Traveling Dog Lady: A to Z Challenge, Day 3: C is for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction #atozchallenge

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A to Z Challenge, Day 3: C is for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction #atozchallenge

Otherwise known as "old dog syndrome", canine cognitive dysfunction is doggie senility, dog dementia,  or doggie Alzheimer's.  Telltale signs are confusion, lack of (or a change in) interaction with humans, change in appetite, soiling indoors, and more.

At 14, Hobie is starting to show signs of this, but "old dog syndrome" symptoms can be similar to other illnesses, such as kidney disease, so tests are necessary to rule out other causes of these behavioral changes and confusion in a senior dog.

Pacing and walking in circles is one of the signs of canine cognitive dysfunction.  Lately, Hobie paces and pants, paces and pants, and walks back and forth.  Not really in circles, but as close to a "circle" as you can get in a very small, rectangular floor plan.  I keep hoping this is just a problem we encountered due to the terrible winter weather we had this year.  He had one little path through the back yard that he could walk, back and forth, back and forth.  Now that the snow has melted, he has been able to walk through the entire back yard... that is, when he is able to navigate the stairs, which sometimes is not possible.

Here are some possible signs that your dog may be experiencing canine cognitive dysfunction:

Staring at walls or staring into space
Not interacting with humans
No interest in attention or praise from humans
No interest in playing
Loss of appetite or hesitancy to eat, drink or take treats
Learning new commands or a new route or location is difficult or impossible
Withdrawn, unwilling to go outdoors, no interest in going for walks
Becomes lost in familiar places, either indoors or out
Gets trapped in a room or stuck behind a piece of furniture dog was otherwise familiar with
Difficulty locating doors or exits
Cannot negotiate stairs
Does not respond to name or commands (assuming hearing loss has been ruled out)
Does not recognize familiar humans
Shaking or trembling, particularly when standing up or attempting to lie down
Pacing and wandering through the house
Soiling in the house, even if brought outdoors often
Daytime sleep that is more frequent, and being awake during the night
Becomes startled by lights, TV, other normal household sounds (that was not previously startled by)

Unfortunately for us dog lovers, this geriatric behavior problem is common.  Many dog owners attribute the changes to "he's just getting old", but veterinarians are now placing more importance on these behavior changes in senior dogs, and there is a new veterinary movement to bring awareness to this all-too-common issue.

As with Alzheimer's in humans, there is presently no cure for "CCD" (also known as CDS = cognitive dysfunction syndrome).  There are expensive drugs available, the side effects are numerous, and it is not clear if they are effective or helpful.   Studies suggest that providing moderate activity, mental stimulation and interaction with the family, interactive toys, and a diet including antioxidants may be helpful.  Check with your vet first before changing any dietary or activity levels.

Avoiding changes in the household (such as moving or replacing furniture), sticking to a routine, keeping commands simple, interacting with the dog as much as possible, and eliminating clutter are helpful do-it-yourself tools for dealing with old dog syndrome.

Above all, be compassionate and understanding.  Your old guy or girl has been there for you through thick and thin.  I would do anything for Hobie, and am!  This is a challenging time for us.  We just got done raising two puppies who needed to go out every few hours, and now our senior dog is in need of extra care.

DoG only gives you what you can handle.