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How to Catch Dementia in Dogs Early
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How to Catch Dementia in Dogs Early

Theo, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Jul 20, 2020

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Canine dementia is a difficult path for both owner and pet. It's not well understood, and while catching and treating it early can be beneficial, the symptoms may not be easy to detect. Other challenges, such as sensory issues could make the dog act confused or even depressed or have behavior issues as he or she reacts to the loss of sight or hearing. Owners often assume the symptoms are a normal part of aging and veterinarian may not observe related symptoms during brief patient visits.

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Behavioral Signs of Canine Dementia

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Canine dementia is sometimes referred to as doggie Alzheimer's or "dogzheimers." It has a similar effect on families as when older relatives show early signs of memory problems -- everyone gets concerned. Behavioral symptoms include changes in sleep patterns, acting anxious or fearful, and becoming aggressive more easily. Dogs can be less active and social, even just stare at the wall, get lost in the house, or seem trapped. They may pace or make more noise, such as whining or howling. These behaviors may start out mild or infrequent.

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Physical Signs of Canine Dementia

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Dogs with canine dementia, also known as canine cognitive dysfunction, may have problems with their elimination habits, accidents which may seem more annoying than concerning at first. They may appear to have hearing or vision problems which later turn out to be dementia-related. Their activity level may be significantly reduced, or they may pace back and forth.

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What is Happening to My Pet? Biology and Neurology of Canine Dementia

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Canine cognitive dysfunction is a brain condition which affects nerve function and causes changes in their training and habits, movement, and memory. It can be unnerving to both the owner and the dog. One cause is the buildup of certain proteins in the brain, which leads to neural damage. Understanding the condition can help everyone involved compensate for the mental changes.

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Providing Physical Support for Cognitively Impaired Dogs

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If the dog has been crate-trained earlier in life, it may find comfort in the familiar and simple environment of a crate. Since sensory input such as noise and light can be more confusing as the condition progresses, sticking to a strict routine can be soothing for the dog, with lights on and off at predictable times. Relaxing music, casual walks, and even aromatherapy can also help. They may find the company of their humans, especially soothing since their confusion can make being alone stressful.

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How to Interact with a Dementia Doggie

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The most important difference in caring for a dementia doggie versus life before symptoms appear may be in tolerating their changes. Peeing and pooping accidents may not respond to corrective attempts. Wandering is not a willful activity. When they act stressed, they may need soothing and reassuring. Because their memory and learned behaviors are likely to be affected by dementia, training attempts may increase stress and worsen the condition.

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Medical Treatment for Canine Dementia

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There are some treatments available for CCD. Medication can help address the cognitive decline, but there is currently only one product available. A veterinary behaviorist can work wonders with the disorientation and stress which the dog is experiencing as the condition progresses. Anxiety management can also include prescribed medication as needed.

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Talking with Children About "Dogzheimers"

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It may be helpful to tell your children about aging and dementia in humans and in dogs. Some professionals use terms like "dogzheimers" or dog Alzheimers to gently refer to this difficult condition. Children should understand that the dog's behavior may change, so they should be gentle with their pet and not worry too much. One possible symptom is reduced threshold for aggression, however, so families should be extra careful about stressing their pet if this occurs.

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Sustainable Care for Dementia Dogs

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Canine cognitive decline will change your dog's needs over time, but fortunate dogs who have loving families can live with the condition for extended periods. More comfort, predictable schedules, doggy diapers or pads if needed, a quiet environment and help when they are stressed or confused can make a big difference. Love, support, and time spent together on walks or quiet time together will also help make this just another phase of your dog's life.

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Making the Difficult End-of-Life Decision

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Quality of life may be the most important factor in deciding when it is time to let go. A veterinarian who is experienced with CCD or a veterinary behaviorist can help you understand what your pet is going through and when it is having excessive difficulty with life or no longer recognizes you and its home. You may also have to consider how much time he or she spends alone, which becomes much more difficult for them as the condition progresses.

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Effects of Canine Dementia on Other Pets at Home

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Other dogs and cats in your home may react in a wide variety of ways as their interactions with your CCD doggie change. They may spend time nearby, or they may become more aggressive. They may be confused when the dog no longer recognizes and responds to them. You may have to consider managing the interaction between your pets as time passes.

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