My grandmother had mental issues for the last 10 years of her life before passing away at the age of 82. The explanation I was given, after my questioning, for her condition was that she was just senile.
Being a very curious kid, I didn’t completely accept the explanation given to me. I wondered about whom, why, and how someone becomes senile. Back in those days when I was a young kid growing up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, no one really talked, certainly not out loud, about such illnesses or conditions.
I just needed to wait 30 some years to receive a more accurate explanation of Alzheimer’s disease. At least some individuals with mental health issues have a distinct diagnosis with a real medical name. Then, the question became, “Do pets get Alzheimer’s disease?” If so, is this a new disease or have we just began to recognize the illness?
As we have established in the past, pets no longer live primarily outdoors. Pets live inside with us and subsequently get much more attention and observation. Therefore, just like people, I believe that the same mental conditions have been around for a very long time. Medical research has been able to prove the lack of certain specific brain functions.
Alzheimer’s disease in people causes memory loss and it is impossible to test pets for long term versus short term memory loss. So, pets do not get Alzheimer’s disease. However, pets certainly do suffer from mental illness when they get older. Presently, there is one mental illness that dogs may develop as they get older known as canine cognitive dysfunction. This condition is the one most studied and most known about in animals. It is a very common condition that often goes unrecognized simply because pet owners are not aware of the symptoms to watch for.
Certainly, with more research, I’m sure that many more specific conditions will be discovered instead of getting lumped into the present illnesses such as Alzheimer’s for people and cognitive dysfunction for dogs. In the mean time, it is important for us to watch for signs of these conditions and establish a treatment protocol early. Yes! There are several different medications that can be very useful depending on the individual and the severity of the symptoms.
I believe that the symptoms for canine cognitive dysfunction are countless since every dog’s personality is different and their behavior is affected by this condition. The classical symptoms include things like getting lost in the yard or house, wandering aimlessly, starring motionless into a wall or corner and any behavior different from their normal routine.
Some dogs’ personalities will change from normally calm to aggressive or vice versa. It is not uncommon for a dog with this condition to bite their owner or no longer be obedient. It is truly awful to watch your furry family member begin to deteriorate mentally to the point of not recognizing their personality anymore.
Once again, fortunately there are several medications that can help tremendously with canine cognitive dysfunction. They don’t always alleviate all of their symptoms, but it certainly can’t hurt to try.
If your older dog begins to show any signs of canine cognitive dysfunction, see your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your dog lives a long, healthy and happy life.