Written by: Alison Laurie, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness
Dear old “Lucy" was approaching her fourteenth year. She had always been a very sprightly Border collie, typical of her breed, bright, alert, and sharp and "too clever for her own good", as her owner would often describe her, and she had kept good general health. Recently though, “Lucy” had been behaving differently. She seemed to be "lost", withdrawn and confused in her own familiar surroundings and she had started pacing the house at night and was found sleeping more throughout the day. On examination “Lucy” was showing some signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is caused by physical changes in the brain and its chemicals with the ageing process. The result of these changes is a deterioration in how your older dog thinks, learns, and remembers, which causes a number of behavioural changes that can disrupt the lives of both you as the pet owner and your dog. If your senior dog doesn't seem to be herself, she may be part of the large percentage of dogs age ten and older that experience some symptoms of Cognitive Dysfunction, which include various stages of confusion and disorientation. Your dog may have Cognitive Dysfunction if they have a number of the following signs or symptoms:
- Becoming lost in familiar places in or around the home or garden.
- Not responding to her name or usual commands.
- Seeming withdrawn and unwilling to play or go for walks.
- Not recognising, or being startled by, other family members.
- Frequently trembling or shaking, either while standing or when lying down.
- Pacing or wandering aimlessly throughout the house, often at night.
- Having difficulty learning new tasks, commands, or routes, and preferring a set routine.
- Frequently soiling in the house, regardless of the frequency she is brought outside for toileting.
- Sleeping more during the day and less during the night.
If you are concerned that your senior dog may have these signs, then do arrange an appointment with your Vet for a thorough check up and full clinical examination, as these symptoms could also be a sign of some other disease processes, e.g. endocrine or cardiac disease or advancing arthritis and inattentiveness could also be a result of hearing or vision loss.
You can help your dog cope with Cognitive Dysfunction by considering her needs when it comes to your home. By incorporating a little care and a modified lifestyle, you may be able to work with your dog's current level of brain activity and assist and support symptoms of further advancement here. Encourage regular, moderate physical activity and mental stimulation with gentle play and interactive toys. Feeding an advised, appropriate senior diet rich in antioxidants, may help support your ageing dog's mental health. There also are some supplements and medications available which your Vet can advise on to help support memory, learning abilities and the blood supply to the brain... Your Vet should be consulted here before changing any of your senior dog's exercise or her feeding regimens... Keep your senior dog's immediate environment familiar and friendly. Keep to a familiar routine for feeding and exercising and avoid any undue stress. Keep commands short and simple, using hand signals more if required.
Most importantly, keep your patience and compassion. Your senior dog's world has changed, but you can still show her that your continuing care, love and attention has not, and never will.
Contact us for professional advice and make an appointment if you are at all concerned about your ageing pet.