Do dogs get dementia? Sort of. Dog dementia, otherwise known as canine cognitive dysfunction or disorder (CDD), is a neurobehavioral syndrome that can affect older dogs.
As a degenerative process, it is a bit like human Alzheimers. And its onset can be the beginning of very difficult times for the dog and his or her family.
Nobody knows exactly what causes dog dementia, but we do know ways to treat it, even if there is no cure. Perhaps more importantly, we know ways to reduce the chances of your pet getting dog dementia. If you’re wondering how long can a dog live with dementia, the answer is that the disorder needn’t shorten your dog’s life if he is well cared-for.
Four types of dog dementia
There are four types of CDD, according to dog dementia expert Leticia Fanucchi.
Involutive depression is a bit like human chronic depression, and seems to originate from untreated anxieties. Dysthymia, or dystemic disorder, causes a dog to lose sense of its own body, so that he may get himself stuck into tight spaces and unsure how to get out.
“If you interrupt a dog while he's in a dystemic state, he can get mad and bite,” warns Fanucchi, DVM, who is director of Veterinary Medicine Behavioral Services at Washington State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
'Hyper-aggressiveness in old dogs' is the third type of dog dementia. It can be connected to serotonin levels or cortical tumours, and affects a dog’s ability to communicate.
And confusional syndrome is the closest form of dog dementia to human Alzheimers. A dog with confusional syndrome will have trouble learning anything new.
How to tell if your pet has dog dementia
Ultimately, a vet will tell you what is up with your dog. But you should keep an eye open for certain symptoms, so that you can catch it early. Don’t worry, because each of these symptoms may be caused by something else altogether.
One symptom is that your dog often seems disoriented. If he keeps walking into things, wandering aimlessly, or staring into space in a way that is unusual for him, it could be cause for concern.
He may become aggressive, or unusually friendly if that is not his character. Or he may fail to recognize you or your other pets altogether. If his sleep pattern changes or he begins to leave ‘little presents’ around the house, it is certainly cause for concern – and may indicate dog dementia.
In any case, if your dog’s behaviour is alarming you, take him to the vet. Whatever is troubling him will be best addressed early on, whether it’s dog dementia or something else.
If your regular vet fails to give you a satisfactory answer, try to get a second opinion from a veterinary behaviourist.
How to treat dog dementia
It is not easy to treat dog dementia. There is not yet a ‘cure.’ But your vet will advise you how to change his diet, behaviour, and medication, to make the best possible life for him.
Don’t treat him like he’s elderly; continue taking him for walks, and make sure he has plenty of stimulation. And try to work with nature on this one:
"Exposure to sunlight will help regulate the sleep-wake cycle. If they can't walk anymore, use a wagon or a stroller. Anything to get them sunlight and stimulation,” says Dr. Fanucchi. Your family will need to adapt to your dog’s new lifestyle. Each should play their part, in addition to loving your dog as normal. You may need to get ‘dog nappies’ and floor/furniture covers to deal with his unconventional toilet regime.
Ultimately, you may choose to go with euthanasia when your dog no longer has any quality of life. This is a difficult decision and only the last resort, and your vet will advise you how to make the right choice.
Preventing dog dementia
“It's essential to begin treating CCD before its signs first manifest because CCD's early symptoms are very subtle, almost unnoticeable,” says Fanucchi.
Giant breeds can start to suffer from dog dementia as early as five years old. With small breeds it may happen around the ten year mark. Whatever the size of your dog, look into anti-aging measures by adjusting their diet and supplements. Food and supplements with antioxidants, vitamins C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids, are a good idea. Exercise, new routines, and even ‘puzzle toys’ can keep him young and bright.
Well, as bright as he ever was!