Hey Doc – Is My Dog Losing It?

Not an uncommon question especially when doing exams on older patients. The real question is losing what? There is recognition of something called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, and the clinical signs will be touched on later. My personal experience leads me also to know that losing vision, hearing and mobility are a part of our ageing pets, and can also inform us about their day to day behaviour.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or doggie Alzheimer’s disease is noted in our ageing patients. Some changes in the dogs’ or cats’ behaviour that may signal this are as follows :

  • Loss of well-established patterns of activity, ie. Does not use the litter box as frequently or ask to go out as much leading to increased accidents in the house;
  • Unaccounted for vocalizing at odd times of the day;
  • Appetite changes;
  • Not responsive to auditory stimulus like doorbells, people coming home etc.
  • Seeming to get lost easily, staring off into space;
  • Unexpected reactions to things such as a touch or a surprise contact;
  • This among many others.

I hope that while reading this list, you could also recognize how other losses of sensory input or functionality may lead to these things. If the cat or dog is experiencing pain from arthritis, they would vocalize more and may have a litter box or household accidents as it is painful to move. Not responding to usual auditory clues could be that they just have lost the frequency of their hearing. My own older Springer when she started to lose her hearing would wander around the house barking at seemingly nothing at all. Once she lost her hearing completely, the random barking just stopped. Disoriented pets could be suffering from some type of dementia but perhaps their vision is decreasing, and they can not pick up the subtle changes they used to be able to. This can cause some strange wonderings.

So what do you do? Seek the help of your veterinary team. Hopefully, you and your pet will have had a long continuous history of regular visits. This will help in determining if these could be consistent with general sensory loss or if indeed we are suffering from a central nervous system issue.

Once determined what you are dealing with, therapy may be an option. Some medications have been shown to be helpful for cognitive dysfunction. Chronic pain from osteoarthritis (arthritis) can be managed with certain medications. As always, good food, clean water access and exercise even for our seniors are essential. Starting to train hand signals if you believe hearing loss is an issue can be very helpful once their hearing has gone. Alas, most of our pets do poorly with glasses, but just leaving lights on at night can be very helpful, and don’t rearrange the furniture on a daily basis.

Like us, our pets will age and require some things to be done differently than they have been done in the past. It may require some changes in our interaction with them, and I know how much we all love change. I do think overall the changes are well worth the continued relationship with our pets.

Written by: Dr. Tim Blatt, Veterinarian