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Dementia, or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, is a common a far more common disease in dogs than most dog owners are aware of. Since “senior moments” in dogs cannot be articulated as they are in people, signs of dementia tend to be more subtle at first.
We commonly hear owners describe their senior dog exhibiting “selective hearing.” This more often than not is a subtle but clear sign of early cognitive dysfunction. While they may not connect their name when being called with an owner intention to summons them, they may still have no difficulty in responding to more recognizable (because they are the most enjoyable events of their day) sounds like the sound of kibble hitting the bowl at feeding time.
Statistically, 30% of dogs over the age of 11 and 100% of dogs over the age of 15 are showing significant signs of cognitive dysfunction. There are recommended holistic supplements known to be helpful in managing these cases such as omega-3-fatty acids, and SAM-E. There is a very effective medication called selegiline that often successfully manages cognitive dysfunction by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
Perhaps the most effective treatment for dog dementia is something that is also physically good for the dog, physically good for the owner, and mentally good for both: a nice neighborhood walk. Walking provides the dog with mental stimulus that increases sensory input in the brain, increases blood flow to the brain, increases serotonin production in the brain (which reduces anxiety that commonly accompanies cognitive dysfunction).
When walking with your senior dog, be patient. Let him sniff a lot. Sniffing is the primary method of sensory input for dogs, far more valuable to them than even their eyes. Sniffing other dogs, wildlife, and all of the myriad scents of nature are not only enjoyable to your dog, but provide a wealth of sensory input that exercises his brain. The physical benefits of keeping arthritic joints moving and keeping up muscle tone to help combat arthritis are an added bonus.
So…if you think your dog may be experiencing dementia or cognitive dysfunction, a daily walk is just what the doctor ordered.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.