Q&A with Dr Pauline Taylor, BVM&S MACVSc
DR. PAULINE SAYS: Many people assume that as dogs age so do their senses, their behaviour changes and there is nothing we can do to help them. “It is annoying but they are simply getting old!” Changes seen in these elderly companions include disorientation or getting lost in well-known places especially in the home, they can become less tolerant with changes in memory, house soiling, sleep disturbances-being awake at normal sleep times and vocalizing, restlessness, strange staring, panting, obsessive licking and worse sometimes not recognizing family members who may have been out of town. While it is correct that senior dog’s behaviour changes with age, sometimes we can help them and you, the owner, can fully enjoy the rest of their geriatric years. Studies at different veterinary schools in the USA have shown that up to 100% of participating study dogs are affected by cognitive behaviour issues by age 16 years. The actual clinical signs may start as young as nine years of age and slowly progress. With increasing age the brain shrinks in weight and size, there is an increase in protein plaques in the brain that cause damage to brain cells, little hemorrhages and blocks to blood flow result that contribute to a lack of oxygen in brain cells and changes in the brain protein messengers which in turn alter levels of dopamine a feel good neurotransmitter/brain chemical.
If you suspect CCD a thorough medical exam is advised to “rule out” other medical, environmental or behaviour conditions. Many treatments are available for CCD all aimed at managing cognitive dysfunction although there is no cure. They include medications, dietary changes, environmental enrichment and supplements aimed at increasing brain blood flow to bring in more oxygen. Teaching an old dog new tricks (yes you can), grooming and touching your dog more often, playing daily with toys and a variety of other non-medical options are available to you and your dog. If you suspect your companion is showing some early signs start right away to support him/her manage the changes that are happening. Old age is not a disease and together you and your pet can enjoy a very precious time together during wonderful senior years.