Home Care Tips for Managing Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Canine cognitive dysfunction, or canine dementia, is an illness much like Alzheimer's disease in humans. It affects your dog's cognitive abilities and may lead to a range of behavioral changes. However, there are many steps you can take to relieve the symptoms in your dog and reduce his stress.

Symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Canine dementia exhibits itself in many ways and may differ significantly from dog to dog. However, all symptoms have a behavioral component; thus, any behavior change in your senior dog should be relayed to your veterinarian.

Dogs with cognitive dysfunction often show decreased interest in things that used to excite them, such as food, toys and walks. They may stop seeking attention from the humans in the home, spending most of their time alone. They may have trouble responding to their names or other verbal commands or they may become easily confused by stairs or doors and get lost in familiar places, such as their home and yard.

You may also see an increase in aggressive behavior, such as snapping at strangers or barking at strange noises. Your dog may start relieving himself in the house because he becomes confused on where he is supposed to go.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Canine Dementia

Because these symptoms are often attributed to "old age," cognitive dysfunction can be overlooked. To diagnose it, your veterinarian may run behavioral and neurological exams as well as take blood tests, X-rays or CAT scans. A medication called Anipryl is available, which seems to reduce many of the symptoms of canine dementia.

However, much of the treatment will need to take place in your home through changes that can ease your dog's stress and help him live out the remainder of his life peacefully.

Dogs respond well to routine, so it's important to feed and walk your dog at normal times. If possible, reduce major changes in your dog's life such as moving, rearranging furniture (which could confuse your dog as he tries to navigate your house) or meeting new people. If you do have to make changes, try to continue the consistent routine in spite of the adjustments.

Create a safe space for your dog with his favorite bed, toys and bones where he can relax during the day. If you have a large house with lots of stairs and doorways, keep him confined to this smaller, comfortable area so that he doesn't become disoriented and lost when you aren't home.

When you are home, keep a short line on him so that if he gets lost, you can lead him to the appropriate place. If he gets frightened by a noise or shadow, lead him to his safe space where he can calm down and relax. Keep calming music on in his area and install a DAP diffuser, which releases calming pheromones into the air.

Don't force him to meet new people if he's not interested. Don't allow strangers or children to run up to him quickly, pet him roughly or play with him in a rowdy manner.

Most importantly, be patient with him. Losing cognitive functioning is frustrating and frightening, for humans and pets. Spend time cuddling with him and maintaining his routine and try to reduce his stress level as much as possible.