Dinky is a 14 year old Rat Terrier who has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, or as it is also known, Canine Senile Dementia.She's funny, opinionated, independent, feisty, and down right cute. Unfortunately, because of her disease, which is similar to Alzheimer's disease in people, Dinky also has anger issues, has lost of all of her normal inhibitions that would protect her from harm, and her training skills have disappeared. Her owner, Melissa Duffy of Carlsbad, Calif. says, "Dinky is, emotionally, a toddler. She has mood swings and overreactions, and mild things will sometimes set her off. I've learned to carry dog treats in my pocket because when she sees a treat, her mood will change and she'll be ecstatic." Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is not new to dogs although more is known about it now than in the past. To diagnose CCD, a veterinarian will want to do a complete physical exam, then will ask you a number of questions about your dog's health, habits, and the behavioral changes you've seen. Some aging issues, such as incontinence, can be a sign of CCD or several other diseases. Unfortunately, if your dog is diagnosed with CCD, there is no cure. There are a few medications available now which may slow the progression of the disease, but deciding if one might be appropriate for your dog will be up to you and your veterinarian as they might interfere with other medications or have side effects. Duffy did find that Dinky was allergic to one of the medications but was able to take another which did seem to help her for a while. Since dogs with CCD cannot be cured and the disease eventually progresses, management skills are necessary. Don't expect your old dog to react or behave as he did in his younger years. Instead, react to your dog's behavior on that day, hour, or minute. Keep in mind, too, that every dog is different just as every human Alzheimer's patient is unique. Some dogs will have fewer or more symptoms than others. Duffy was willing to share some of her management techniques with us, although you will have to adapt them, or come up with new ones, depending on your dog.
Keep Track of SymptomsKeeping track of your dog's symptoms will help you monitor the progression of the disease. Plus, taking that journal with you to share with your dog's veterinarian will be a huge help to him as well. As you establish this journal, on paper or on a computer, don't just say, "Sweetie got stuck behind the bedroom door and couldn't come out." Add also the date, time, whether Sweetie had eaten dinner or not, gone for a walk, was in a good mood and seemed happy, or had been grumpy and angry. Add more information than you think might be needed because it's hard to tell exactly what information will be important. At each veterinary appointment, take the journal with you.
Getting Lost at HomeOne prevalent symptom of CCD, one that causes many dog owners to finally bring their dog to the veterinarian, is that of the dog getting lost in his own home. The dog may find himself in a room and not remember how to get out of the room or find his way to another room. Other dogs will find themselves in a corner of two walls, or behind a door, and forget how to turn around. Duffy said that she put a bell on Dinky's collar so she can, by the ringing of the bell, keep track of Dinky's whereabouts in the house. If there's agitated ringing in one spot, Duffy knows that Dinky has gotten herself stuck and Duffy will go looking for her. CCD experts recommend that any furniture rearranging (or replacement) be put off for a while as that can really upset CCD dogs. In addition, don't hesitate to use a leash more than you normally might (even in the house) as a leash will allow you to guide the confused dog, especially if he's stuck behind furniture or he's forgotten how to use stairs.
Training DisappearsDon't be angry when your dog's obedience training skills disappear. He's not being defiant, bad or defying your authority. Instead, he probably doesn't remember that it's not acceptable to raid the kitchen trash can, and instead reacted to the impulse of smelling food in it. Forgetting obedience commands is common as is a loss of house training skills. Duffy says she doesn't trust Dinky to ignore trash cans any longer so she puts them out of Dinky's reach. Since Dinky doesn't always come when she's called anymore, she's closely supervised when she's in places where that might be a problem. As the disease progresses, it's fairly common for the dog to stop responding to obedience commands entirely, and some dogs will even stop responding to their name. Again, don't get angry; instead, rely more on your tone of voice (a happy voice draws the dog closer to you). Use toys and treats as lures to gain cooperation and the leash to guide and/or manage the dog's actions.
Emotions May Swing Up and DownJust as Alzheimer's patients may have wild mood swings, so may your CCD dog. Some dogs go through periods where they stand or lie down trembling, as if afraid. Many dogs appear withdrawn and as the disease progresses, are unwilling or unable to interact with people, play with toys or even go for a walk. Anger is, unfortunately, also common. Duffy says Dinky will occasionally fall into a rage, often over reacting to things that shouldn't cause her to be so angry. When Dinky is so angry, Duffy says if she can, she'll simply walk away, count to 3, and then return to Dinky, who is then happy to see her. If they are in a position where walking away isn't possible, Duffy will redirect Dinky's attention (and emotions) with a treat. Dinky is, thankfully, very small. Her anger outbursts are manageable. A larger breed dog, however, might be hard to control during an angry outburst. If your larger dog is showing increased episodes of anger, and especially if you're feeling afraid of your dog, talk to your veterinarian before someone gets hurt.