Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

I have a 3 year old son, so I have not slept a full night since he was born. Even before he was here though I had long nights with my oldest kiddo. My 15 year old miniature pincher Chloe. She was perfect with a little pointy nose, wiggly nub of a tail, and when she walked she looked like a baby goat. When she was about 12 years old she started waking me up at five am, like it is time to eat. Jumping up and down on the bed and waking her younger sister up who also wanted her breakfast now at five am. Five am then turned into 3 am, which is when I started trying to work through options to manage her cognitive dysfunction.

This is a technical term for doggie senility, which you can think of it like Alzheimer’s in people. What most owners will see is changes to perception, awareness, memory and learning. These changes affect how your dog or cat interact with their environment. Around 30% of dogs and cats 11-14 years old have cognitive changes, and that number more than doubles when we get to our 15 years and older pets.

When experiencing the effects of mental decline in your own pet it can feel overwhelming. Every pet is effected differently, some may start having accidents the house, forget to use the litter box, some may even forget where their food and water is (even if it has never moved). Changes to the sleep wake cycle, commonly referred to as sun downers in humans, is when the sun starts to set your pet thinks it morning and wakes up.

Knowing how common senility is in our senior dogs and cats is the best plan of action is early intervention. There is no magic fix for progressive changes to their brain, but we can manage the signs and try to slow the progression. I recommend all of my clients start completing a DISHAA score at 8 years old to know the signs and be able to track if there are changes.

Know the signs:

- Disorientation
- Social Interaction Changes
- Sleep Wake Cycle Changes
- House Soiling, Learning, Memory Changes
- Activity Changes
- Anxiety

What Can We Do:
We might not be able to “fix” your pets brain, BUT we can effect change in your pet to help improve their quality of life and keep your senior a vital part of the family.

First, if you are noticing signs talk to your veterinarian. There has been amazing breakthroughs in nutrition that have had a powerful impact for some animals. Additionally, some of the symptoms of senility are symptoms of other ailments. Ruling out other manageable conditions is vital to getting your pet back on track.

Next, keeping your senior involved in family activities and establish a routine. You may need to increase frequency or length of walks to help prevent house soiling. Possibly the most important of all playing games that stimulate your dog or cats brain. Literally, playing with your dog can help it brain, how cool is that. Enrichment can be as simple getting your dog out of the house with short walks, rides in a stroller or car if your dog cannot walk. Toys that encourage interaction, and you can actually teach an old dog new tricks to help their brain.

Finally, there are supplements and medications that can be utilized with the guidance of a veterinarian to create a multimodal care plan.

So next time you see a dog in a stroller think, don’t judge, they might be enriching their senior senile dog.

Amber Callaway Lewis DVM CCRT
Treasure Coast Animal Rehab

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