Updated: Mar 12
This is a hard one for me to write and not only because I have a 14 year old dog. I also happen to have a mother with dementia. Honestly, the conversations that I have had with her caretakers are very similar to the conversations I have with owners of geriatric dogs. As much as I wish that I could never go through the process of watching my pets age, I also understand that my lack of mental acceptance makes me undeserving of the all the fun years that I got to spend with them in the prime of their lives. I'm getting older as I write this (I can also feel some gray hairs popping out from the stress of it).
So what do I want you to know about doggy senility overall?
Step 1: Understand that it's going to happen. It's a part of life and existing. If your dog made it this far into the aging process then they are actually ahead of the game. Some dogs die young (sadly). It's an honor that you get to keep them as they grow old.
Step 2: Make sure that you are treating all of your dog's treatable illnesses, by confirming with a veterinarian. Arthritis, kidney disease, diabetes and many other diseases will compound the effects of senility, so the best approach is to treat the treatable problems.
Step 3: Understand that as long as you're doing the best to make your pup happy and comfortable, you're doing all you can. Some dogs stay sharp until the bitter end, most dogs don't. Just like people. Comfort is key. Both your dog's and yours.
Step 4: Understand that there are medications and supplements that your dog can TRY, which may help. However, the goal is really aimed at slowing the progression of senility when moving forward and not restoring youth. You may see subtle beneficial changes in your dog's behavior with supplements or medications. But in reality, unless you are super in tune with your dog's behavior, most supplements aren't going to give you a "day to night" difference.
Step 5: Research "Quality of Life" for your dog, if you're even slightly questioning whether or not your dog is comfortable. This is my favorite survey because it also factors in your quality of life as well: https://journeyspet.com/pet-quality-of-life-scale-calculator/
I have no idea where that service is located, but the survey is quick and to the point.
Okay, so Let's talk about Doggy Dementia a.k.a Senility
First, we'll look at the definition of Dementia. Dementia, in humans, is defined as an interference to daily activities caused by the loss of cognitive functioning and behavioral abilities.
Veterinarians usually mention "doggy dementia" when an owner describes behavioral changes that their senior dog is experiencing. Many older dogs experience confusion and anxiety due to a loss of vision, hearing, mobility and overall health.
For example: My 14 year old JRT, Daisy, no longer comes back inside the house during the split millisecond when I call her name. Once she even wandered into the alley, which is unlike her. She's supposed to be the smartest dog on the planet forever, but thanks to senility, that plan is out the window.
Okay, now that I'm severely depressed after talking about my old dog, let's go through all of the commonly reported signs of doggy dementia and discuss tricks to alleviate or slow the progression of these signs. You'll notice that these signs bare a very common resemblance to aging in humans.
Doggy Dementia - Common Sign #1 Night-time accidents or inability to hold urine through the night
Make sure that you consult with a veterinarian when dealing with any urinary related issues to make sure that your dog does not have an underlying health problem before deciding that the changes are due to senility (UTI, kidney disease, Cushing's, diabetes ...etc). When caused by senility, night-time accidents may be related to a lack of mobility or the fear of going outside where it is dark and vision is limited. If your pet is blind, they may not even understand what time of day or night it is. They may also have decreased muscle tone in their bladder sphincter causing urine leakage, which we may be able to treat.
What to DO:
-Make sure that you take your pet outside to urinate just before bedtime regularly and
stick to the pattern. Do the same first thing in the morning.
-Make sure that your dog is sleeping through the night by keeping them active during
the day and administering sleep aids at night, if necessary.
-Use bright lighting in your back yard so your dog doesn't fear night blindness, which
occurs with any dog that has cataracts due to aging. The age related cataracts cause a
lack of contrast, just like looking into a fogged mirror.
-If you use a diaper at night (adult diaper with a tail hole cut out is the most affordable),
make sure that you are cleaning your dogs skin under the diaper when it's soiled
because urine will cause a rash.
What to DON'T:
- Don't put a diaper on your dog and NOT give them a bath after they use it. Urine on
the skin causes diaper rash and urine burn.
- Don't use a diaper if your female dog may poop in it. This can cause a urinary tract
-Don't use cornstarch OR any starch in the diaper, unless you are keeping the area very
clean. Starch feeds yeast and can cause a yeast infection.
-Don't start using puppy pads at night, unless your are okay with your dog using them
during the day as well. They aren't going to differentiate when they have to potty.
-Don't ignore constant urine leaking. There's treatment for this in older female dogs.
This supportive sling can help your older dog get around better, when going on beloved walks. It also adds an additional upper body workout for you, BONUS! If you're not using a sling to support your geriatric dog, you should consider it. Whether or not you think you'll need it, using a sling can give your pup a little lift, especially if they are dragging their back legs due to nerve dysfunction. And if your pet should stumble and fall? You'll be there! Wearing them like a weekender bag (Dogs are so much better than weekender bags =)
This is a veterinary ophthalmologist formulated supplement to slow the progression of age related cataracts. It will never hurt, but the results are not definable since dogs can't tell us the slight benefits to their vision. I started recommending this after seeing that many patients that I had sent to the board certified ophthalmologist were placed on this supplement. Make sure you get the right size (Large breed or Small Breed)
Common sign #2 - Decreased cognition leading to increased confusion and anxiety
Sometime confusion is due to poor vision and hearing. The most common manifestation is when dogs end up stuck in corners or barking at shadows. To a recently blind or near blind dog, a shadow is no different than a masked intruder wearing all black. What's the best defense to keep you and your dog safe from shadows? Keep the overhead lights on when your dog is around. More lights = less confusing.
If your dog still seems confused in areas unrelated to vision, they may be losing their cognitive function. This means that they are losing their memory due to the aging process. Any behavioral change can be a sign of cognitive loss. Repetive behaviors are the most common signs. When discussing cognition, I usually hear tales of older dogs that want more food after they were already fed and then decide they can't eat anymore or dogs that want to go out multiple times yet they don't even have to go potty. This loss of cognition causes dogs to become more dependent on their caretaker and also causes anxiety. At times these older pets will demand attention by whining or vocalizing with no seemingly apparent reason (Comforting them will help, but it also reinforce the behavior). Though no one can say for sure, it seems that antidepression medications help, therefore leading us to believe that the loss of cognition is closely tied in with anxiety. This is similar to anxiety experienced by people with dementia. No animal wants to be confused, because it's not conducive to survival. The best treatment for this problem is going to be prescribed by your veterinarian. It will be some form of an antidepressant used to calm your dog's anxiety. The most important thing to know here, is that these medications don't fix the loss of cognitive function, they just decrease the anxiety caused by it. There are many antidepressants to try and this is not a weekend fix. Sometimes it takes months to find the right balance of meds.
What to DO:
- Keep overhead lights on so that your dog has better visual contrasting and decrease
shadows and sudden movements.
- Do anything you can do decrease anxiety. Thunder-T's, Adaptil diffusers, Anxitane
treats. Read my blog on reducing stress during the holidays and pretty much apply it to
the rest of your dog's senior life if it helps them.
- Perfect your daily routines. Make as few changes as possible. Any change in routine
can cause worsening anxiety.
What to DON'T:
- Don't take your senile dog on that road trip that you always planned for the two of you.
Especially if your dog is anxious and confused in their own home in which they are
accustomed to. Anxious and confused dogs need stability and structure. Just hire a
good petsitter. I know a few, if you live in St. Pete, FL.
- Don't think that because your dog seems restless and is whining, now's a good time to
get them a buddy. They don't need a buddy, they need less anxiety.
-Don't let your pooch pace on bad flooring. This is how I meet 50% of my slip and falls.
Make sure they have gripping with carpets and clear all obstacles, like wires or uneven
surfaces, which may require baby gates ($10-15 at Wal-Mart).
This is a supplement that is specifically made to help senior dogs maintain (not fix) cognitive function. Some have said they have noticed small improvements. This specific supplement is made by a reputable veterinary company and has many positive reviews (But it's Amazon). No personal experience with it, however, I would imagine it's like ginkgo in people with cognitive issues. And I know that it can't hurt. I would vend it myself, however, you can get it cheaper on Amazon than I can, buying it wholesale from the Company.
Again with the getting of the right size (Buying Senilife XL will save you if your dog is over 30lbs!!)
Though you can get a baby gate at Wally World for $10-15 bucks, this remains the best gift ever kept from an ex. Not expensive and eliminates the constant wear on the door frame from opening and closing the gate to let the dog out. IT DOES have a ridge that your dog will have to step over to get out, so you DO need to be careful or lay a mat down. You could probably find one without that ridge on Amazon.
Common Sign #3 - Disruption of sleep-wake patterns
This is by far the most annoying of all of the symptoms of doggy dementia. We all need to sleep, man! And sleeping is not easy to do when your poor pup is pacing all over the house because they think it's party time. When dogs lose their senses, they also lose their sense of what time it is. At times they will sleep all day not even realizing it, causing them to stay up all night and pace. A dog with no senses has no idea of what is going on in their surroundings. To them, you are out of the house every moment that you aren't physically touching or feeding them. Your absence can cause anxiety for a dog and lack of proper rest also creates anxiety. For all involved.
What to DO:
- Try giving a small meal (1/2 of their dinner) right before bed time. Sometimes this
calms them and they feel full, making them rest easier. THIS WORKS GREAT AND IS
- Get a dog walker and have them take them for a walk (if they can) during the day, while
you're out. If they can't walk, have the dog walker just come in and play with them to
get them excited so they aren't sleeping all day and energetic at night.
- Leave as much stimulation as possible in the home, during the day. Leave lots of toys if
they still play with them. Hide treats around so they have to forage for them all day (on
safe flooring). Leave the TV on, so they know that when it goes off, it's time for bed.
- Stick with routine. Bed time should always be at the same time every night. For them at
- Reduce anxiety by doing the previously mentioned tricks.
- If you give a medication for pain (other than an NSAID), give it 1 hour before bedtime
- Ask your veterinarian if a dose of Melatonin would be safe.
- ****There is something that you can get at your grooming salon or pet store that may
help your pet fall asleep at night as well. And it's all natural. I'm not going to mention it
or recommend it because I have a DEA license and I'm not legally allowed to
recommend certain products that are not Federally legal. Ask your groomer for
something to calm your dog at night and they will help you find it, I'm sure.
- Ask your vet if they recommend a sedative to help your pet sleep through the night.
What to Don't
- Don't think that this issue cannot be fixed with the right combination of medications. If
nothing natural works, it's time to call your vet. We have sedatives that can ensure your
pet goes to sleep at NIGHT. It's not a quick fix and at times we try different things, but
we usually figure out a way to manage this issue.
- Don't try diphenhydramine (Benadryl) more than once. If it doesn't work at all the first
time, it most likely won't help the second time. I don't actually recommend this
medication for dogs with senility because it makes people with senility crazy (Google it).
This is a doggy formulated version of Melatonin, which can be used as a sleep aid. My Doctor said melatonin just has a placebo effect and doesn't truly work. I kind of agreed, because that's why I went to the Doctor. For 14 bucks it may be worth a try if you're into all natural solutions.
Unfortunately, just like in human medicine, there is no cure for dementia or senility in dogs. We manage this condition in a way that keeps our dogs and our sanity comfortable and manageable. If all else fails, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help your dog peacefully transition into the state of increased dependency and declining health. Try and embrace the silver lining. You have the fortune of more time with your dog. The older your dog gets, the more obstacles they overcame. Which is great, whether it's through perseverance or luck. Best wishes!
Please contact Vet 2 Door to schedule a senior pet consultation, if you live in the St. Petersburg, FL area.
Written with Love