The following guide was written by one of our friends who unfortunately owns a senior dog with dementia. I hope that it will help you to better understand how to care for a dog with dementia, including ways you can help them sleep at night.
How to care for a dog with dementia
As a dog owner, you ever want to contemplate the bad things that can happen in your dog’s life. Cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and other diseases are all possible. But what about the disease of the mind – dementia?
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS) is the fancy term for dementia in dogs. My dog was diagnosed with it this year. She is 12 years old which could mean she is 77 in human years!
It’s not uncommon for dogs to get CCDS at this age, so many pet owners will need to prepare for how to help their dog with dementia. My experience has been documented below and I hope it helps, as I’d not had to care for a dog with dementia before.
Her random whining, aimless walking, and disrupted sleep patterns were all tell-tale signs that she was slowly losing her faculties. Caring for her in her twilight years has been quite the adventure – and challenging at times.
In this short guide, I want to break down the changes I have made to care for my dog with dementia. A culmination of mental stimulation, exercise, patience, and routine has kept life fun and fulfilling for me and my dog!
Preparing for life with a dog with dementia
As soon as I got the diagnosis back from my veterinarian, I read as many internet articles as I could. I signed up to webinars, watched YouTube videos and more. You name it, I did it. I suspect you are doing the same, which is how you landed here.
I am not a vet, but I have got this experience now of helping my dog with dementia sleep at night, go about her everyday life, and making things as comfortable as possible for her.
The more you know about your dog’s degenerative condition the better you can adapt your lifestyle to this ever-changing affliction – here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Creating consistency
Because your dog may be more confused and disorientated as the months and years go on, it is super important to keep their environment as constant as possible.
There are two main ways of ensuring uniformity in your dog’s day to day life: building routine and maintaining the layout at home.
Dogs thrive with a solid routine, so we have always had consistency ever since my dog was a puppy!
We built a routine around our dog’s eating and sleeping habits which we have kept constant throughout her adult life. This has really helped in her older years to feel more at ease.
She knows exactly when mealtimes are, when we go for walks, what times the back door will be open and when they’ll be closed for the night.
Having a predictable schedule won’t completely solve your dog’s forgetfulness, but it certainly helps!
Maintaining the layout at home
If your dog with dementia is also losing their other sense such as sight and smell, a fixed furniture layout is even more important.
If you move around too much furniture, it will confuse your dog further and make them feel unsafe.
In my household, we have designated points for toys, mealtimes, dog beds, and our normal living furniture. For the health and happiness of our pup, we are keeping everything consistent – no home renovations any time soon!
2. Playing mind games
There are games specifically made to stimulate your dog’s mind and senses. We have our sudoku and crosswords. Dogs have snuffle mats and puzzle games (here’s a great game on Amazon for dogs with dementia).
Snuffle mats use your dog’s nose to find hidden treats in a maze of pockets. Interactive feeders force your dog to think on their feet as they move puzzle pieces around to get to their prized treat.
You can also go over old tricks with your dog to encourage their recall and memory skills. I taught my dog to high-five when she was 4 months old and she is still a pro at it!
The trick here (pun intended) is to keep gameplay short. If the sessions are too long, your dog may get frustrated and confused.
Do you want to play sudoku for 3 hours? No? Well, neither does your dog!
3. Exercise is key
I thought that as my dog aged, it was kinder of me to let her become a bit of a couch potato. After all, we always went for quite long walks on the beach or in the forest. Her slowness and frequent breaks made me feel like I was worsening her condition.
I was wrong.
My dog still loves walks just as much as she always did. Getting the blood pumping also great for the brain. Exercise is known to help with symptoms of dementia in dogs.
Remember there are many ways for dogs to exercise.
Senior dogs may love to walk as normal, but what about swimming, yoga, or even agility training? There is a myriad of options to suit your elderly dog.
4. Practice extreme patience
From forgetting potty training habits to changes in temperament, it can be challenging to adjust to how your dog has changed as dementia has set in. It’s not their fault, of course, but you are only human. It can be frustrating.
My advice would be to do whatever you need to do to be patient. Caring for a dog with dementia will test you sometimes.
For me, I have a good support system at home, and I prioritize my self-care. That way I can be the best, calm, caring owner I can be for my special girl.
5. Listen to your vet
Veterinarians have many opinions about what to do when dogs develop dementia.
Some medicate. Medications like Anipryl are known for slowing the onset of CCDS and improving symptoms.
Others recommend adapting your lifestyle and will give sound advice as to the dietary and exercise changes you can make.
Most veterinarians will recommend a combination of the two.
How to help dog with dementia sleep at night?
The symptoms of dementia tend to be a lot worse at night, meaning your dog might struggle to sleep and will be restless.
This can be due to pain in your dog’s muscles as they lie down and sensory changes when it gets dark due to failing eyesight or bad hearing. It can be a very distressing time for your dog.
So, what can you do to help a dog with dementia sleep at night?
Tips to help a dog with dementia sleep include:
- Leaving a night light on for them near their bed.
- Get them a bed with thicker sides to make them feel more comfortable and secure.
- Leave an item of your clothing with smell inside their bed.
- Try to tire them out physically with exercise during the day.
- Try to tire them out mentally with games, challenges, and interaction.
- Make sure they go to the toilet before bed (here’s how long after eating they need to go).
- Consider calming tablets after consultation with your vet
Of course, it is up to you if you choose to medicate or not. Some herbal remedies can help with disrupted sleep but there is no surefire cure unfortunately.
Listen to your vet and make your own decisions as to what could be best for your dog.
Handy Hint: Here are some tips that can help to calm down dogs with anxiety at night which can also help dogs with dementia sleep better.
The signs of dementia in dogs
If you haven’t yet had an official diagnosis for your dog’s dementia, here’s what to look for. If you see anything like this, contact your vet. They will help you to create a plan on how to help your dog with dementia during the final stages of their life.
- Wandering aimlessly or pacing.
- Memory loss.
- Reduced responsiveness to familiar commands or calls.
- Peeing and pooping in the house.
- Changes in temperament (less interactive or more anxious).
- Whining and barking for no reason.
- Disrupted sleep cycles.
- Night walking.
- Sleeping in strange places.
For more details, read this guide on how to spot dementia in dogs at the early stages.
When I sat to write this article about caring for dogs with dementia, I knew it would be sad to reflect on the dog my girl was and who she is now.
We have made many changes to our lives to accommodate her and how she has changed – I hope I’ve given you some idea on how you will be able to help your dog at times like this.
I want to end these notes by saying that living with a dog with dementia does not need to be depressing. Yes, my dog is older now and her mind isn’t what it once was, but that doesn’t mean that our lives are devoid of joy or fun.
My dog and I still have a great bond. We play, we walk, we cuddle, we dance. She remembers tricks sometimes which we both get excited by. We feel close when she recognizes me calling her name.
Those moments are priceless… Still.
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On similar topics, you might find these guides helpful:
- How you can use drugs to help a dog sleep through the night
- The right time to put down a dog with dementia
- How long senior dogs can hold their poop in
Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/dog-hybrid-sepia-male-portrait-4098555/