Diagnosing Canine Dementia

Canine dementia is an illness similar to Alzheimer's Disease that can affect your senior dog. Until recently, many of the symptoms of canine dementia were simply attributed to old age, but MRIs show that dogs with dementia have brain lesions similar to those on humans with Alzheimer's disease. Though there is no cure for canine dementia, some dogs improve with treatment.

Symptoms of Canine Dementia

Any sudden behavior change by your senior dog should be taken seriously. Dogs usually maintain a stable personality from the time they reach age 3, so medical causes should be suspected if your dog suddenly begins to behave differently.

Dementia can exhibit itself in many forms, but it will always have a behavioral component. Your dog may become easily confused, such as getting lost behind furniture, becoming confused by doors, corner and doorways, becoming lost in the house or yard, staring at walls or furniture and getting startled by common things such as lights.

Your dog also may exhibit restless behaviors, such as pacing, wandering aimlessly through the house or yard and sleeping more during the day and less at night. He may eat and drink less and relieve himself in the house.

He may have trouble responding to his name or familiar commands, and he may become more aloof, ignoring family members and acting reluctant to play or go on walks. You may see an increase in aggressive or fearful behavior, such as barking or growling at strange people or noises.

Diagnosis of Dementia

Because symptoms of dementia are often subtle, many owners attribute them to old age and forget to mention them to their veterinarian. It's recommended for senior dogs to visit the veterinarian for wellness exams twice annually, so if your dog is experiencing any behavioral changes mention them to your veterinarian.

Dementia shares its symptoms with many other illnesses, so your veterinarian will have to do a complete behavioral and medical workup to eliminate other potential causes of the behavioral changes. Your dog will have to have blood tests, urinalysis and possibly X-rays or CAT scans. After all other illnesses are ruled out, he will also need a neurological exam.

Treatment of Dementia

This is no cure for canine dementia, but a medication called Anipryl has been shown to reduce symptoms of the disease. Anipryl increases dopamine production in the brain, which can help restore normal function in some dogs.

There are also several steps you can take to make your dog more comfortable. Dogs respond well to an established routine, so try to put your dog on a set food and exercise schedule. Don't move around furniture and try to eliminate clutter in the walkways. Consider limiting access to areas that seem particularly disturbing for your dog.

Don't force him to meet new people or other dogs that seem to frighten him and set him up with a small area with his favorite bed, bones and toys where he can go to escape when he is feeling stressed.

Dementia can be a stressful and frightening illness for your dog, so be patient and gentle when dealing with his new idiosyncrasies. A few changes may even reduce symptoms and help him relax.