Does My Senior Dog Have Dementia?
Have you noticed changes in your old Greyhound’s behavior, such as confusion, disorientation, increased anxiety, or forgetting their housetraining? Our pets cannot tell us that they are scared or worried, or they forgot where they put their toy, or they don’t know where they are. Therefore, we must be the ones to notice changes in their behavior, and try to find out what is going on.
Cognitive dysfunction is not “normal aging”. Initial symptoms of the disease are mild, but they gradually worsen over time. I am not a veterinarian, but I have lived with two older dogs that had dog dementia, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD). Similar to human Alzheimer’s, there is no cure, but there are things to do to slow it down IF we pay attention and catch this early. There is currently no test for CCD. It is important to know that all of the signs could be attributable to other causes, so it is vital to check with your veterinarian. One of your vet’s best diagnostic tools for CCD is your observation about changes in your dog’s behavior, so keep a log of the changes you see and when/how often, and bring this to your appointment.
Here are the major categories of symptoms of CCD in senior dogs:
Disorientation – excessive confusion, appearing “lost”, getting stuck in small spaces, staring off into space or at walls, inability to find the food or water dish, waiting for the hinge side of the door to open
Disruptions in activity and sleep – restless at night, barking at nothing, pacing, sleeping too much during the day, forgetting learned routines, increased anxiety, appetite changes or forgetting to eat
Changes in housetraining – peeing and pooping inside, after having a good track record; forgetting previously learned training or house rules, like forgetting how to use the doggy door
Alterations in interactions with family members – forgetting familiar features of their lives, including other pets and people, eventually maybe even forgetting who their owners are; less solicitation of attention or play, extreme irritability
Although there is currently no cure for CCD, there are some interventions that can slow the progression of the disease: these include prescriptions and supplements, dietary changes, and enrichment. In addition, we need to adjust our environment to be sure our Greyhound remains safe, similar to “puppy-proofing” the house before bringing a new dog home.
Current thinking on helpful interventions indicate the following prescription may be beneficial: Anipryl is a drug that can help a dog with cognitive dysfunction, although it does not help all dogs. It takes between 4 and 8 weeks to work. It is an expensive drug under its brand name, but there is a generic human form of the drug (Eldepryl): selegiline hydrochloride. Check with your vet to see if the generic form is acceptable. It is cheaper and can be purchased at any pharmacy with a prescription. Other drugs, not yet available in the US, are being studied to see if they can help treat symptoms of cognitive decline.
Diets high in antioxidants, like Hills Prescription Diet b/d Canine Healthy Aging and Purina One SmartBlend Vibrant Maturity 7+ Formula, have been shown in studies to have some preventative effects. Antioxidants can reduce free radicals that form plaques in the brain, which is thought to be a cause of dementia. These diets are professionally formulated, and studies examining their effectiveness did not break down which nutrients, or which combinations, contributed to favorable results. That makes it risky to try and formulate a diet like these at home.
One thing we can do though, which is good for all dogs, is feed some high-antioxidant foods in addition to the main diet. These foods would replace a small portion of the regular diet, and can include such things as blueberries, apples, eggs, fatty fish (like salmon and trout), sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, coconut oil, olive oil, dark leafy greens. There are others, but be sure to check with your vet before making changes to your dog’s diet.
Why do we care about antioxidants? I’m not a scientist, so here is how I understand it: oxidation is a natural process occurring in cells, and it produces free radicals. These free radicals can damage cells and this damage leads to all sorts of problems, from cancer to dementia (both for humans and dogs). Antioxidants, like the name suggests, combat free radicals. Some studies show that antioxidants can reduce brain plaques.
For a down-to-earth reference on coping with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, see the book REMEMBER ME? by Eileen Anderson. http://bit.ly/RememberMeBook In it, you will find more detail on the topics above, along with tips to help your dog in various situations, as well as how to take care of yourself, and how to decide when it’s time for euthanasia. She documents how she learned to take care of her dog, who lived a good life for two years after diagnosis.
Next week, we will look at some supplements that may be beneficial for dogs with CCD, as well as enrichment activities and modifications to the environment to make life easier and happier for your senior Greyhound. http://bit.ly/DogDementiaPart2