Dogs also get dementia. However, it is often difficult to detect. Research published this week shows how common it is, especially in dogs over the age of 10.
Here are some behavioral changes to look out for in your senior dog and when to consult your vet.
What is doggy dementia?
Doggy dementia, or cognitive dysfunction in dogs, is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, a progressive brain disease with behavioral, cognitive, and other changes.
It is usually seen in dogs over the age of eight, but can occur after the age of six.
Pet owners may dismiss many behavioral changes as a normal part of aging. So there are probably more dogs with him than we think.
Vets can also have difficulty making a diagnosis. There is no accurate, non-invasive test for this. Just like people, senior dogs can have a number of other health problems that can make diagnosis difficult.
Does my dog have dementia?
Dogs with dementia can often get lost in their yard or home. They can get stuck behind furniture or in corners of the room because they forget they have reverse gear. Or they go towards the hinge side of the door when trying to get in.
Dogs’ interactions with people and other pets can vary. They may demand less or more affection from their owners than before, or they may become angry with another dog in a household where they were once happy housemates. They may even forget faces they have known all their lives.
They also tend to sleep more during the day and get up more at night. They may seem aimless, pacing, whining or barking. Comfort does not often calm them down, and even if the behavior is interrupted, it usually resumes fairly quickly.
Sometimes caring for a senior dog with dementia is like owning a puppy again, because even though they are house trained, they can still go potty indoors.
It also becomes difficult to remember some of the basic behaviors they have known all their lives, and even more difficult to learn new ones.
Their overall activity levels can also vary, from pacing non-stop all day to barely getting out of bed.
Finally, you may also notice an increased level of anxiety. Your dog can no longer handle being alone, may follow you from room to room, or become easily frightened by things that never bothered them before.
I think my dog has dementia, what now?
There are some medications that can help reduce the symptoms of canine dementia to improve their quality of life and make caring for them a little easier. So, if you think your dog is affected, consult your vet.
Our group is planning some non-drug treatment studies. This includes investigating whether exercise and training can help these dogs. But it is still early days.
Unfortunately, there is no cure. Our best bet is to reduce the risk of contracting the disease. This latest study suggests that exercise may be key.
What did the latest study find?
A US study published today collected data from more than 15,000 dogs as part of the Canine Aging Project.
The researchers asked pet owners to fill out two surveys. One asked about the dogs, their health and physical activity. Second, it assessed the dogs’ cognitive function.
About 1.4 percent of dogs were thought to have canine cognitive dysfunction.
For dogs over 10 years of age, each additional year of life increases the risk of developing dementia by more than 50 percent. Dogs that were less active had a 6.5 times higher risk of dementia than dogs that were more active.
While this suggests that regular exercise may protect dogs from dementia, we can’t be sure from this type of research. Dogs with dementia or early signs of dementia may be less likely to exercise.
However, we do know that exercise can reduce the risk of dementia in people. So walking our dogs can help them and us reduce the risk of dementia.
“I love my daughter very much”
Caring for a dog with dementia can be challenging but rewarding. In fact, our group is studying the effect on caregivers.
We believe that the burden and stress are similar to those reported when people care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
We also know that people love their old dogs. One study participant told us:
I love my daughter so much that I am ready to do anything for her. Nothing is too much trouble.
Susan Hazel, Senior Lecturer, School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, University of Adelaide and Tracey Taylor, PhD Candidate, School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, University of Adelaide
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.