Woof Wednesday: Furry Fountain of Youth

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.

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.

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 Doggy 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 are somewhat helped 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. Sadly, even improved dogs eventually revert and again develop senility signs.

7 Tips To Keep Canine Brains Youthful

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. “Use it or lose it” applies to dogs just as it does to humans. Here are 10 tips to keep King mentally spry into his old age.

Don’t delay. Keep dogs both mentally and physically spry from puppyhood on. That helps prevent or at least slow brain aging changes. Magical-Dawg is six-years-YOUNG and I’m determined to keep his brain active. Otherwise, he finds trouble. 🙂

  1. 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.
  2. 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, Magic hasn’t had a weight problem and continues to have a waist. I just wish that I had the same metabolism!
  3. 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. (Actually, I think Magical-Dawg has “youthened” the Seren-kitty’s c’attitude, and yes–cats can also suffer from senility.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

We can’t predict any dog’s lifespan. When a special dog reaches senior citizenship, we treasure our time together even more. 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 my forthcoming thriller, a tracking dog still has the “nose” despite his age–and I based that on an interview with a tracking dog expert (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!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay tuned for more news about my forthcoming THRILLER, LOST & FOUND!


Woof Wednesday: Furry Fountain of Youth — 11 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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. 🙂

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