While not all dogs will experience significant mental decline as they age, various studies indicate that somewhere between five and fifteen percent of older dogs and cats, usually those over ten years old, will experience a condition similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. This condition, known in the veterinary field as canine cognitive dysfunction but often just referred to as canine dementia, can cause your dog a great deal of confusion and can manifest as disorientation, changing behavior, and sleep disturbances.
While dementia is disorienting and confusing, often for both you and your dog, it doesn’t affect your dog's senses. Dogs typically have somewhere around two hundred and twenty million scent receptors in their nose compared to the five million scent receptors that are present in the human nose, and while dogs that are older than seven or eight years old frequently experience some decline in their sense of smell, their olfactory acuity is still typically many times better than yours and mine. Scent work activities can help dogs that are experiencing canine cognitive dysfunction by both working their mind and by giving them more confidence.
This activity is helpful for dogs that are experiencing cognitive decline as it is designed to reward your dog for thinking creatively without asking them to remember specific commands. While the focal object that is used in this example is a box, the choice of focal object is only a recommendation, and any item will work as long as your dog can safely interact with it using their nose, paws, or even their mouth and it is not one of their own toys. This activity may provide the added benefit of reinforcing clicker training, possibly helping to keep the association between the clicker and the reward fresh in their mind.
Dogs with dementia are often confused and disoriented and have trouble recognizing the people and places that are around them. This frequently has the effect of causing them to feel stress and anxiety. Massage is a relaxing activity that can help to reduce stress and anxiety and is well-suited to senior dogs as it can also improve circulation, and even help to reduce pain and inflammation from disorders that often plague older dogs, such as arthritis-related issues or dysplasias. This specific activity allows you to continue reinforcing your bond with your dog and provide them comfort and compassion, even through the later stages of the canine cognitive disorder.
many individuals, this is a good time to get a great portrait of your
pet, and there are many portrait studios
that specifically cater to dogs and their owners. If you don’t have the funds
for a professional portrait, your dog is uncomfortable going to new places, or
you just prefer a more casual setting, many photographers will come to you, or
you can simply choose to take the pictures yourself, just remember to include
yourself in a picture of two.
This is a fun game that can keep your dog thinking for quite some time. Problem-solving games and activities, like hide and seek, have shown some promise as a way to slow the process of cognitive decline. If your dog begins to show signs of frustration when playing, often wanders off before finding their target, or appears unduly startled when they find their target, it may be time to retire this activity.
While dogs that have developed Canine Cognitive Dysfunction may get confused and disoriented from time to time, they are still typically able to learn new things and enjoy new experiences for quite some time as long as a few considerations are taken. When introducing new activities or places to your dog with dementia, it may be more effective to take it gradually and ease your dog into the new experience, in order to avoid scaring or overwhelming your animal.