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Dementia in Dogs

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Dementia is a term that we most often hear with regard to elderly humans so it may be surprising to hear that dogs may also get dementia as they age.

elderly chihuahua dog

This article will answer the most commonly asked questions about doggy dementia:

What is dog dementia?

Dog dementia is very similar to the dementia we observe in elderly humans. Often referred to as canine cognitive dysfunction by veterinarians and animal behaviorists, but in the slang term “dog dementia” by owners, senior pets who are afflicted with this condition experience a deterioration of their mental abilities and cognitive awareness.

What are the signs of dementia in dogs?
According to dogdementia.com, dementia in dogs presents the following symptoms referred to as an acronym in the veterinary world, DISHA, which stands for:

Disorientation

The symptom of disorientation presents itself in many ways, but most commonly, dogs being confused in places they are familiar with.

A dog with dementia may:

  • get lost in their home
  • struggle with navigating doors, stairs, or furniture
  • stare into space or at walls
  • behave in a confused manner in general
  • perform a repetitive behavior such as pacing 

Interaction Changes

One of the most common symptoms of dementia is that the way a dog interacts with family and friends changes.

Dogs with dementia often become withdrawn and do not seek attention from people as they did before. In severe cases, they may no longer recognize their family and friends.

Some doggy dementia patients who used to enjoy the company of other dogs may no longer want canine companionship, to the point of behaving aggressively towards other dogs they were previously friendly with.

Dogs with dementia also usually forget training commands, they may no longer respond to their name, and they may not understand their normal routine like they used to.

Sleep Alterations

Dementia may cause dogs to sleep more during the day and be awake more at night. Your doggy dementia patient may aimlessly pace around the house at night, barking at nothing and become startled easily by their family members.

House Soiling

Canine dementia patients often have accidents in the house. They may not ask to go outside at all, and they may behave as though they were never house trained.

It is important not to punish a dog with dementia for having an accident in the house because in their case it really truly is an accident.

Activity Alterations

Most doggy dementia patients become less active as a result of the changes they are experiencing, most care givers notice this symptom first. It is easy to associate a lower activity level with normal aging, which is why observing your dog is so important to pick up on other symptoms of dementia.

Dogs with dementia often lose their appetite and desire to play as well. Their normal activities usually change; they may not bark when they normally did in the past, they may not bark at all, they may bark more often without a clear cause, or they may exhibit repetitive behaviors.

senior dog laying down

Can dementia in dogs come on suddenly?

Dementia or canine cognitive dysfunction generally comes on gradually, however, the initial symptoms may be minor enough that they are easy to miss if you are not observing your dog. As a result, many dog owners believe the dementia came on suddenly, when in reality symptoms were displayed for a time before the diagnosis.

To be aware of your dog’s condition, observation is key. Knowing your dog well and noticing behavioral changes is how you would notice the symptoms of dementia. When a dog reaches the middle point of their breed’s life span is generally when you should try to be more aware of age-related changes.

What are the stages of dementia in dogs?
According to dogdementia.com, dementia presents in three stages:

1. Mild
Owners may notice their dogs interact with them differently, their sleep pattern changes, they may become confused and their activity level decreases.

2.Moderate
Moderate canine dementia patients forget their house training, become more active at night, and often begin requiring specialized care for their symptoms.

3. Severe
Severe doggy dementia patients exhibit most or all of the DISHA symptoms to the extreme, which makes daily life challenging for both the dog and their family.

What causes dementia in dogs?

Veterinarians have been able to determine what substance present in a dog’s brain which causes dementia, but the cause of that substance’s presence is unknown.

As dogs age, their brains change and deteriorate. Veterinary research has uncovered that the communication between neurons in senior dogs’ brains is negatively impacted by an amino acid called “Beta-amyloid“, which is “plaque” in the brain, similar to plaque on teeth.

According to dogdementia.com, dog dementia or canine cognitive dysfunction and the presence of beta-amyloid amino acids does not have a clear cause. The only common thread among all canine dementia patients is an advanced age.

senior chihuahua in bag

What is the treatment for dementia in dogs?

According to dogdementia.com, dementia occurs in senior dogs as they age, and there is no cure for it. 

There is a drug that will help lessen some of the effects of dementia called Selegiline. If your vet diagnoses dementia, ask about this drug.

Are there any natural treatments for dementia in dogs?

There are no natural treatments that cure dementia, however, there are several supplements that may help including SAMe,  Denamarin, Solliquin, silybin, vitamin E and Cholodin. Check with your vet for proper dosage and if these supplements are recommended.

Some pet owners have reported some success with alternative therapies such as acupuncture too.

How long can a dog live with dementia?

The biggest concern with a diagnosis of dementia is the quality of a dog’s life declining rather than the life span shortening.

Many dogs with dementia live a normal life span. Some dogs with dementia may even live longer than dogs without dementia, as they often receive extra veterinary care.

Is dementia painful for dogs?

A dog afflicted with dementia is likely not in physical pain. However, the condition brings mental and emotional challenges that greatly impact the quality of life dogs experience.

Dementia brings confusion and disorientation, which makes daily life a challenge.

When is it time to let my dog go?

This decision is the most difficult one you will make as a dog owner. Veterinarians often use the words quality of life when discussing this decision with dog owners.

To prepare to have this conversation with your veterinarian, refer to this quality of life scale.

The best way to determine if euthanasia would be the right decision for your dog is to consider the following quality of life factors:

  • Does your dog seem happy? Or does she behave in a depressed manner?
  • Do your dog’s usual favorite activities still appeal to her? Or does she no longer find joy in them?
  • Is your dog still herself personality wise? Or has her personality changed and she seems withdrawn, “spacey” and disoriented?
  • Does your dog still want to eat and drink? Or is she refusing to eat or drink?
  • Is your dog able to walk? Or is even moving around the house difficult and painful?
  • Is your dog able to breathe normally? Or does she struggle and labor to breathe?
  • Does your dog still recognize you and want to spend time with you? Or does she mostly keep to herself and avoid interacting with you?
  • Does your dog notice if you or any of her other favorite people leave the room? Or does she not react?

No one knows your dog better than you do. If you believe your dog is in pain and no longer happy, the right thing to do is to minimize her suffering with humane euthanasia administered by a licensed veterinarian.

Humane euthanasia administered by a veterinarian first relaxes your dog and makes your dog numb to pain, then shuts down their brain and organs. This is truly the kindest act of love if your dog is suffering.

Never try to euthanize a dog at home or allow an unlicensed veterinarian or non-veterinarian to euthanize your dog for you. Being shot, strangled, poisoned, or any other method they may recommend is not humane.

While no one wants to let their dog go and no one ever really wants to, in conditions can be managed over a long period of time, however, it is important to consider if your dog will suffer if a condition is managed long term. Are you keeping your dog alive for you because you are not ready to let go? Or because your dog is not suffering and still their regular happy self?

Your veterinarian is able to guide you if you are unsure what the best decision for your dog is.

Should I be with my dog during euthanasia?

Should you choose to euthanize your dog, some owners choose to stay in the room and others choose to say goodbye and leave while the veterinary team completes the euthanasia process.

Even though your dog dying is one of the most difficult things in life, know that you have one final chance to show your dog the unconditional love that your dog showed you his whole life.

The kindest thing you can do is be in the room where your dog can see you as they are euthanized. One of my readers worked in a veterinary office as an assistant, and she told me that dogs may become anxious and search for their owners if they leave the room.

That is no way for your beloved dog to spend his final moments. You have been your dog’s comfort throughout life, and by being present, you are offering your dog one last comfort.

If you are scared of witnessing your dog suffer, know that the description “put to sleep” is incredibly accurate. Your dog simply goes to sleep; it is not a traumatic event for you to witness.

You can find peace in knowing that you ended your dog’s physical suffering and that you provided comfort to him in his final moments.

Conclusion

Dog dementia or canine cognitive dysfunction is very similar to dementia in humans. Canine dementia patients are most often disoriented and withdrawn. While this condition does not have a cure, it generally does not shorten a dog’s life span.

The greatest impact of this condition is a decline in a dog’s quality of life and the need for specialized care to be performed by their family members to keep them comfortable.

If you think your dog may have dementia, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist for assistance.

Cathy

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Sarah Ann Higgins

Sunday 1st of November 2020

After putting my beloved lab of 15 years down in 2013, I said no more pets! Too painful! Yet here I am with 2 Chiweenie rescues who are the LOVE of my life. Tessa is 5 and Tank is probably closer to 10. And they will have the best life possible until they are ready for the Rainbow Bridge. Dogs bring too much joy, love and companionship to me- so I’m sure there will be more to follow Tank and Tessa! Thank you Cathy for another great article.

Cathy

Monday 2nd of November 2020

You're welcome Sarah Ann!

Carol Quandt

Sunday 1st of November 2020

Nicely written. I am experiencing this condition with two of my pack right now. I hope people realise how important it is to stay with your pup if you decide to let them go. They would never desert us. It is emotionally taxing, no doubt,but so important to be there.

Cathy

Monday 2nd of November 2020

So true Carol!

Jody E. Tubert

Saturday 31st of October 2020

Cathy posted Annie's passing at the beginning of this month. Her dementia started about a year ago with a lot of whining and I did not know why. That is when her eye sight started to fail and she was bumping into things in the house and seemed to not know her way around. She no longer went out the doggie door although she did try. The next obvious sign was her going around in circles and getting many UTIs. She never peed on those pads although they were down on the floor for her. I could no longer keep her "free", because she'd get tangled in lamp cords, etc., so she spent all her time on top of my bed in her little bed. I'd take her outside frequently and if I wasn't in time, she'd pee in the little bed (pads under the blanket). She was 18 when she passed September 5. My mantra was "quality of life" and I knew when the Vet did her blood work that day and it showed her kidneys had failed, she wasn't eating or taking her meds, it was time to let her go. I am still grieving her, but each day does get a little easier. I just received the t-shirt I ordered from the site Cathy advertises: "I'm not sure who rescued who." God Bless........

Cathy

Saturday 31st of October 2020

Your story is so touching Jody. You are a good mom and did all the right things for your fur baby. Thanks for ordering the shirt!

Dixie

Friday 30th of October 2020

Cathy, This is a very sad situation and I have been in this situation several times. Mostly it has been because of my dog or cat is old aged and not enjoying life any more. First of all it is important to control yourself, no crying, no trying to hold your pet back. You must get control of what you are doing and on the way to the vet please don't hold and cry loudly. I feel better if the pet is in a carrier. It is stable for the pet but also makes it easier to deal with. I choose to stay in the room with the vet. They will give you time to be with your fur baby, but not long, don't forget why you are there. I always take a small bit of their favorite food, like peanut butter and a spoon. I hold my babies paw or scratch his neck and talk to him/her and put the bit of peanut butter up to their mouth and I make sure he/she would say my words were the last they heard, kind loving words. Afterward, I don't stay because I have always elected to have the cremation, so I give my baby one last kiss on the top of the head and I take everything home, the blanket in the carrier, peanut butter. I have never seen anything go wrong with the euthanasia. The first injection is to cause sleepiness, before the last injection. There is no pain, no difficult situation. I had one little Chi and I had held her way too long and when we finally took her in, the vet said she was ready to go and we could see her relax, no more stumbling around the house. She was 18 years and her name was Lucy. I recommend euthanasia at a vet's hospital, peaceful and loving goodbye. I have never had a vet come to my house for it, but my son in law did and it was not nearly as easy as at the right atmosphere, helps fur baby and fur mom. I also recommend cremation. Then you have the urn and the ashes and the love of your pet again for a minute. I did make a cemetery in a flowerbed in the back and buried my cat and in a couple of weeks, I buried my other cat. I wanted to bring them home and bury them side by side and we have a beautiful bed of colored flowers and every time I see it, I know they are together again after almost 18 years of cuddling in life.

Irene Fitch

Friday 30th of October 2020

Thank you for writing this. My chi of 16 has doggie dimentia. It is a terrible thing as a pet parent to see the changes your beloved pet is going through. They pace, many times in circles, they have no clue where they are, they have numerous accidents in the house, they go to their food and just stand over their bowl staring at it and many times you have to coax them to eat, they get stuck and lost in corners, under tables , it’s heart breaking. Often since they are already up in age like mine their world has already been challenged due to deafness and vision issues. I have had “ the talk” with my vet. I can’t take that final step yet and I make every effort to make each day the best it can be, accommodating her changes. When I pick her up I cuddle her little head under my chin, rub it gently so she can feel my safety and presence , kiss her little forehead and tell her how much I love her trying to communicate my love to her even though I know she can no longer here my voice. 16 years she has been my little love, I know the time is near but yet with tears in my eyes I say “ not yet sweet baby, not yet”. I pray for all the pet parents living thru this terrible debilitating disease ! Thank you for bringing attention to this tough disease .❤️

Cathy

Monday 2nd of November 2020

Your comment brought tears to my eyes Irene. I have been in this situation too more than once. It's so hard and I wish there was a way we could make it better for them.