Dementia in dogs

Health and Wellbeing

Our dogs are members of the family and make a huge difference in our lives, but it’s a sad fact that they age a lot quicker than us. One day you have a tiny puppy, and then in what seems like a blink of an eye, you have a senior pooch.

Senior dog

In their older years, dogs can suffer from degenerative brain conditions, commonly labelled as canine cognitive disorder (CCD), which is a general term for many cognitive issues in dogs.

Many just refer to it as ‘doggy dementia’ - although it’s not identical to how humans experience memory decline, it definitely has many similarities.

CAN DOGS ACTUALLY GET DEMENTIA?

Dementia in dogs is not necessarily a defined condition, it is more of an assortment of symptoms that affect your pup in many aspects, typically in their behaviour and overall mood.

Causing memory issues, unease and confusion, canine cognitive disorder (CCD) can impact both yours and your dog’s quality of life dramatically.

WHAT CAUSES DEMENTIA IN DOGS?

We can’t pin down what the exact cause of dementia is, it seems to just occur when a dog grows older, similar to humans developing these types of cognitive conditions during the ageing process. When we age, chemicals and physical aspects of our brain change, cells begin to waste away and our cognitive abilities decline.

Although age is likely to be the predominant cause of CCD, brain trauma, brain tumours and genetic factors can all influence the onset of doggy dementia. Research is still very much underway to find out more about this debilitating condition.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF DEMENTIA IN DOGS?

As a progressive condition, the symptoms can vary and worsen as time goes on. Dementia can show itself in a number of ways all at once, or it can begin with just one peculiar behaviour and accumulate over time.

This is called cognitive decline and the signs will normally be more apparent and obvious as something wrong with your dog, rather than just seeing it as your old friend ageing and slowing down.

Occasionally however, the signs may go unrecognised for some time until they actually begin to cause issues for the owner themselves. Watch out for your dog starting to show any of these behaviours:

  • Toilet accidents in the house
  • Unlearning easy commands they once did with ease
  • Disorientation, getting lost in the house
  • Anxiety
  • A change in themselves, may seeming withdrawn and depressed
  • No longer greeting you at the door
  • Random barking
  • Pacing/repetitive behaviour
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irregular sleeping
  • Staring at the walls
  • Less tolerance/patience which can lead to aggression even if your dog has never displayed any aggressive behaviour before

If you notice that your dog is displaying any of these strange behaviours, you should seek medical advice from your vet. These symptoms might not even be a sign of doggy dementia, they could even be indicative of a different underlying health issue.

In order to diagnose canine cognitive disorder, vets typically use the acronym ‘DISHA’, which perfectly summarises the list of symptoms detailed above.

Standing for disorientation, interaction changes, sleep cycle changes, house soiling/unlearning and activity level changes, DISHA pinpoints all the main symptoms allowing your vet to recommend the next steps for treatment.

ARE THERE ANY TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR DOGS WITH DEMENTIA?

Sadly, there is no cure for canine cognitive disorder. However, the condition will require continuous lifelong management and care to enable your dog to enjoy the happy life they still deserve in their old age.

Our dogs provide with us with unconditional love and devotion throughout their entire lives, so it’s only right that we give them the best we can in their senior years.

Although the condition can’t be cured, visiting the vet and adapting your lifestyle slightly in aid of your dog can help them greatly.

WAYS THE VET CAN HELP

Your vet may prescribe medication to help with your dog’s CCD, for instance, Anipryl.

This is a common drug used for dogs struggling with this condition and works to promote dopamine activity, which plays an essential factor in brain function.

WAYS TO HELP AT HOME

Patience and understanding are absolutely fundamental from you as a dog parent.

It’s no question that it will be upsetting and even sometimes frustrating seeing your furry friend age, becoming unresponsive to easy commands that were once second nature, not eating or drinking or even forgetting their basic house training.

The key to helping your dog is to never punish them for not listening or having an accident, they weren’t trying to annoy you and they really didn’t do it on purpose. As stated, there are multiple ways you can help your dog who is struggling with dementia, for instance:

  • Don’t rearrange items in the house (food/water bowls, dog bed, furniture, etc), doggy dementia can be paired with deteriorating vision, so keeping things in the same place will make everything less disorientating
  • Routine is essential. Dogs enjoy routine as it is, but it’s even more important for dogs living with dementia. As listed previously, anxiety and disorientation are common symptoms, and this will be made worse by an inconsistent routine
  • Safeguard your house and garden, ensuring there are no places that your dog can easily fall from or bump into
  • Taking your pooch for regular gentle walks is helpful. Moderate exercise increases blood flow and as a result, provides oxygen to the brain. Walks are not even just about the exercise however, letting your dog have a sniff around provides mental enrichment and stimulation which is great for keeping their brain active
  • Feeding your dog a poor diet will only worsen their condition, making them sluggish and slower. A healthy, nutritious diet is crucial to keeping your dog healthy, happy and comfortable

CAN I PREVENT MY DOG FROM GETTING DEMENTIA?

Best dog food for dementia

As we still don’t have an exact reason as to why dogs get dementia, it means there is not a sole preventative measure for dog owners to take.

However, one major way to slow the progression of cognitive decline is through enriching your environment. Providing your dog with frequent mental stimulation activities from a young age is a great way to do this.

If your pooch is constantly using their brain, it will help to maintain a healthy mind right through to their senior years. Snuffle mats, Kongs and teaching basic tricks/strengthening old commands are great ways to train your dog’s brain and keep it intact.

At the same time, providing your dog with a nutritional diet is essential for your dog to maintain healthy brain activity, whilst staying healthy in all other aspects of life.

WHAT'S THE BEST DOG FOOD FOR DEMENTIA?

Providing your furry friend with a quality dog food will make a world of difference to their health and happiness.

Excellent nutrition is proven to slow the progression of degenerative brain conditions, which is why Pure is densely packed with wholesome, real ingredients for complete and balanced nutrition. A healthy diet equals a healthy mind.

Specific natural ingredients such as omega 3 fatty acids are packed into Pure, which are recognised in helping brain cells, memory, learning abilities and overall cognitive functioning.

Dogs suffering with conditions such as canine cognitive disorder need wholesome ingredients that are of the highest quality to promote a healthy mind and improve their condition.

Feeding Pure will keep your pup’s body and mind healthy and happy, whilst still being tasty to keep their tails wagging in excitement!

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.

Sources
  1. Physical signs of canine cognitive dysfunction Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 81, (12), December 2019, 1829-1834. doi:10.1292/jvms.19-0458
  2. Efficacy of a therapeutic diet on dogs with signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS): A prospective double blinded placebo controlled clinical study Frontiers in Nutrition, 5, (127), December 2018, doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00127
  3. Efficacy of a therapeutic diet on dogs with signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS): A prospective double blinded placebo controlled clinical study Frontiers in Nutrition, 5, (127), December 2018, doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00127