Dear Porky and Buddy,
My dog, Harvey, who has been with me since he was a puppy, is now thirteen years old. I guess that makes him about 91 in human years. He has always been well behaved and totally friendly, but suddenly he has started to bark for no apparent reason and sometimes when I am petting him or brushing him he just wanders off as though he doesn’t enjoy that attention any more. It makes me really sad to think that he may have some sort of dementia. Is that possible in dogs? What should I do.
The symptoms you have described could be related to a number of medical conditions other than what veterinarians call “cognitive dysfunction” related to aging.
There is no definitive test for cognitive dysfunction.
It is only diagnosed after every thing else is ruled out.
So the first thing you need to do is discuss these symptoms with your vet and get her or his advice about what further examination needs to be done to rule out such other possible causes.
There are a number of behaviors that may indicate that Harvey, or any older dog, is suffering from age related cognitive dysfunction.
Some dogs may stand head-first in a corner or at the hinge side of a door, waiting for it to open, unable to figure out the next step. They may pace and wander anxiously around the house. They may forget about going outside to do their business as they always used to. They may stop seeking or seeming to enjoy human companionship, which appears to be happening with Harvey.
And it is not uncommon that, like Harvey, they bark for no reason.
This may be because he no longer recognizes family members or he is “lost” in the yard or behind a door.
Senior dogs may “forget” to eat and lose interest in food. A dog with cognitive dysfunction may sleep more than normal. They may stop responding to voice commands, possibly because of hearing loss, which is quite common in senior dogs.
But a dog with cognitive dysfunction may simply not be able to process the command and act on it as before.
Keep a log of what behaviors you have noticed, the timeframe or how often you notice these behaviors, and make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss what is gong on.
The first step for any behavior problem is to rule out any medical causes first. If, in the end, your vet diagnoses cognitive dysfunction related to aging, there are some steps you can take to make Harvey’s time remaining easier and less stressful.
1. Older dogs like Harvey are unable to regulate body temperature as effectively as young dogs, and should be kept warm, but not too warm, dry and, as much as possible, indoors.
2. Harvey probably likes warm places to rest. Make sure his favorite soft bed or resting place is not in a drafty area of your home. You may also want to provide extra blankets or an orthopedic bed.
3. If Harvey seems to be losing his sight or hearing, remove obstacles and reduce his anxiety by keeping floors free of clutter. Try to keep his routine consistent to avoid any unnecessary stress. Night lights may also help him navigate at night. Keep doors open and easy for him as much as possible.
4. If he starts to have problems with house soiling, treat him like a puppy, taking him out on lots of walks, especially after meals.
5. If he seems to be losing interest in eating, especially if he is losing weight, talk to your vet about how to make sure he is getting proper nutrition.
6. If Harvey can no longer jump on his favorite couch, create a sturdy ramp or purchase pet stairs that allow him to safely reach that spot on his own.
7. And most important, spend lots of time with Harvey while you can. This is toward the end of his life’s journey and your job is to make it as interesting and fulfilling as the first thirteen years.
The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County.
Our office is located at 265 W. First St., Oswego, NY.
Phone (315) 207-1070.
Email: [email protected]
Because people and pets are good for each other!