Dogzheimer’s—When Your Dog’s New Trick Ain’t Comin’ Easy

Flea’s an old dude—98 dog-years old—but I didn’t know he could forget me. I mean I’m pretty unforgettable, after all. We sniffed each others bum to say hello, like always on our play date, and then he got freakishly territorial on me.

“What the heck did I do?!”

It was like he didn’t know me at all. We’ve been life-long buds. (Well at least my life-long—as I said, Flea’s an old dude).

His human, Dr. Roth at Ask.Vet, says he’s even getting lost in his own backyard.

Poor Flea.

My human Pat’s grandma had Alzheimers and that was pretty insane to watch happen. I hadn’t known that waggers could get dogzheimer’s (the dog form of the disease), but they can.

The pedigreed people call it Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD). According to PetMD, it’s caused by some proteins not being metabolized correctly, so plaques form in the brain. It messes up the signals in your dog’s noggin.  68% of geriatric waggers aged 15-16 get it to varying degrees.

So, if you humans have a senior dog, pay close attention to their behaviors because the onset is hard to spot. Signs of CCD can be subtle at first—if you see your wagger exhibiting some of these signs, take ‘em in to the vet. There could be other copycat reasons for it. Also, as with humans, sensory perception of dogs declines with age (like hearing and eyesight) and that can be a factor causing or contributing to changes in behavior.

It’s a well-known fact that sometimes with Alzheimers symptoms can get worse when the sun goes down and the light changes. It’s the same with dogs. So take note, if your wagger’s symptoms increase at the end of the day—it could be a clue in a dogzheimer’s diagnosis.

Signs of dogzheimer’s:

  • Waggers may start pooping or peeing in places they aren’t supposed to go. Mostly, because they might not find the way outside or forget their routines.
  • Spacing out – looking out their doggy eyes into space like no one’s home.
  • Forgetting –they don’t know what the heck you are talking about when you give them your usual commands. Or, maybe they are responding to you or their environment in other unusual ways, indicating forgetfulness.
  • Barking for no reason.
  • Getting up at weird times and sleeping at weird times. Breaking their regular sleeping habits.
  • Lack of interest in playing.
  • Irritability, anxiety, depression—being off emotionally.
  • Repetitive behaviors.
  • Lack of grooming.
  • Confused and disoriented with normal routines and behaviors.

There are a few things you can do to help with the symptoms that may even delay or prevent dogzheimer’s as your pet ages. The focus should be wellness and routine.

Helping your senior pet’s cognitive function as they age:

  • Routines: Be rigorous in keeping your routines with your wagger.
  • Environment: Keep your wagger’s environment calm and quiet if they are struggling with cognitive issues. Try to reduce surprises; keep the temperature consistent and comfortable; night lights can help to keep fear and anxiety at bay when they wake in the dark and don’t know where they are. Soft music can help mask unfamiliar sounds that might frighten your pet.
  • Activity: Exercise and mental stimulation is great—new toys or new lessons can help keep your wagger’s acuity sharp.
  • Medical: Keep on top of your dog’s health with regular medical checkups and wellness exams and treat any other ailments and health issues so they don’t contribute to their cognitive decline.
  • Diet: Keep grains at a minimum, give your dog a high quality diet and make sure that its appropriate for senior pets, see my article Food for Thought. There are a couple of pet food products designed specifically for cognitive decline. Talk to your vet about what is right for your dog.
  • Supplements: SAMe, coconut oil and omega-3 fatty acids can help, among a wide array of available supplements. Talk to your vet about what they recommend and the correct dosage for your dog.

Seeing our wagging BFFs struggle with aging can be sad, but there is a lot you humans can do to help us out and keep us waggin’ stronger for longer.

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