Senior dogs and dementia: Ways to cope if your dog is diagnosed

Senior dogs and dementia: Ways to cope if your dog is diagnosed

Dog blogger Rachel Spencer and her dog Daisy

In January, Daisy was diagnosed with dementia, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or CDD

Although we hear little about it, half of dogs over the age of 10 show signs of the disease and 68 per cent of dogs over 15. Daisy is 13 this year.
The first indication came last summer when she began snapping at other dogs. Normally, she’s friendly and loves to play.
She grew increasingly clingy and was restless at night, growling at Tommy and I if we moved an inch as we sat with her on the sofa.
On a few occasions she was wide awake in the small hours, shaking and pacing and no amount of cuddles could settle her so there were nights we were out walking at 3am.
Her depth sensation - her ability to sense distance - changed and she began leaping over kerbs and misjudging steps and walking close to walls and edges.
She seemed confused by doors, going to the hinge side and kept going into the corner of rooms and climbing under chairs.
I wrote a list for her vet, Stuart Becker at Lymm Veterinary Surgery and he confirmed what we suspected - she had dementia.
We want our dogs to be pups forever and Daisy being diagnosed with a progressive illness for which there is no cure was devastating.
But one of the reasons why I set up this blog was to write about the things that affect our pet’s health and provide a helpful resource.
Stuart and his colleague Rachel Dean who has cared for Daisy for many years kindly agreed to explain the treatment available and how owners can help their dogs.

How to help your dog when they're diagnosed with dementia.

Daisy enjoying a day at the beach just after she was diagnosed with dementia

Daisy has been prescribed Vivitonin twice a day, can you explain how it works and what other treatments are available?

Vivitonin is the trade name for propentofylline and this drug increases the blood flow to the brain, heart and muscles, which should increase the availability of oxygen and nutrients to these organs.
It protects against abnormal clotting which can cause thrombosis or stroke and widens the airways in the lungs to make breathing more efficient.
Another drug to treat dementia is Selgian or selegiline which increases the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter vital to normal neurone function.
It was the first drug licenced to treat cognitive decline in dogs and it takes between two to six weeks to work, unlike Vivitonin, so it’s not our first choice.
There has been some work looking at other drugs, such as those which increase alertness by altering adrenaline or hormone levels, but these aren't widely used in practice at the moment.

Can the condition be treated with nutrition too?

Yes, increasing age in dogs is associated with higher concentrations of free radical oxygen species in the body.
These are highly reactive molecules which can bind and damage structures within cells. When it happens in the brain, this damage is one of the causes of cognitive decline.
Nutritional therapy aims to increase the level of antioxidants and other molecules which can deactivate the free radical oxygen species and prevent the damage.

Daisy also takes a supplement called Aktivait. How does this benefit her?

Aktivait works by increasing the level of antioxidants and contains vitamin C, vitamin E, fatty acids, l-carnitine to improve mitochondrial function in the cell, and phosphatidylserine which is a membrane phospholipid. (This aids memory and reduces brain deterioration)
This is a product we have used for many years and are happy with, but there are several alternatives on the market from other suppliers.

Are there any foods that can help dogs with dementia?

Yes, some specific diets have been developed, incorporating similar ingredients, with similar aims  such as Hills b/d and Purina One Vibrant Maturity 7+formula.

What other advice would you give to help dogs cope?

The severity of cognitive decline appears to be improved by dogs having a regular and predictable daily routine and for owners to continue with training, play, exercise and using interactive toys.
These must be suitable for the individual dog's physical ability, so for example for a dog like Daisy whose mobility is reduced by arthritis we would suggest short walks and find and seek games.
Owners should accommodate the new needs of their dog, so for example, they may require more frequent toilet opportunities.
As mobility can be affected, try to create non-slip surfaces, so put down rugs or carpet on wooden or tiles floors.
Finally, add smell, texture or sound cues to different places in the home such as the bed or food bowl to help their pet navigate the environment more easily.

We’d like to thank Rachel, Stuart and the team at Lymm Vets for caring for Daisy and supporting us - there have been tears as you can imagine! We hope their advice benefits others.

We try to make sure Daisy enjoys life by taking her to places she loves like the beach

Update on Daisy

Since Daisy started taking her medication, the growling episodes at night have stopped. It took around two weeks for this to happen.
She has slowed down but is still enjoying her walks. 
Before, we had a few occasions where she couldn't sleep and was agitated and pacing in the night but this hasn't happened since we put her treatment plan in place.
Dogs can't tell us how they feel, but while Daisy still has moments of confusion, most days she is like her old self. 
We keep in touch with our vet, monitor the signs daily and treasure every day we have with her and that is the advice I'd give to owners in the same position.

I’ve found the following websites very useful for support and if you have a senior dog you might like to read them

Eileen Anderson’s www.dogdementia.com Eileen was inspired to set up the site after her dog Cricket was diagnosed in 2011.
She sadly died in 2013 and Eileen wrote a book, Remember Me: Loving and Caring for a dog with CDD which I would highly recommend. 

Hindy Pearson’s www.caringforaseniordog.com Hindy is a dog trainer and behaviour consultant and a pet grief support coach. She writes about her dog Red, 17, who has dementia and adopts old and special needs dogs.

If you have a senior dog like Daisy, our interview with Hannah Capon, a vet who founded the Canine Arthritis Management might be helpful too. Click HERE to read her advice on how to help your dog.

Do you have a dog with dementia and have any advice you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it so please feel free to pop a comment below.

20 Comments

  1. Helen
    12th April 2018

    I’m so sorry to hear about Daisy, this must be so upsetting for you. On a positive note, you’ve given her a good home, she’s loved and you’re doing everything you can to make her life comfortable. This is such an informative read – I had no idea dogs could get dementia and well done for spotting the signs!

    Reply
    1. rachel@thepawpost.co.uk
      12th April 2018

      Aw thanks so much Helen, that’s so lovely of you to say and it really means a lot.
      I was the same and knew very little about the topic until I had my concerns about Daisy, so I hope it’s helpful to others.
      Thanks again for commenting.

      Reply
  2. Kay
    12th April 2018

    I’m so glad Daisy has made some improvements with meds. Thank you for your blog so very informative.

    Reply
    1. rachel@thepawpost.co.uk
      13th April 2018

      Thanks for commenting Kay and I’m glad you found it helpful too.

      Reply
  3. Scot
    12th October 2020

    Thanks for this post, my old girl was just diagnosed today you helped my research.

    Reply
    1. rachel@thepawpost.co.uk
      12th October 2020

      Scott, I’m sorry to hear about your girl. When it happened to us, I found it hard to get information so that’s why I wrote this. I hope it’s helpful and I would definitely recommend Remember Me. Also speak to your vet as there is a lot you can do to help them. And if your girl won’t take the medication, try home cooking for her. Sending lots of love. Rachel

      Reply
  4. Janet Leerentveld
    21st October 2020

    Thank you for all your advice, my little old girl was diagnosed with with dementia today… So sad as she a much loved rescue dog. Janet

    Reply
    1. rachel@thepawpost.co.uk
      21st October 2020

      Janet, I just wanted to thank you for reading this and commenting and I am sending lots of love to you and your lovely girl. I hope the advice helps and do see your vet as the medication can make a significant difference and really help her. She has you loving and caring for her and that is huge too. Lots of love, Rachel xx

      Reply
  5. Jonathan Matthews
    28th January 2021

    Hi, that’s very interesting thanks. My 17 yr old Yorkie has kidney disease but is also extremely anxious and gets teasy/angry towards me at times. She is showing some signs of CCD so the vet has her on vivitonin and she’s just started on Selgian as well. I also try and mix Aktivait in to her food but she’s becoming very fussy! Are you using Selgin or just Vivitonin?

    Reply
    1. rachel@thepawpost.co.uk
      29th January 2021

      Hi Jonathan, wow, 17, that is incredible. I’m sorry about your lovely girl feeling anxious and we had similar with Daisy where she would be snappy and it was so out of character. We tried to reassure her and calm her down. I also found she was fussy, so I used to home cook for her, she liked chicken and beef casseroles and I got her some heart one day from the butchers which turned my stomach but she loved it. She had Aktivait and Vivitonin and would take the tablets in bits of slow cooked meat. It’s worth a try and she will go back to loving her food again. THanks for your lovely message and I hope you’re ok.

      Reply
  6. Magi
    2nd February 2021

    Thankyou so much for this. Our beloved Poppy( just celebrated her 14th birthday) was diagnosed and then suffered a vestibular episode, that set her back even more, along with degenerative nerve damage in her back legs, she’s become very unsteady and now needs support walking to the garden to go to the loo, BUT altho she has her away with the fairy moments, she’s still a happy playful dog, loves her toys..well stealing from little sis, still scoffs her food and likes to try and bully her little sister…when she’s not falling down 😁 We now treat her more like a puppy, making her go out more to the loo, just in case she ‘forgets’ . We know when she’s feeling unwell as she spits out her tablets, no matter what they are disguised in! I make doggy chicken soup which they both love, and lots of tasty homemade doggy biscuits so I know what’s in them.
    She is also on vivitonin and aktivait , and these have definitely helped her, especially her evening pacing, panting and restlessness, We too have said we need to treasure every day we have with her, and whilst she is enjoying ‘ being a dog’, she is very much staying with us in our little family.
    Lots of doggle snoggles from my furbies to Daisy.

    Reply
    1. rachel@thepawpost.co.uk
      24th March 2021

      Aw thank you so much for commenting and it sounds like Poppy is doing so well, bless her, the medication makes such a difference doesn’t it?

      Daisy was back to running off again after a few weeks on it.

      We also cooked for her too – it sounds like Poppy is having a ball. Give her a big cuddle from me. xx

      Reply
  7. Judy March
    2nd April 2021

    My dog has exactly the same symptoms with the depth perception! To start with I couldn’t understand why she would jump off a wall into a pond and stand there wondering where she was (and she hates the water). I thought her struggling up and down stairs was from her arthritis and she couldn’t find me when I was right in front of her. I’m getting Vivitonin tomorrow and can’t wait to see if there’s a difference. In the meantime, we are on a very long training leash and supportive harness to help her cope and keeping to a strict routine in “her” park.

    Reply
    1. rachel@thepawpost.co.uk
      25th April 2021

      Hi Judy. I’m so sorry with the delay in replying.

      How is your girl getting on with her medication?

      I found a change in a couple of week’s and had the same thing with the stairs with Daisy, we blocked them off and I was able to be with her almost all the time, but we put rugs and all kinds of stuff all over the floor to keep her safe.

      On the pond thing, Daisy fell in the canal – that was one of the alarm bells for me too.

      I hope she’s feeling better and you’re ok too.

      Take care,

      Rachel xx

      Reply
  8. Kate Dove
    25th April 2021

    Max my long haired Jack Russell is 16 and has dementia. I think he has had it for at least the last 12 months – it probably gradually developed over several years but became apparent about a year ago.
    He has all the symptoms and is on vitofyllin plus special food and it all helps (I think). He definitely still has a light in his eyes and will come out for hour long walks every other day and run around with the other two dogs. (He loves the other dogs and even tries to play with them).
    The biggest challenges are that I keep thinking he will have bad fall while out and hurt himself – he has very little sense about drops, ditches etc and runs and leaps over everything – sometimes falling. He hates it when I try to scoop him up or put him on a lead! That is when he may bite as he is very confused (he was always a gentle dog prior to this).
    I have decided that it is important to let him still enjoy life and run free ( we walk in lovely countryside). A long walk every other day (I take a back pack to carry him in if he is tired or gets a little lame).
    I’m sure he is living on borrowed time and my hope is that I don’t have to make the terrible decision to put him down at some point. it would be great if he just did not wake up one morning – especially if he had been out fora lovely walk and been happy the previous day.
    In the meantime I have taken a lot from your article and various other information. One of the most useful comments is to watch your dog and as long as he ‘still has the light in his/her eyes’ there is still quality of life and therefore worth carrying on.
    I’m going to work with this – the day when his eyes are no longer bright and life a complete chore will be the day I do have to be strong. Right now he does have quality of life – not all the time but at least part of every day. I wish we could get rid of the night howling but with either dogs sleeping beside him he is improving.
    As a side note:
    My father died of Alzheimers a few years ago. I cared for him and it was awful (both the end of his life and his death) – at least for our pets we have choices. This is something I keep in mind every day.
    Thank you for your time to write about this and all the very best.
    Kate Dove (kate@katharinedove.co.uk)

    Reply
    1. rachel@thepawpost.co.uk
      25th April 2021

      Kate I’m so sorry to hear about Max. It sounds like he is such a lovely boy and has his spirit and you are doing an incredible job of caring for him.

      I remember when my dad was ill, I lost him to cancer five years ago, and how painful it was.

      When we lost Daisy I thought exactly what you just said, we have choices.

      It doesn’t sound like little Max wants you to make a choice for him but he will let you know, they do.

      Sending so much love to you Kate and to Max.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment too.

      Lots of love,

      Rachel xx

      Reply
  9. Sheila
    2nd May 2021

    Rachel,
    I have just read your article. It has helped me so much. My westie, lottie, is 15 in a few weeks time. She was diagnosed with CDD last year. She is on aktivait and vivitonin. She has good and bad days, mostly good. She loves her beach and woodland walks off lead until I see other dogs and put her on lead as she can be unpredictable. Which is upsetting as she was always playful and friendly. I find cooked food helps getting her to take the medication. Your post was reassuring. Feel like I am doing right by her.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    1. thank you so much for commenting Sheila and it sounds like Lottie is very similar to Daisy, it’s sad becuas it can change how they are and you can’t help but worry, but it sounds like you are helping her and supporting her so well.
      I bet she is loving the home cooked meals too, I know Daisy did.
      Sending lots of love to you both and you are absolutely doing right by her for sure.
      Take care,
      Lots of love,
      Rachel x

      Reply
  10. Niki
    4th June 2021

    What a wonderful page I stumbled across searching for help for my lovely Barney who is 14 1/2 staffie. I was trying to find a solution to his crying at night. He is on aktivait and vivitonin just like Sheila’s Lottie. I also give Barney Yucalm, Yumove and I’ve tried him with hemp oil. I have a plug in calm diffuser. Hard to know if any of these make a difference but the main thing is Barney isn’t in pain. Its the constant crying at night. I would like to know if there is some sort of sleep pill I could give him please? He paces and cries. I used to put him in the bed with me and that calmed him for a while but now he’s too restless to bother with that.
    He’s a lovely boy, eats well, loves his grub. Still enjoys a little walk and could sniff for Britain if there was a contest! He has a brother, Bertie who is 4 who keeps him company. Our precious fur-babies. Awful illness CCD. Thanks for this web page. x Niki

    Reply
    1. rachel@thepawpost.co.uk
      4th June 2021

      Hi Niki,

      Thanks for commenting and I am sorry to hear about your lovely boy Barney.

      It sounds like you are doing everything you can to help him feel comfortable and he sounds like a real character.

      I remember the sniffing, Daisy was the same. And Bertie sounds like a real sweetheart looking after his big brother.

      On the sleeping – I can’t offer advice here as I’m a regular dog owner like you so I would speak to your vet.

      I did play a ‘calming/relaxing music for dogs’ playlist for Daisy when she would cry to settle her, and cuddled her in bed and that did help, but I would like to you check with your vet too.

      Thank you so much again for your kind words and do let me know how Barney is.

      Rachel xx

      Reply

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