My dog was always independent. She loved having the freedom to hang out with us on the couch or get up, and walk to another room. Sometimes she left to go take a nap in a quiet spot or watch the front of the house for the mailman.
When she lost her eyesight from diabetes, we took extra care to guide her around the house hoping to keep her confident in her independence. We didn't move furniture. We kept to a routine hoping to effectively manage her expectations.
But, because we actively changed our own behavior, it was clear that our sweet dog wasn't getting lost in a room because we left an ottoman in her path or moved her food bowl. Her behavior wasn't related to not being able to see, she was dealing with doggy dementia, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome CDS
I have a 92 year old aunt living in a memory care unit due to her dementia. She's been suffering from dementia for awhile and more than a year ago I noticed how our interactions reminded me a lot of my dog. Aunt Ruth would smile at you in greeting and return pleasantries but after a few minutes admit she didn't know who you were. I researched Alzheimers then.
For over a year we've watched our dog closely and observed that the changes in her behavior were not due to blindness or her independent streak. Besides dealing with her creaky joints and hip weakness, we could see our dog was managing memory loss. Seeing her confusion broke my heart but so did her exhausted relief after finding a safe comfortable spot to rest. In the end, seeing how hard it was for her to manage her everyday movements, as abbreviated as they'd become, we chose to let her go.
Letting my heart dog go was excruciating but the cognitive dysfunction syndrome was making her life significantly worse. As a senior dog she'd earned a comfortable quiet life, and this CDS had her working harder than ever and that wasn't right. What helped in our decision to say goodbye was accepting that she worked hard to get up, walk around the block, even greet someone at the door -- out of love for us -- and that was it. I could tell that she didn't enjoy these things the way she once did.
Pfizer has a website devoted to this disease. Here is a behavioral checklist they offer that you can use for a discussion with your veterinarian:
Does your dog:
- Appear lost or confused in the house or yard?
- Fail to recognize familiar people?
- Fail to respond to verbal cues or name?
- Have difficulty finding the door or stand on the hinge side of the door?
- Appear to forget the reason for going outdoors?
(Interaction with family members)
- Seek attention less often?
- Walk away when being petted?
- Show less enthusiasm upon greeting you?
- No longer greet family members?
(Sleep and activity changes)
- Sleep more during the day?
- Sleep less during the night?
- Wander or pace more?
(Loss of house-training)
- Urinate indoors?
- Have accidents indoors soon after being outside?
- Forget to ask you to go outside?
You'll notice the list doesn't mention changes in appetite. Both our dog, and our beloved aunt always want to eat even if they'd just had a meal. It's something I can't explain. I don't think she enjoyed food like she used to. It seemed at the end that a part of her brain drove her to eat as a reflex, similar to what happened during the euthanasia process.
Since learning about canine cognitive dysfunction and how it appeared in our dog, I'm relieved we didn't let her linger. Her decline couldn't be averted. If you have an older dog it's never too early to learn more about CDS. There is research that nutritional supplements may help slow its progress if caught early. Talk with your veterinarian and read this article.
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