Dealing with dog dementia: what it could mean for your senior pup

Mar 30, 2016 at 1:14 p.m. ET
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Just like people, when dogs age they tend to become forgetful. But when is it not just old age, and something more?

According to Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, senior dogs are susceptible to canine dementia, which is very similar to dementia in humans.

"It is also referred to as canine cognitive dysfunction (CDS). It is the third leading cause of euthanasia, and affects over 7 million dogs age 10 and older," said Osborne.

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Know the signs

Osborne says canine dementia is an age-related deterioration of cognitive abilities characterized by behavioral changes that include loss of house training, disorientation, aimless wandering, staring into space, decreased responsiveness to family members, confusion and excessive sleeping.

"Some dogs sit and stare at the walls for hours," she added.

Any of the above symptoms may be a sign of canine dementia, though these symptoms alone can sometimes be symptoms of other diseases or disorders. Contact your vet if your dog is displaying the symptoms of canine dementia.

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Osborne says there are no tests designed to diagnose dementia in canines.

"It is a diagnosis of exclusion. Usually the age, history and signs are adequate," she said. "Vets make the diagnosis by ruling out other problems causing similar symptoms."

Is your dog at risk?

Osborne says no dog breeds are more at risk for canine dementia than other breeds. "It can affect any dog, regardless of sex or breed," she said.

The biggest risk factor for canine dementia is simply age.

"[Canine dementia] can affect an average of 50 percent of dogs about 10 years of age and older, and after the age of 15, 68 percent of dogs show at least one of the above signs of canine dementia," Osborne said.

Treatment and prevention

You can reduce your dog's risk of canine dementia by making smart health choices for him early in life. Osborne says the best way to prevent or delay the onset of canine dementia is with an antioxidant vitamin, mineral supplements, daily exercise and a natural, balanced diet — just like with people.

She added that if your dog has been diagnosed with canine dementia, keep in mind that it isn't a death sentence.

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Osborne mentioned that there are many treatments for canine dementia, noting some medications have a 77 percent success rate in reducing symptoms in as little as 30 days. There are also natural medications that can improve cognition in dogs suffering from dementia.

Speak with your veterinarian to find out which treatment is best for you and your dog.

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