I’ve been blessed to share my life with two senior dogs, but only Magical-Dawg showed signs of dog senility, also known as canine cognitive dysfunction. Yes, both dogs and cats can suffer from a form of dementia, that some might described as a type of canine Alzheimer’s disease. Dogs aged 11 to 16 are most likely to develop Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), sort of the doggy version of Alzheimer’s Disease. CCD is a medical condition in which a starch-like waxy protein called beta amyloid collects in the brain and causes behavior changes. Here’s what you need to know and ways to slow down potential dog senility.
Signs of Dog Senility
Dogs cared for throughout their early years live longer than ever before. It’s not unusual for Toy-breed dogs to live into their mid-to-late teens and even big dogs today enjoy a decade or more of happy life with a loving owner. A longer life, though, can leave your dog befuddled when canine brains turn to mush.
Affected dogs become disoriented, wander, cry and pace, and can become lost in the house when out of your sight. Their behavior can change from confident to frightened, and the awake/sleep cycles may turn upside down. Dogs can forget house training, how to find the door or be unable to tell you when they need to “go.” And most heartbreaking of all, senile dogs lose interest in petting, ignore their beloved owners or furry friends, and might not recognize you.
Treating Dog Senility
While there’s no cure for CCD, the drug Anipryl (selegiline hydrochloride) is FDA-approved to treat cognitive dysfunction in dogs. According to veterinary researchers, about 1/3rd of treated dogs return to normal, another 1/3rd improve, and the final 1/3rd aren’t helped at all. There also are special diets designed to help turn back the clock on canine senility. Bright Mind dog food helped Magic a lot! Sadly, even improved dogs eventually revert and again develop senility signs.
A longer life is not necessarily a better life, especially if your dog no longer recognizes you. But there are ways to help your dog stay connected with the world and ward off signs of CCD, simply by exercising his brain.
Brain function studies in dogs proved that problem-solving activities kept them sharp, connected to the world around them, and even extended their lifespan. Just as with people, canine mental and physical stimulation drastically improves your dog’s cognitive function.
7 Tips To Keep Canine Brains Youthful
“Use it or lose it” applies to dogs just as it does to humans. Don’t delay. Keep dogs both mentally and physically spry from puppyhood on. That helps prevent or at least slow brain aging changes. Here are tips to keep King mentally spry into his old age.
- Make Play A Daily Treat. Interactive games keep your dog engaged with you and reward him for responding. Toys don’t need to be expensive, either. Old socks become tug toys and used tennis balls work great for fetch. They’re even more attractive if old and they smell like the owner. Read more about how pets play.
- Slim Pudgy Pooches. Overweight dogs have trouble exercising and avoid moving which can allow joints—and brains—to rust. Ask your vet for a slimming program that’s safe for your overweight canine. Fortunately, our current dog, Shadow-Pup hasn’t had a weight problem and continues to have a waist. I just wish that I had the same metabolism! Learn more tips for slimming pudgy pets here.
- Adopt Another Pet. Proper introductions of a playful younger cat or dog can serve as a furry fountain of youth to an old-fogey dog. Even if he’s irked at the young whippersnapper, keeping Junior-Pet in line can keep your dog sharp. When we brought home Magical-Dawg, he helped keep Seren-kitty active. Yes—cats can also suffer from senility, and by the time Seren reached 21 years, she displayed signs of kitty dementia.
- Practice Commands. Just because he’s old doesn’t mean he can’t perform. Practice the pleasures that make King’s heart leap for joy—for obedience champions, put him through his paces. If he has trouble, adjust the Frisbee toss or vault heights. Make necessary accommodations so he can still succeed and feel like the champion he is.
- Treats for Tricks. Teach the old dog new tricks using healthy treat rewards. Make treats smelly so he won’t have to strain old eyes to see.
- Give A Challenge. Puzzle toys that dispense treats turn meals into fun games. For food fanatics, puzzle toys encourage activity and brain-teasing challenges that exercise problem-solving abilities.
Planning For What-If…
We can’t predict any dog’s lifespan. Our beloved Bravo-Dawg succumbed to bone cancer before the age of three and never had the chance to reach senior status.
But when a special dog reaches senior citizenship, we treasure our time together even more. My first GSD lived just over 13 years, and Magical-Dawg barely made it to eleven before we lost him. Keeping your dog mentally active helps keep dogs connected with life—and us. And that ensures their golden years sparkle.
How do you keep your older dog’s brain nimble? Are there special games or activities that you enjoy doing together? In one of my thrillers, a tracking dog still has the “nose” despite his age—and I based that on an interview with a tracking dog Bloodhound (profiled in the Aging Dog book) who continued to track even though he’d gone blind! Of course, you can find all the must-knows about old dog care in the book. But many tips are common sense–please share!
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!
Thru 40 years of breeding and showing dogs I had 21 dogs. Fortunately nearly all of them lived well into their senior years. Three of my Danes didn’t live past 7 but a fourth (my first Dane ) lived to be thirteen and then died from Bloat. My Old English all lived to just under ten and a Westie to nearly 16 along with our indoor /outdoor cat who also lived to 16. They died a month apart along with our last show Dane who also died within in these two months. My last were Airedales. Momma lived to thirteen and lymphoma took her and her son lived to 15.5 and a ruptured spleen tumor took him. I have to say that , all of my seniors passed from health reasons other than CCD. The Westie and the two Airedales went deaf and nearly blind which made their life harder but again not the CCD. We emailed frequently when Bravo was ill. It always helps to have someone who cares so much about animals to help you thru tough times. On another note, we just ttalked to our cousin in Scotland whos GSD just turned 15 this past June. He can’t do the LONG walks like they used to but he is still fully alert – well when he’s not sleeping. Still keep loving them into their Senior years…….just like we love to be loved in our senior years.
Thanks Judi. Wonderful news about your cousin’s dog.
We lost a 15yo and a 16yo due to cognitive decline. Both wandered at night and forgot their potty training. Our 15yo ate like a fiend due to all the calories he expended at night. The 16yo fell off our second story landing even though we thought we had blocked it all off, but there was one tiny gap and she found it. Our 15yo collapsed one day, and when he came to he was completely lost and failed to recognize us. We should have made the decision to euthanize them before they suffered more, but our hearts were breaking. We lost a 16yo and two 15yo in the span of 13 months.
I’m so sorry. Hard enough with one, but two so close together… how sad.
I know you get tired of hearing this, but your blogs are invaluable for any pet owner. Thank you.
Never get tired of that! Thanks.
I had no idea cognitive decline was so common in older dogs. And I’m happy to learn how beneficial play time is. My dog’s daily park walks seem beneficial for her in so many ways, and you’ve showed me another. 🙂
Hi August, yes it’s great to know what’s fun for our dogs is also good for them. And us!
Cosmo the Pomeranian is still young–only a year old. I am so glad to read these ideas. I have taught him a series of tricks, and it’s good to know it will keep his brain active. See my Facebook photo albums for pictures of him.
The Pomeranian we had before Cosmo barely knew us at the end. She lived to be 16.5. She was very loved but love doesn’t make them last forever. Her little body just gave out.
Catie, you must have done a lot right for your little 16.5 Pomeranian to have lived so long. Yes, the love lasts forever–just not the physical part. *sigh*
We have a 10 year old cocker spaniel-long haired dachshund mix, and just adopted an 11 year old golden retriever we named Brooks. He was abandoned and left to roam on his own, can you believe it? It wasn’t an easy decision to adopt an older dog and risk possibly getting my heart broken sooner, but we’re so glad we did. He’s such a sweetie!
Abandoned?! I can’t wrap my head around pets being abandoned. Lost…that’s sad. But dumped? So glad you found each other!
We have a 10 year old cocker spaniel-long haired dachshund mix, and just adopted an 11-year old golden retriever we named Brooks. He had been abandoned and left to roam, can you believe it? It wasn’t an easy choice to adopt and older dog and to risk possibly getting my heart broken sooner, but we’re so glad we did. He’s an absolute sweetie!
My older boy Rex lived to be about 15 (pretty good for a 60 lb. dog). I started training him in freestyle when he was 11, we started visiting a local grade school as a therapy dog team at 12 (which we continued for another 3 years.) He loved it, and truly seemed to be energized by the kids. He stayed engaged and happy through his final days.
Hi Nancy, 15 is indeed a nice long life. Freestyle starting at 11? That’s terrific! Did he choose his music? I’ve always loved that sport, and the interaction with kids really does great things for some dogs. Thanks for posting your experiences.
Thanks for the tips. My Spanish Water Dog is 8 years old and almost as nimble as when she was a puppy… Though much better behaved 🙂 To keep her young we train at least a couple of days a week and she gets to swim all the time. I’m looking forward to reading your thriller soon.
Hi Emily, What’s your dog’s name? I have to admit, I had to look up the breed–gorgeous! Swimming is terrific exercise for aging dogs and for a water dog it must be heaven. 🙂 I can’t wait for you (and everyone) to read the thriller, too!