Canine cognitive dysfunctions are common in both senior people and animals. But can dogs get dementia? We’re answering this question and more in today’s article and also giving you some tips on managing CCD in dogs.
But if you need a quick answer, here’s one: yes, dogs can get dementia. It is more common in geriatric pets, and since dogs now have a longer life expectancy, it tends to affect more animals.
Different Types of Dementia in Dogs
Dementia is a rather broad term as there are several different kinds of cognitive dysfunctions in our canine companions that can be categorized as this age-related neurobehavioral syndrome.
For example, some dogs can suffer from involutive depression, and as its name suggests, this condition can significantly impact a dog’s mental health to the point they begin suffering from lethargy, confusion, chronic sadness, and sleep disorders.
Other pets, on the other hand, might develop dysthymia, which is a condition characterized by the animal’s inability to interact with their environment properly as a consequence of not being aware of their size.
For this reason, dogs that have this type of dementia can often get stuck in places they never thought to explore before – fencing. Dysthymia evolves in episodes, where dogs might be restless, might growl or moan, or might even become aggressive.
The other two types of dementia are hyper-aggression and confusional syndrome. With the first, dogs that develop it are initially going to bite and only then give a warning, so they can become a danger to their pet parents. In the second, they can experience a gradual and significant decline in their cognitive ability — this type is the most similar to dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease in people.
Signs of Dementia in Dogs
The symptoms can vary largely from one dog to the next and that’s because there are different types of dementia that animals can develop. In most cases, you can notice the following signs:
Confusion despite being in the same surroundings they’ve been in for years
- Failing to respond to commands they’ve always responded to
- Elimination in unusual places around the house
- No desire to play, go outdoors, or learn new tasks
- Loss of appetite
- Absence of self-grooming
- Staring into space
- Severe changes in their sleep cycles or sleep-walking
- Interaction changes – withdrawal from people or becoming clingy to their owners
- Pacing back and forth
- Becoming an ‘obstacle’ — not getting out of the way of people or other animals
Before your veterinarian diagnoses your dog with dementia, they will first have to do their best at ruling out other causes of the symptoms, which could be chronic diseases or even infections.
Differential diagnosis has to be made between dementia and the following conditions:
- Cushing’s disease
- Loss of vision or hearing
- UTIs or kidney dysfunctions
- High blood pressure
The vet will also perform some of the typical tests that you can expect each time you bring your dog in for a check-up, such as a complete blood count, biochemistry, urinalysis, and even imaging tests if they suspect a specific condition.
Since canine dementia is usually a progressive disease that’s characterized by specific episodes of behavioral changes, the vet is also likely to ask you to shoot a video of your dog behaving in a certain way.
Most of the time, the likelihood of your dog being in an episode when you take them to the animal hospital can be quite slim — so that’s why you have to be the one supplying the information to the vet in as detailed a manner as possible.
Can Canine Dementia Be Treated?
Unfortunately, no. The vet can prescribe a number of medications and supplements that can slow down the progression of the disease and also make the episodes less frequent.
If your dog suffers from a specific type of dementia where they become fearful, your vet might give you some anti-anxiety medications that you can give your pet so that when the time does come around, they experience less severe symptoms.
Routine can be extremely important for a dog with dementia, so try to encourage your dog to benefit from social interaction as often as possible, take walks in safe places they’ve been to before, keep commands simple, and pet-proof your home as if you were to care for a child, not a senior dog.
Caring for a Dog with Dementia
Dealing with dog dementia can be challenging, especially if your dog has the hyper-aggression form. Try to be patient and keep your dog engaged with their surroundings and the people they’re most likely to come in contact with every day so that they have a lower risk of forgetting them.
Since exercise is essential for keeping your pooch’s brain healthy, you should not avoid taking your dog out for walks. As much as new scents might stimulate your dog’s brain, you will want to take your pet out in places they already know quite well.
Since play might be out of the question if your dog also has arthritis or some other debilitating disease, you can use other simple tricks. Give your dog treats like a stuffed Kong toy or place snacks around your home in easy-to-reach spots.
If your dog has elimination issues, you will have to invest in waterproof bedding or covers for couches or remove your carpets. Some dogs might have to be fitted with diapers if they become unaware of their environment and start eliminating at the unlikeliest of times.
Since your dog can easily become disoriented, make sure you always walk them on a leash. Fit them with a collar and ID tag in case they get lost and are found by someone.