Can Dogs Get Senile Dementia?

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Do you have an older dog? You’ve given him a great life. But his days of playing fetch with you and his favorite buddy at the dog park are just about over. You know when you take him now, he barely bothers to get the ball. Maybe he’s happy watching the other dogs.

Much like the older people in our lives who watch life pass them by while rocking in their favorite chair on their front porch, our dogs age as well. And as they age, their behaviors might begin to change. Maybe you’ve compared your dog to an elderly person you know who may be acting a little differently as well. All our seniors, people and dogs, need some extra tender loving care and understanding to help guide them through those last, possibly confusing, stages of life.   

Can Dogs Get Senile Dementia?

YES!

As your dog ages, you may notice changes in behavior and comfort levels in certain situations. Some dogs might stand in the middle of a room staring at nothing. Some might look right at you and still not notice you. People suffering from senile dementia might say odd things and offer verbal clues only humans can give. Your dog’s senile dementia behaviors might not be as vocal as a human’s, but those changes will be obvious.

Does My Dog Have Senile Dementia?

If you have a senior dog who is behaving oddly, she might be suffering senile dementia. Your senior dog might not understand or remember everyday activities. She might remember what the word ‘dinner’ means, but when she gets to her bowl, she might stare at her food, not remembering to eat it. A dog who suffers dementia might seem dazed and confused. Staring at a wall might be how one dog spends his time. Another might be sleeping more than he did in younger years. Dogs with dementia might show signs of fear more than usual because their brains are not processing normal situations correctly. Your dog might also be forgetting familiar things like where she regularly sleeps or how a door works. Urinating or defecating in the house can become an everyday occurrence for dogs with senile dementia.

Senile dementia typically occurs in elderly dogs and rarely in younger dogs. You can talk to your veterinarian about your dog and how to care for him during his last years. You can also read more about dementia here.   

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Senile Dementia?

Unfortunately, senile dementia cannot be treated and cured. However, the symptoms can be treated and you can help your dog adjust to their new, confused state of mind. When possible, try to provide your dog with a dependable schedule and routine. Even in a dazed and confused state, it might help your dog to know what to expect each day. Meals at the same time can give your senior dog a routine they can trust. Everything moment you can keep routine, down to turning off the lights at night can offer your dog comfort and guidance. Walking your house with your dog throughout the day will help them to remember where they are and how to get to their spaces such as their bed and food and water bowls. Your dog will take comfort in the familiarity of you, so be sure to help her as much as possible and show love to her as much as you can.

Senile dementia can be scary for a dog. Anxiety from this worry can cause additional troubles for her. Comfort, security, and love are some of the best treatments for the symptoms of senile dementia. If you crate trained your dog, you might find your dog inside the crate for comfort more often. If your senior dog was crate trained, but the crate hasn’t been with for her for years, she may take comfort in having access to it again.

If you have questions about senile dementia and your senior dog, you can ask our in-house veterinarian about senior cognitive changes.

How is Senile Dementia Similar in Dogs Similar and Humans?

Doctors believe all animals, as well as people, can face senility and dementia as we age. It's not always clear why some suffer dementia and others do not. But it is like that for people as well. We all tend to experience similar symptoms, such as feeling lost in places that should be familiar. Forgetting common things around us occurs more often, and even aggression can become common. Anyone suffering from senile dementia lives a difficult life and it's often tough to communicate with the people--and pets--in our lives who have dementia.

How is Senile Dementia Different in Dogs Similar and Humans?

Humans who feel confused and possibly aggressive, angry, or even sad can at least, much of the time, tell caregivers what they're feeling or what they're seeing even if what they're seeing is not real. Animals, on the other hand, cannot communicate to people as well as other humans can. So, though we humans can make assumptions as caregivers to our pets, we might not ever fully understand exactly why our dog stares at the wall or the corner. Or why he stands at the wrong side of an opening door. Senile dementia is a challenging condition for the person or pet suffering as well as for their caregivers. But when there's no communication, as with pets, sometimes the challenges are even more difficult. At the same time, we tend to have higher expectations from humans than we do pets. Your senile dog may live inside your house, and only the people that come into your home and know your dog might know what's happening. Whereas people travel around their communities and are seen more often. As a society, we tend to expect more from people as far as social behaviors are concerned.

Case Study

A thirteen-year-old Sheltie named Jetson started going to his food bowl in the middle of the day. Just as proud as could be, he would lift his leg and pee right in the bowl. His owners initially thought he was hungry and angry about something, but there hadn't been any significant changes in their lives. Over time, this sweet little dog started displaying other signs of senile dementia. He would stand in the middle of a room at attention for hours if his owners let him. When he walked down the hall and turned the corner, he would whine as if he were lost. Because the owners work from home, they were able to spend time with their aging Sheltie. And for the last two years of his life, they were able to at least make him feel safe as they walked him around the house on a leash when he seemed scared and anxious. When he was stuck in the middle of the room unsure of what he was supposed to be doing, they would pick him up gently lay him and on the couch where he would nap until they came back to get him. Jetson’s owners did everything they could do to make his environment safe for Jetson and to assure him he was safe when his behavior showed he was more uncertain than ever of his role in the world, until it was time for him to pass.