Keeping Your Dog Young
Did you know that dogs can suffer from dementia commonly called canine cognitive dysfunction and other mental signs of aging just like people can? Knowing is only half of the battle, the other half is doing everything in your power to keep your dog young, mentally and physically for as long as possible!
Understanding Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Like Alzheimer’s the causes of CCD are unknown, but physical evidence shows degenerative brain lesions and plaque in the brain. Dogs suffering from this disorder usually suffer from confusion and disorientation. They might:
- Get lost in a familiar place like the hallway, behind a door, outside, or other places in their regular environment.
- Lose their house training skills
- Vocalize, cry, whine and/or bark excessively and inappropriately
- Pace and show other signs of restlessness
- Engage in repetitive or obsessive behaviors
- Stare blankly
- Seemingly forget friends and family and stop seeking attention or affection
There is no test for CCD. The basis for diagnosis comes from owner observation and history as it presents in their environment. Most vets require blood work, urinalysis, radiographs (x-rays) and other possible test prior to definitive diagnosis so as not to miss other diseases that have similar presentation.
Prevention is the best, to keep your dog from showing any of these signs or at least to prolong your pets best physical and mental wellbeing.
Physical exercise is crucial! Physical exercise keeps your dog’s body younger and helps stop your dog from losing muscle mass and suffering from joint pain and other problems. Exercise is crucial to your dog’s overall health.
Exercise stimulates your dog’s heart, lungs, muscles, joints and brain!! Even if your dog suffers from some dysplasia or pain; he can still benefit from brief bouts of exercise. If you are unsure or if your dog has heart problems seek the advice of your vet! Even just a walk around the block or through the yard can be enough to stimulate older dog’s bodies.
Moderation is the key. Let your dog set the pace and do not force him to go faster. Short hikes in new environments can be good for body, mind and soul! Do not encourage jumping or other activities that are hard on the joints of older dogs, and do not exercise in extreme heat or cold. Older dogs are more susceptible to changes in weather.
WARM UP! Dogs need to warm up their bodies and joints prior to exercise too, to keep them from suffering from injury.
Training is also a critical element in helping your dog stay young. That old adage: You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks is one of my most hated myths! Dogs of any age can learn and old dogs deserve to have their minds stimulated and utilized! Teach your geriatric dog something new, or introduce the clicker and watch his mind thrive! New tricks or even having him show you some old favorites is fun and learning helps build new pathways in the brain. The commands don’t have to be intricate, simple things like teaching him to bark or wag his tail on command will be enjoyable.
Even going back to his obedience and being patient can be vital in giving his mind something to do! Just be patient and cut him some slack in his old age; perfect sits and swiftness aren’t the key anymore just getting him to perform the basic tasks is the goal!
Get him involved in some mental games. You can either play games with him or you can purchase some brain building toys like the Buster Cube ©. Play hide and seek, hide his breakfast and let him find it, teach him to find his toys by name, or find a senior agility class in your area. Some organizations are even lowering jumps to allow older dogs to still enjoy the competition of agility!
Provide Him with Good Nutrition
Good nutrition is essential for brain usage and development. What is good nutrition?
Good nutrition should be defined by your vet with your help! Most dogs over 8 should be on a senior dog food. Senior foods are typically easier on the kidneys of older dogs and usually have things like less protein and more joint supplements like glucosamine and chondriotin and essential fatty acids.
Only YOU and YOUR VET know what is best for your dog. My dogs are different and lead different lifestyles than most people’s dogs, and some people’s dogs are competing in obedience, agility and other sports long after their dogs are 8. Let your vet give you the information you need to make the right decision for your best friend.
Adding exercise and mental stimulation may still help. Just understand your older dog’s limitations, and lower your expectations for rapid learning.
There are prescription medications that can help reduce the symptoms of CCD, talk to your vet! And have fun keeping your dog young and aging with grace!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.