Like humans, dogs can develop dementia in their later years, too. About a quarter of dogs over the age of 10 years will show signs of cognitive decline. In many cases, you may not realize dementia is the cause of your pet's change in behavior and mood. But if you are alert to the signs of cognitive decline, you will be able to implement strategies to slow the progression of this common problem of aging.
1 - Irritability or Aggression
If your normally sunny pet become irritable with pals at the dog park or becomes snappish with visitors that come to your home, it may be because of increasing cognitive decline. Dogs with cognitive problems may suddenly forget how to be playful or may consider any sudden interaction a threat. This may be a strong sign that patterns of thinking in your pet have become disordered. Check in with your vet to determine if a physical problem is causing the change in personality, or if it can be attributed to a cognitive change.
2 - Changes in Patterns of Waking and Sleeping
As in humans, cognitive decline can cause changes in wake-sleep cycles in dogs. Your dog may begin pacing through the house at night or may sleep all day. Using a white noise machine or a nightlight may help your dog to sleep during the night. If necessary, your veterinarian can provide medications to reduce anxiety and help your dog sleep during the night hours.
3 - Breakdown of Toileting Habits
If your dog scratches at the door to go out but then does his business in the house, it may be because he has forgotten the link between going out and toileting schedule. However, you should make sure that the animal does not have a gastrointestinal problem or bladder infection before considering dementia as the cause. Your vet can test your dog for parasites or infection to ensure these are not the sources of the problem.
4 - Changes in Activity Levels
Your dog may no longer have an interest in playing or may engage in repetitive behaviors, like head bobbing or chasing in circles. These are signs that normal mental function has become disrupted. Taking your dog for frequent walks will help to improve cognitive function, much like exercise improves mental function for human beings. This simple habit can help your dog be more mentally fit.
5 - Disorientation or Confusion
If your dog does not remember how to get from one room to another in your home or seems confused when walking around a familiar neighborhood, it may be time to take him for a thorough physical exam. In some cases, a physical problem can cause mental confusion. However, if a cognitive issue is suspected, the vet will discuss options for treatment with you.
If your dog has one or more of these symptoms, make an appointment to discuss the matter with your veterinarian. A number of strategies can help to slow cognitive decline, so your dog can have better quality of life during his or her later years. Diet, medications, food puzzles and lifestyle enrichment can have a beneficial effect on these problems and will help you enjoy your dog's company, despite geriatric cognitive decline.