Jan. 10, 2020
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is a common condition in dogs that can cause memory loss, disorientation, confusion and anxiety. It’s often referred to as canine dementia, as it causes similar symptoms to human dementia.
While medical treatment can relieve symptoms and slow progression, there’s currently no cure for CDS. There are many ways to make life easier for your pet though.
1. Always be Patient and Understanding
Canine dementia can cause a variety of symptoms. These include waking at strange times, being more active at night, losing control over toileting, not responding to commands, and increased barking.
Unfortunately, these symptoms are sometimes mistaken for “bad” behaviour. An example is when dogs with dementia forget to ask to go out to toilet, which they may have done for their entire life.
It’s vital to be patient and calm whenever these accidents happen. The dog isn’t doing it on purpose and won’t understand why he’s being scolded. Instead, he’ll just feel more scared and anxious.
2. Walk at Your Dog’s Pace
Dogs with dementia may become confused or unsettled more easily. This is particularly common on walks, where the combination of new smells, other dogs and physical exercise can be overwhelming.
It’s important to still walk your dog though. Just make sure you don’t force him to walk faster than he feels comfortable. Allow him to sniff without being hurried and avoid pulling on the leash. It’s also important to watch for signs of stress, such as lip licking, shaking off, and a hunched posture.
3. Don’t Neglect Mental Stimulation
Just because a dog has dementia doesn’t mean he can’t benefit from games and mental activities. In fact, mental stimulation could slow the progression of dementia by maintaining an active brain.
Puzzle feeders are a great way to keep your dog mentally active. Snuffle mats, for example, force your dog to use his nose to find food. Even simple toys, like a Kong stuffed with treats, can challenge your pet to use his brain.
It’s important not to cause frustration though. A dog with dementia may find it harder to understand certain types of game or puzzle, so make sure your pet is having fun. If you notice signs of stress or anxiety, try an easier toy. It’s also best to keep play sessions short.
4. Prepare for Toilet Accidents
Almost all dogs with dementia lose at least some of their house training. This can be frustrating for the owner and stressful for the dog, so it’s important to minimise the impact.
It’s a good idea to take the dog for more frequent toilet breaks. He won’t always realise he needs to go until its too late, so don’t rely on a signal.
You may want to move your dog’s bed to an area of hard floor. This makes it easier to clean up any accidents. Make sure the dog’s bed cover is waterproof – especially if it has a foam interior that’s difficult to wash.
As I mentioned earlier, never scold your dog or become angry after an accident. Many dogs already find it upsetting to toilet indoors, so being told off just makes the situation worse.
5. Maintain Your Furniture
Dementia can make navigating around the house more difficult for your dog. If furniture is often moved or clutter left on the floor, he may find the house a stressful environment.
It’s especially important for your dog to know where his bed, water bowl and food bowls are. These should always be in the same place, otherwise your dog may struggle to remember where to find them.
Keep in mind that an elderly dog with dementia may also be suffering from loss of vision. This is another reason why keeping furniture in the same place is essential.
On a related note, make sure your pet is comfortable when resting, as poor-quality sleep can make symptoms worse. Older dogs often suffer with joint pain, so an orthopedic bed with thick foam is often the most comfortable option.
6. Create a Regular Routine
All dogs thrive on routines, but a consistent schedule is particularly important for canine dementia.
Dogs suffering with dementia are more likely to feel confused. This can lead to stress, anxiety, and problematic behaviours. Having consistent times for bed, toileting, food and even play can relieve some of this confusion and stress.
Of course, maintaining a strict schedule isn’t always possible. Just having set order of activities throughout the day can help your dog though.
7. Make Sure Guests Understand Your Dog’s Condition
Over-excitable greetings can be stressful for a dog with dementia. He may need more time to process the visitor’s appearance in the house and remember who they are.
For this reason, ask guests to remain calm and relatively quiet when they first arrive. Let the dog greet them in their own time, as this is much less stressful.
8. Don’t Forget Your Own Needs
Caring for a dog with dementia can be time-consuming and stressful. It’s natural to put your beloved pet first, especially when they are going through a horrible illness, but it’s also important to take care of yourself.
Make sure you spend time outside of the house doing things you enjoy. If your dog becomes anxious when alone, ask a friend or family member to dog sit while you’re out. This isn’t just beneficial for your mental health, but also gives you time to recharge so you can continue caring for your pet.
You should always talk to your vet if you suspect your pet has canine dementia. He or she will be able to advise on medical treatments, which could slow the disease progression and relieve some of the symptoms.
Medication isn’t the only way to help your dog though. By creating consistent routines, reducing anxiety, and providing plenty of love, you can reduce the effects of dementia and allow your pet to live the best possible life.