitement, recognition and happiness. 
But certain behaviors–like zoning out, pacing, or losing their house
training–could be more than just aging. It could be Canine Cognitive Disorder
(CCD), also known as doggy dementia. Resulting from physical brain changes in
aging pets, CCD is a neurological condition
with behavioral symptoms, and it’s fairly common in dogs over age 10. Just like
with humans, there isn’t a cure to ‘dogzheimer’s’ but recognizing it and making
a few small accommodations can make living with it less frustrating for your
pet. Here’s what we know.

Dementia with DISHA

The tricky part is that some symptoms of CCD
overlap with signs of typical aging like arthritis, diabetes or declining
vision and hearing, so veterinarians recommend the acronym DISHA to help
characterize the most distinct changes associated with dementia: Disorientation, (altered) Interactions with family members or other pets, Sleep cycle changes, House soiling, and Activity level changes.

One of the most commonly-noticed
symptoms of CCD is getting disoriented or lost in their normal routine or
environment. Things like staring at walls, confusion on walks, going to the
wrong door to be let out, or spatial awareness issues like getting stuck behind
a piece of furniture, are all signs of disorientation. You may also notice your
senior pet in a different part of the house at bedtime rather than in their dog
bed–another big indicator of confusion seeing as dogs have a natural sense of
time due to their routine.

Their interactions are another
huge insight into your pet’s brain function. If your once sociable, happy pet
is now growling at family members or other animals, it might be CCD. While some
older pets will become cranky if they’re in pain from another ailment, like
arthritis, dogs with dementia will also tend to withdraw from their loved ones
and favorite activities. Things like ignoring the doorbell, treats or prompts
to play may be indicators to call your vet and figure out if what’s ailing your
aging pup is physical or mental.

Changes to their sleep-wake cycle
is one of the more specific symptoms to Canine Cognitive Disorder and shouldn’t
be shrugged off as just getting old.  Dogs that
used to sleep all night may now pace for hours on end and many dogs reverse
their normal schedules, making their daytime activities their nighttime
routine. If your pet is exhibiting this behavior change, consider talking to
your vet about anti-anxiety medication that may be able to prompt sleep at the
right times.

Urinating or defecating in the
house, especially with a house-trained pet, is another sign that something may
be going on upstairs. In some cases, like with diabetes, bladder infections or
kidney problems, it is a bowel issue and your pet physically can’t hold it. In
cases of doggy dementia though, your pet might be staring out the back door and
start to relieve himself; if the aforementioned issues have been ruled out,
then it’s safe to deduce that they no longer recognize and understand that they
should be going outside.

All aging dogs will experience
decreased energy and activity; they may be slow to greet you at the door, but
they’re still responding to your coming home. Dogs with cognitive dysfunction,
however, tend to be unresponsive to most stimuli, even things as rousing as the
doorbell ringing. They may also struggle finding their bowls, have trouble
eating or drop their food and not bother or be able to find it. If you feel
confident they aren’t having issues with their vision, it could be dogzheimer’s.
Additionally, repetitive activities like head bobbing, leg shaking, constant
nuisance barking, or pacing in circles are also strong indicators of cognitive
issues and not signs of simply getting old.

Other symptoms not included in
the DISHA acronym include changes in appetite, increased anxiety, and memory or
learning problems like not responding to their names, forgetting training cues
or not responding to new training.

What Owners Can Do

Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure
for doggy dementia but there are ways for owners to slow it down and manage it
for their dog’s comfort, mainly by changing their diet and enriching their
environment at home. Certain foods are formulated with antioxidants and omega-3
fatty acids to strengthen cellular health and slow down cognitive dysfunction;
additionally, using a puzzle feeder at mealtimes is a great way to promote
mental stimulation and keep their minds active. Just like with humans, physical
activity as well as social interaction can help slow down the aging process as
well, making walks and playdates even more important if your pet can manage

Establishing and sticking to a
routine is a great way to limit their confusion, which can be a frustrating
experience for old dogs. Adhering to a set schedule when it comes to feeding,
walking, and bedtime can be very orienting for aging pets. If possible, try to
turn lights on and off around the same time at the start and end of each day to
help regulate their sleep-wake cycle.

Another helpful way to aid in
their canine confusion is to make accommodations at home. The same way you once
puppy-proofed the house, similar precautions should be taken for your aging
dog. Eliminate any gaps behind or underneath furniture to prevent them from
getting stuck, remove obstacles they may trip over or get caught in like cords
or cable wires, and put their food and water bowls in a corner so they can’t
walk through and spill them. It may be helpful to put pee pads in various
places around the house so that if your pet gives you a sign they have to go
you can at least get them somewhere acceptable to lessen your frustration with

And of course, regular check-ups
with the vet are a must. There are certain drugs and dietary supplements that
may further aid in slowing down cognitive dysfunction, but they should be
tailored to your dog’s existing diet and medications.

The thing about CCD is that, even
with all the information in the world, you cannot diagnose it yourself. Tests,
scans and/or x-rays should be professionally administered to rule out health
problems like arthritis, brain tumors, diabetes, and liver or kidney disease.
Caring for an aging pet can be challenging, but knowing the signs of doggy
dementia can only help when it comes to loving and caring for your ol’ best

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