Just as medical science is extending the human lifespan, veterinary science is doing the same for our pets.  But with longer lives come problems that were uncommon years ago when we and our pets didn’t live as long. Dementia, or senility, is becoming more prevalent. Human dementia seems easier it diagnose – forgetfulness, loss of short-term memory, and difficulty recognizing people.  Dogs and cats don’t exhibit these exact symptoms. They show other signs. 

One of the most common signs of canine senility, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCD), is loss of housetraining. Dogs who have been reliably housetrained and start to “lose their manners” may have CCD. This may be considered forgetfulness, as they “forget” to give the signal that they need to go outside. (Cats who stop using the litter box may also be showing signs of dementia.) First, rule out that a health problem such as a urinary tract infection is not the cause of the housetraining accidents before deciding it could be CCD. 

Other symptoms are usually present. Barking for no reason, sleeplessness during the night, staring at nothing, pacing, and either a withdrawal from the family or overly-clinginess are all possible symptoms. Some dogs may even have a change in personality where they become aggressive, have separation anxiety or other issues when before they did not. Just like housetraining problems, first rule out any health issues that may be the underlying cause of any of these symptoms.  Problems such as thyroid disease, brain tumors or cancer could also produce these symptoms. 

Depending on the severity of these issues, it could be quite difficult to live with a dog who has CCD. Continued housetraining accidents, non-stop barking and getting up in the middle of the night may tax even the most loving and patient dog-parent. There is a medication to help with these symptoms but it is quite expensive. Anipryl, used to treat humans with Parkinson’s disease, has shown effectiveness in improving symptoms of CCD. 

Little if any research has been done to see if mental activity slows dementia in pets as it can in humans. Dogs can’t do crossword puzzles but, as you know, I always advocate for lifelong training with dogs. It keeps them from being bored, tires them out and ensures good manners. It can’t hurt to try! Start now if your dog is still young. An active dog is a happy dog, and may keep your dog from forgetting who you are when he gets older.

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