These days dogs can grow very old indeed, and along with longevity come all the accompanying frailties, including canine cognitive dysfunction. In this article, we describe what is commonly known as canine Alzheimer’s and provide good advice for dealing with it and for reducing the anxiety that naturally comes along with it. Read on to learn more.
Normal Aging vs. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
As dogs grow older, they naturally get gray in the face and have more trouble moving around than they did before. You may find that your senior dog sleeps more than he used to. These are all normal symptoms of aging, but there are other symptoms that are often mistaken for simple aging that actually herald the development of canine cognitive dysfunction.
These symptoms are usually behavior related and may include:
All of these symptoms can be just part of the normal aging process, but it is also very likely that they represent cognitive decline. Other signs to look for other signs that are more indicative of cognitive decline include:
In advanced stages of cognitive dysfunction, symptoms may intensify. Watch for these symptoms.
When you go on walks or around the house, watch for circling behavior. This is a dead giveaway that your dog may be slipping into CCD. The reason for this circling behavior is unknown, but is very common with dog suffering from CCD.
Your dog may start out by moving around its space in broad (usually counterclockwise) circles. This behavior may be so subtle that you don't even notice it at first, but as time passes and the behavior intensifies you will see that your dog is circling in very tight counterclockwise manner. Your dog may also pull to the left when walking on leash in an attempt to move in a counterclockwise manner.
What Should You Do When You Notice These Changes In Your Dog?
Don't just write these changes off as normal aging. While that may be the case, it's very important that you get your veterinarian to weigh in on the subject. If your dog is experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline, there are things that you can do to help reduce them and relieve your dog’s suffering, confusion and anxiety.
For example, a medication known as selegiline has been approved for use in dogs suffering from cognitive decline. Furthermore, dogs may get relief from anxiety through the use of prescription anti-anxiety medications or through use of the pheromone called dog appeasing pheromone (DAP). This is a natural alternative to prescription medications, and it can help your dog to become more centered and oriented and to calm down.
Staying Active Is Always Smart
Just as with people, an active lifestyle is always preferable to a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise helps stave off anxiety and symptoms of CCD. Be sure that your dog gets plenty of physical exercise, and enrich his or her life with challenging toys.
Your dog may not be up for the intensity of exercise he or she was used to as a pup, but you should definitely go for a daily walk, play a little fetch and introduce toys that provide challenges.
Puzzle toys that involve requiring your dog to figure out how to extract treats enrich your dogs life and provide mental challenge. Try introducing new games as well. For example, you might hide treats for your dog to find.
Give Your Dog a Balanced Diet
Remember that as dogs age, their nutritional requirements change. Talk with your veterinarian to determine which types of food are best for your senior dog. When your dog is well fed, he or she will be at top form and will be far less likely to feel uncertain and anxious.
Keep Life Predictable and Secure
It's always a good idea to keep your dog on a regular schedule. Dogs are creatures of habit, and they like to know what to expect. Establish a regular schedule of feeding, socializing and exercising when your dog is a puppy and continue it as he ages. This will go far towards preventing having your dog feel disoriented, confused and anxious in his senior years.
You can help reduce your dog’s feelings of anxiety by providing an environment where he feels secure. Even though your dog is familiar with your entire house, he or she may begin to forget and have trouble navigating through many rooms and around challenging furniture. It's a good idea to “senior-safe” a specific area for your dog just as you puppy-proofed your house when your dog was small.
Create A Safe Space
The fact that dogs do face specific challenges as they age provides just one more reason for crate training and for creating a safe space for your dog very early in its life. If your dog already has a comfortable, safe and secure area where he or she can retreat, you're ahead of the game. As your dog ages, you'll want to give him a safe and easily navigated area to help prevent confusion and anxiety.
Here are a few things you can do:
Know When the Time Has Come
When you talk with your vet about your dogs symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction, have an honest discussion about when and why you may make the decision to have your dog euthanized. It doesn't do your dog any favors to wait until his condition has caused him to break down entirely.
When your dog arrives at a point where he is not able to eat and drink or is simply unable to enjoy life and/or is overwhelmed with anxiety, it is kinder and more responsible to let him go.
This is a tough decision to make, so it’s a good idea to know all about the options open to you (e.g. cremation, burial) and to prepare for the costs of euthanasia and interment. Knowing what to expect and having a plan in place reduces anxiety for you and your dog when the time comes.