Like people, senior dogs can experience a slowing of their cognitive processes as they age, which affects many aspects of their lives. As well as slowing down physically, older dogs can experience behavioral changes that seem unusual or out of character, and in many cases these changes are caused by cognitive decline or “doggie dementia.” So, is there any way to stop dog dementia before it starts? What are some means of dog dementia treatment?
Before we get into dog dementia treatment, here’s how to figure out if your dog is suffering in the first place.
Dogs suffering with dementia sometimes lose the ability to interact and take part in activities they usually enjoy. They might have changing sleep patterns and sleep more throughout the day and less at night. Cognitive impairment can also cause toileting accidents in the home, agitation, intolerance and confusion in a known environment. Elderly dogs can fail to recognize family members or become more dependent and anxious when left alone.
Canine cognitive decline typically begins around 7 to 10 years of age, and even though the physical signs of aging are easy to recognize, signs of mental decline can be misinterpreted.
Your senior dog might refuse to walk upstairs because her hips are sore, but she also could have forgotten how. Normal, everyday rituals become harder to do, like forgetting where her leash is kept before a walk or finding her food bowl. These signs of aging can be difficult to watch, but there are many means of dog dementia treatment and ways to keep your senior dog cognitively healthy.
Exercise not only benefits dogs physically but also provides a different environment that challenges and stimulates the senses. Among other benefits, exercise increases the production of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for regulating emotions, promoting feelings of pleasure and increased motor coordination. Exercise promotes a feeling of calm and lowers stress both in people and in dogs, but do make sure the level of exercise is appropriate for your dog’s age, stamina level and breed type.
Scent work is an enriching and fun activity for most dogs as it provides extensive physical and mental stimulation, making it a great way to burn off excess energy while providing cognitive exercise. Because searches can be conducted just about anywhere, training and learning can happen as part of a dog sport team or as a casual exercise at home. Enhancing your dog’s scenting abilities provides a great “workout” for the brain and is a perfect low-impact activity for the older canine.
Sports in general are a great way to bond with your dog and give her exercise and mental stimulation. Participating in a sport like agility promotes teamwork and bonding, and dogs of any age can successfully participate, as long as the age, breed type and stamina level is taken into account.
Mealtimes can be used to test your dog’s hunting skills and as a means of dog dementia treatment. Instead of feeding your dog from a food bowl, feed her from a toy instead. Put her food in a toy or treat ball and hide it around the home or yard so she has to find her dinner. This allows your dog to use her seeking skills, which promotes healthier brain function.
There are many great puzzle toys on the market designed specifically for dogs. Food can be hidden within these puzzles that vary in levels of difficulty. Puzzles enhance a dog’s natural problem-solving abilities and are great for maintaining cognitive health, even if there are signs of impairment.
Good nutrition is vital for your dog’s cognitive health into old age. The use of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) helps improve brain function in older dogs. MCTs are a kind of fat most commonly found in coconut oil. As pets age, glucose, which is the main source of energy in the brain, has more difficulty reaching brain cells, but MCTs provide an alternative source of energy for the brain that can keep your dog mentally fitter as she ages. Simply adding oils to your dog’s existing food can help as a means of dog dementia treatment, but finding a food with MCTs already added might be more palatable and easier to tolerate. The addition of fish oil, B vitamins, antioxidants and amino acids such as arginine, can also slow the brain’s decline as your dog ages.
Old dogs can certainly learn new tricks and while learning might be a slower process for a senior pet, age should not be an excuse for cutting back on vital physical and mental care. With proper physical and mental stimulation, as well as a diet rich in age-fighting ingredients, you can help delay or manage the cognitive effects of aging and keep your dog mentally fit well into her senior years.
Thumbnail: ©Holly Hildreth Photography
Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer best known as the star of the hit TV series It’s Me or the Dog. A best-selling author, Stilwell frequently appears in the media as a pet expert and is widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior. Find dog training tips and Stilwell-licensed trainers at positively.com, and learn from Victoria at vsdogtrainingacademy.com.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!