Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.
What Are the Signs of a Senile Dog?
Recognizing dementia in your older dog is easier if you can first identify and confirm the following clinical signs:
- Failure to respond to her name or simple commands that she used to know.
- Getting lost in corners of the house, the yard, and other once familiar regions of the environment that she lives in.
- Personality changes, both around other pets and with her human family.
- Soiling (urine or feces) in the house, even if she is housetrained.
- Whining excessively, barking excessively, and doing both for no reason.
Is My Dog Senile If She Exhibits Some of These Symptoms?
Some changes in dogs are normal as they age, so not all dogs who do these things are considered senile. If your dog is senile, however, it may be a type of senility known as age-related dementia or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. According to some research done at the University of California, Davis, over half of geriatric dogs exhibit the symptoms of this condition. Nobody knows what causes it yet, but it may be related to an age-related decrease in a neurotransmitter called dopamine. So, what can you do to make her life better in her senior years?
Home Care for a Dog With Dementia
I realize not everyone reading this is able to take their dog to a vet. You also have the option of treating her naturally if drugs and veterinary care are not options. Here's what you can do to help:
- Take your dog for short and frequent walks: That sounds too easy, doesn't it? Walks can do a lot for a dog developing dementia, and if your dog is becoming senile, they do not need to be long walks. Just take her on a "sniffy walk" so that she can exercise her muscles, her nose, and her brain.
- Play new games and teach her new tricks to provide mental stimulation: No matter how well you have trained your dog, there are always new things for her to learn. There are plenty of books out there on training tricks, and when you find something she does not know, work on it. She will learn a little slower, so be patient.
- Provide a high-quality, balanced diet that includes a source of medium-chain triglycerides: If your dog has been eating the same food over her lifetime, she may have developed a deficiency that is now severe enough to display clinical signs. Change her diet to a balanced raw or cooked homemade diet. Some research has shown that a diet that includes an MCT source (like coconut oil) also has some anti-inflammatory effects on the brain and may help a senile dog.
- Provide plenty of antioxidants in her diet: Some dietary changes are important in senile dogs and antioxidants work against free radicals, so they may be effective in preventing or slowing the progression of senility. There is not a lot of evidence yet on what products may help, but it would be a good idea to try products like açai or blueberries (depending on where you live), acerola or other fresh sources of vitamin C, and a source of vitamin E. In one study of dogs given antioxidants and an improved environment, the antioxidants worked better when given with a new routine.
- Make sure to supplement omega fatty acids: Omega fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects and may decrease the symptoms of dementia. Your dog should be getting adequate omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Many companies sell fish oil produced from salmon, and that would be an excellent dietary supplement. There is also a type of jellyfish that may be effective, but no one can guarantee it will work; you can find products like this or others that may or may not help at a local pet store.
- Do not move furniture or change her feeding routine: When your dog has been diagnosed with the condition, you should try to make things as easy for her as possible. Do not change her routine (like feeding time, walk time, etc.), and do not move the furniture around so that she will not become even more confused.
Conventional Treatment for Senile Changes in Your Dog
If exercise, mental stimulation, and dietary changes are not enough, your dog might still have clinical signs of dementia. The next step is to take her to your regular vet and see what can be done.
There is a drug called Anipryl (selegiline) that may be effective in decreasing the symptoms in some dogs. It is not a cure and does not always work, but it has few known side effects (at least according to the manufacturer), so you may want to give it a try. If your dog has symptoms of senility and you both decide that she has CCD, you will need to talk to find out more about this drug.
What Other Problems Can You Watch For?
Old dogs can have a lot of problems that may mimic dementia:
- Arthritis: If she has arthritis, she may be in a lot of pain and her reluctance to go to the door may be because of that pain.
- Kidney disease: Your dog may have "accidents" in the house even if she is house trained.
- Bladder disease: A weak sphincter may lead to a dog leaking urine in the house.
- Cataracts: If your dog is going blind because of cataracts or a retinal disease, she may no longer be able to find her way outside, especially if you move the furniture.
If you notice changes that you think are related to dementia, it is a good idea to take your dog to see her veterinarian for a physical examination, urinalysis, and a complete blood profile check. Rule out these other problems before deciding that your dog is senile.
Dog Dementia and Euthanasia
Dogs that are finally diagnosed with CCD can live up to two years, so there is no reason to put your dog to sleep just because she has become senile. The first thing you can do if you notice the changes associated with dementia is to start with the aforementioned steps at home. If these are not enough, be sure to put her on medication.
If your dog is constantly upset from being lost and cries excessively when she urinates in the house, she probably does not have a good quality of life. You have to consider what to do at that time. Do not take this step without a lot of thought.
A Final Diagnosis?
There is a lot you can do at home, but eventually, you will want to see your vet. There is no specific test for senility, so CCD can only be diagnosed by excluding other problems.
If you do decide that your dog has dementia, investigate all the alternative therapies. If your veterinarian is not willing to find an alternative therapy to help your senile dog and only wants to diagnose Anipryl, you need to find another vet.
Health Articles to Help Your Senior Dog . . .
- How to Use Acupressure to Help Your Dog
Acupressure can be used in dogs to stimulate the muscles and treat some diseases. It can be done at home, unlike acupuncture, and this article will give you some directions on how to treat your dog.
Landsberg, Gary. "Therapeutic Agents for the Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Senior Dogs." Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry 29 (2005): 471-79. Animal Necessity.
Makiko OZAWA, Mai INOUE, Kazuyuki UCHIDA, James K. CHAMBERS, Yukari TAKEUCH, Hiroyuki NAKAYAMA, Physical signs of canine cognitive dysfunction, Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 2019, Volume 81, Issue 12, Pages 1829-1834 https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jvms/81/12/81_19-0458/_article
Milgram NW, Head E, Zicker SC, Ikeda-Douglas CJ, Murphey H, Muggenburg B, Siwak C, Tapp D, Cotman CW. Learning ability in aged beagle dogs is preserved by behavioral enrichment and dietary fortification: a two-year longitudinal study. Neurobiol Aging. 2005 Jan;26(1):77-90. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15585348/
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Mark dos Anjos DVM
Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 16, 2013:
I was reading a story about an Austrlian Cattle Dog the other day when I was researching my "Healtiest Dog Breeds" hub--she lived to almost 30 years. Glad to hear things are okay, and lets hope Peso is with you for many more years!!
Maria Cecilia from Philippines on July 16, 2013:
Hi DrMark... it's been a year and my 12 year old Peso will turn 13 this month...I wish him a longer healthy life still... and you know I always tell him, Peso don't leave me ha...LOL
Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 15, 2013:
You sound like a good person. Not many are willing to take on that burden. Try to keep her stress levels low, feed her well, and hopefully symptoms will not progress, or slowly. It is a lot harder for street dogs since finding food is an issue.
My wife is from Marrakesh, and learned to apply Henna on hands and feet when young.
Wasteless Project from Worldwide on July 15, 2013:
We adopted her from Spain. She was rescued by animal activists from an animal shelter where street dogs end up being euthanized after three months of not being claimed by an owner. She was already tested positive then, but luckily till date has shown only very mild symptoms. But of course since the first symptoms started we are always overly alert, fearing to miss something that would need our attention... But touch wood, she is actually doing pretty well considering her underlying condition:) And yes, the hand is mine:)
Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 14, 2013:
That is good to hear! The symptom you described was pretty mild, but you are probably like me--concerned about everything! My older dog had a high fever last week and I was worried all night.
What country did your dog pick up her Leishmania infection?
Is that your hand with the henna? It looks great!
Wasteless Project from Worldwide on July 14, 2013:
Thank you for this insightful article! This actually gives me the confidence that whatever our dog has/does, is still very very far from CCD - so that is good news!
Maria Cecilia from Philippines on September 15, 2012:
DrMark1961 my Peso is a Philippine Local dog, he an be a mixed breed of unknown origin hope you'll mee thim in some of my hubs. thanks for your wish, that's my wish for him too
Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 15, 2012:
Hi wetnosedogs, they really are sad at that age; alternative therapy works for some but not all, so eventually those symptoms come about.
What breed or mix is he, Maria Cecilia? Yes, it is a lot easier for most people to love puppies, and a lot harder for them to take a look at an old dog, or read an article about an old dog. It is the same with people, unfortunately. I hope your 12 year old is with you many more years.
Maria Cecilia from Philippines on September 13, 2012:
I love reading about senior dogs, my dog is 12 years old aside from sleeping, I guess he is still good. I think he still looks younger than his age in spite of 6 surgeries that he had undergone. This is a very helpful hub.... promoting love for our dogs not only when they are young and cute but more when they are already old and quite sickly
wetnosedogs from Alabama on September 13, 2012:
Long ago, I knew people who had an old dog that kinda did like the dog in the video. There was an enclosed part of the house, like an open closet and the dog would go in there and poor thing would bump the walls, i' m assuming to get out, but didn't seem to get the opening where he walked in. It wasn't all the time, the moment would just click. Sad thing.