When Your Dog Has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Canine cognitive dysfunction in dogs

Here’s the good news: The last time we took our dog to the groomer he wasn’t afraid to walk in the door.

Now the bad news: Our dog has dementia, otherwise known as canine cognitive dysfunction. So he didn’t even seem to know he was at the groomer.

Our dog is experiencing cognitive difficulties. It’s been coming on gradually, for the past couple of years.

He’s lost interest in a lot of things. His housebreaking skills leave a lot to be desired. He doesn’t enjoy pats on his head. Or belly rubs.

But he still seems to know when my husband is due to walk in the door. He still goes to the window to watch for his car.

He also hasn’t forgotten how much he likes food.

In other words, he’s not really the same dog that we brought home from the shelter, when he was 3 1/2. But he’s our dog and we still love him.

Also, cognitive difficulties aren’t surprising at his age. Last March, he celebrated his 16th birthday. He is very old in dog years.


When Your Dog Has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

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We now have a very senior dog. He’s not as fun as a puppy or a young dog. He doesn’t play anymore.

But he’s still our dog.

He’s not suffering. He eats well and he still gets around.

Until one of these two things changes, putting him down is out of the question.

A number of people have said, “Don’t you think it’s time?”

We don’t.

He’s still our dog, even though he’s old. The vet agrees with us. She told us to keep doing what we’re doing and to keep using the natural remedies we’re using.

Our dog has battled a number of health issues. A few years ago, we thought we were losing him. He refused all food and drink.

Fortunately, we had a wonderful homeopath. We tried a few remedies, to see if we could get him eating again. The last one worked.

His appetite returned, better than it had been in years. It has stayed strong.

You can read about what happened in this earlier blog post.


Canine Cognitive Dysfunction and Euthanasia


Also, you can read why we didn’t rush into putting him down back then. About two years of much better health followed.

If we had made that decision, we wouldn’t have had this extra time with Buddy.

Lately, though, we’ve faced more health challenges. In the past year he has developed an unsightly eye malignancy. It doesn’t seem to cause him distress. The vet thinks we’re controlling it with natural remedies.

We feed him USDA certified organic dog food, plus real people food to supplement. Much of it is organic.

We also give him fairly high doses of CoQ10, a vitamin-like substance that functions as an antioxidant.

Plus we give him medicinal mushrooms to boost his immune system.

At this point, it looks as if the eye tumor isn’t going to get him.

But the cognitive dysfunction eventually will.


Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Life Expectancy


I don’t know what the life expectancy is for a 16 1/2-year-old dog with dementia. But I know it can’t be long.

So we need to appreciate the little time we have left with our aging Cocker Spaniel. He has already far exceeded the life expectancy for his breed.

But our dog’s very advanced age would mean he was reaching the end of his life anyway, with our without dementia.

One website called Dog Dementia Help and Support noted that this condition probably doesn’t shorten the natural lifespan of dogs.

However, I do know that many dog owners decide to euthanize their pets once dementia rears its ugly head.

We’ve decided not to. He’s not in pain. He’s eating well. He’s getting around fairly well, even though he’s starting to bump into things more than we’d like.

I won’t lie. It’s not easy taking care of a dog with dementia. Sometimes I wish he’d just slip away in his sleep. Then I look at him, remember all the wonderful years we had together, and think, “I’m happy for another day.”

He’s still our dog, even though he’s not nearly as interested in us as he used to be. But he still remembers to wait at the door when my husband is due home from work. Dogs are amazing in that they seem to have a really accurate built in clock.


Signs of Dementia in Dogs


There are a number of signs that your dog may have dementia. It’s very common in senior dogs. The fact that our very elderly dog has it is now surprise. If you suspect dementia, your vet is the best one to make the call. Here are some potential symptoms you may want to bring to his or her attention:

  • Your dog forgets he’s housebroken – This was one of the first things we noticed. Our dog would forget that he needed to “do his business” outside. We try to manage this by putting him outside the minute he wakes up.
  • Pacing at night – This was a terrible symptom. We were able to deal with it by giving him a well selected homeopathic remedy. It immediately solved the problem and he now sleeps through the night. Dog’s respond very well to homeopathy. If you can’t find a local veterinary homeopath, look for one online.
  • Excess barking – Some dogs with dementia will bark excessively. Our dog doesn’t. He stopped barking years ago, probably when he lost his hearing.
  • Withdrawal from family members – My dog barely seems to recognize me, except when he’s thirsty. For some reason he associates me with water. He will still seek my out when his water bowl needs to be filled. He still waits for my husband to come home from work. Other than that, he doesn’t like to be held or patted. Belly rubs are a thing of the past.
  • Getting stuck in corners – Our dog now gets stuck in corners of the house. He also gets stuck in furniture. I’ve had to move an end table out of our dining room because he kept bumping into it. Otherwise, the last thing we’d want to do right now is rearrange furniture in our house. I think he’d have a really hard time finding his way around if we made drastic changes to our living area. (Symptoms such as this need to be brought to your vet’s attention right away, in order to rule out other causes.)
  • Increased aggression – Fortunately we haven’t seen this. Our dog was definitely an alpha male in his earlier years.
  • Unusual behavior – Tell your vet if you notice any other unusual behavior.


Do You Have To Euthanize a Dog With Dementia?


There are no surefire treatments for dog dementia. Some people think you may be able to slow it down with natural remedies. If your vet is open to the idea, you may want to consider supplementing with a canine antioxidant formula.

One that we’ve purchased in the past is Dr. Harvey’s Golden Years. It was developed by Dr. Harvey Cohen, a veterinary holistic care expert.

Some veterinarians also prescribe a drug called anipryl for dogs with dementia. Canines who took it show slightly better functioning, compared with a similar group of dogs who don’t.

There are also various homeopathic remedies available, designed for dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction. Homeopathy can often work so well with dogs. One remedy helped our dog so much with his night walking. (It helped us a lot as well, since we were able to sleep.)

I know a lot of people don’t have access to good veterinary homeopaths. These practitioners are very hard to find. One good option is to use a wide-spectrum formula that contains multiple remedies.

One such formula is Brain Health Booster Senior Dog. It contains 5 different homeopathic remedies, including causticum. Causticum was the remedy that solved our night pacing problem. I can’t promise this will work for another dog. But it worked for Buddy.

Even though the directions on homeopathic formulas call for frequent dosing, I wouldn’t do this if it were my dog. Taken too much, a homeopathic remedy can intensify the symptoms it’s supposed to alleviate. (So picture a dog pacing all night in circles.

With our dog we give a single dose. Then we watch and wait. We never repeat the dose unless it’s clearly needed.

This means you’ll have a lot left over in this formula. That’s okay. It will probably last many years. Hopefully it will buy your dog some quality time.

Homeopathic Formula for Dog DementiaHomeopathic Formula for Dog DementiaHomeopathic Formula for Dog Dementia

When Your Dog Has Dementia


When your dog has dementia