Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

We’ve come such a long way in caring for pets from the days when I was a child. Our family dogs were not neutered and usually ran loose through the neighborhood wreaking all sorts of havoc. The worst part was that both of my beloved dogs met violent ends -- both hit by cars. Sadly, neither one lived past the age of five.

Thankfully, most of us take much better care of our companion animals today. I have two dogs that live in the house, are neutered, never run loose, and enjoy daily walks on leashes. They have reached the ages of 11 and 13 with no serious health problems or accidents.

But with the blessing of long lives come problems that never occurred with those dogs of the past, who left us still in the prime of their lives. I have realized this in the past six weeks with my 13-year-old dog. He is still able to run up stairs and enjoys going for walks, but he is definitely less energetic than he used to be. He has always slept on his dog bed in our bedroom and rarely, if ever, disturbed our sleep. But lately that has changed. Each night he wakes up around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. and paces the bedroom, whining. We tried letting him outside for a potty break and/or giving him food, but neither ended the agitated pacing. After several weeks of this, we decided to let him sleep in our downstairs den, instead. Although he didn’t bark, we found his dog bed tossed around, toilet paper shredded, and various other signs of a less than restful night.

I started looking on the internet and immediately found references to canine cognitive dysfunction. It seems to be a fairly common problem among aging dogs. Signs are loss of housetraining (we’ve also noticed some very uncharacteristic accidents around the house); wandering aimlessly, agitation, and staring into space. Our vet agreed with our assessment and recommended Clomicalm, which is often used to treat separation anxiety in dogs. We have tried it for the past four nights, and already see a difference. He's now back in our bedroom and although he still gets up and paces, we have been able to reassure him with soothing words and he lies down and goes back to sleep. We don't know what the future will bring, but for now we're all feeling better.

While many pets now live long, comfortable lives, they face the inevitable decline of mind and body experienced by our aging human population. As responsible pet guardians we must find comfort in the fact that our animal companions will live the best lives that we can offer them and will continue to show their love and appreciation as long as they are able.

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