You love your pooch, but lately, you've been concerned about changes in her behavior and habits. While she was once a lively, well-behaved dog, now, she seems to have trouble with certain tasks and her personality has shifted. It may just be that she is getting older, or perhaps she is experiencing dementia.
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Dementia in dogs is also known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). Most dogs will go through some type of CCD as they age, while others may have many full-blown symptoms of it. According to research from The Behavior Clinic at the University of California, 28% of senior dogs ages 11-12 demonstrate one or more signs of cognitive impairment. Among dogs ages 15-16, that number increases to 68%.
While the causes of CCD are unknown, some researchers believe it comes about because of the brain's accumulation of abnormal proteins. This can result in a plaque build-up, which damages the nerves and leads to the deterioration of certain brain functions.
You're not sure if your dog has CCD or not. If she starts to exhibit any of these symptoms, it's time to take her to the veterinarian to get checked out right away.
Changes in activity
Your dog may have once wanted to explore the woods behind your house or run around the dog park. Now, all she wants to do is sleep. Maybe she drops her favorite toy and can't find it. If you notice any changes in her normal day-to-day activities, it could be a sign of old age or CCD.
Sleeping schedule changes
When dogs have CCD, they sometimes get confused about when it's time to be awake and when it's time to go to sleep. If your dog's circadian rhythm is off – perhaps she is pacing all night and sleeping all day now – it's time to call the vet. Your vet may offer you some tips on how to manage her anxiety and get her back on a regular sleep routine.
Soiling in the house
If your house-trained dog suddenly starts going in the house, it could mean that cognitive functions are not working properly. It could also mean that their physical bodies are not working as well, so don't rule that out, either. For instance, if your dog is looking out the window or scratching at the door, she still may understand that she needs to go outside to use the bathroom.
You'll know your dog is disoriented if she seems confused or is getting everyday tasks mixed up. For example, she may get stuck in a part of your home and not know how to get out, like she normally would. She may not know where her food bowl is anymore, either, or she may pace in circles.
Changes in interactions with animals and people
Your dog is usually friendly with people, but now she growls at them. She used to love to go to the dog park, but is now annoyed with the other dogs there and prefers to keep to herself. Perhaps she is physically not doing well, or it's CCD. Only your vet can help you determine that.
Dealing with CCD
While there is no cure for CCD, just like there is no cure for Alzheimer's in humans, a new drug that was clinically tested in 2018, Ropesalazine, has been shown to reverse the effects of it. In 2019, it is set to become available for purchase.
In the meantime, listen to your vet's advice on how to keep your dog as comfortable and anxiety-free as possible while she experiences these tough changes. With some care and love, you can ensure she has a healthy, productive and happy life ahead of her.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.