As with all living matter, the tissues that make up a dog’s body will degrade over time. It is an inescapable fact of aging. Since the brain is made up of living tissue, there is no exception. When your leg muscles deteriorate, your physical ability to walk suffers. When brain tissue degenerates, it will affect the entire nervous system and the consequences can be painful to witness. While neurological problems can occur at any stage in a dog’s life, older dogs are the most affected.
We talked about the neurological problems of older dogs to see what we, as caregivers, can do to help them. By looking at the symptoms, causes, and treatment of neurological disorders in dogs, we can also help improve or reduce the negative effects of the disease.
Canine cognitive dysfunction (CDS)
Unfortunately, as with many degenerative brain disorders in humans, canine cognitive dysfunction diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s are not well understood even within the scientific community. What we do know is that it mainly affects older dogs, that is, from the age of 8. especially those over 11 years old.
While there is no link between canine cognitive dysfunction (CDS) and specific breeds, we do know that larger breeds tend to live shorter lives. For this reason, symptoms of cognitive dysfunction are seen more often in smaller dogs, as they are more likely to live long enough to develop the condition. Since the causes of canine cognitive dysfunction are not well understood, it can be difficult to classify them. There is some evidence to suggest that there are some genetic links to neurodegenerative disorders in dogs.
The symptoms are similar to those of dementia in humans, although limitations in communication between humans and dogs mean that early signs can be difficult to detect. Apart from old age, there are other reasons for the origin of neurological disorders in dogs. They include:
- Trauma: being hit by a vehicle, falling from a height, injury from fighting or any type of trauma, if the brain is struck, irreparable damage can occur.
- Infection: Certain viral infections can cause neurological problems in dogs. Anger, for example, will cause the brain to deteriorate to the point where it can become aggressive, bite the air, and lose control of its motor skills.
- Parasitic Infestation – Certain internal parasites can affect the dog’s brain and lead to problems.
- Poisoning: if the dog ingests or inhales a certain toxic substance, it can cause brain damage as well as damage to other vital organs.
Although there are relatively high rates of neurological disorders in older dogs, it is not always easy to recognize the problem. Especially as our dogs age, we must be vigilant for behavioral, as well as physiological changes, which may involve a neurological disorder or dementia. These changes include:
- Disturbed sleep pattern.
- Increased irritability
- Trouble standing
- Barking for no reason (at nothing).
- Fly-biter syndrome.
- Does not respond when called.
- Forgetting behaviors learned through training.
However, these symptoms of SCD in dogs can also be related to other problems. Many of these, like ataxia, are also more likely to occur in older dogs.
Visible symptoms of neurological problems in older dogs
Canine cognitive dysfunction is difficult to diagnose. While both Alzheimer’s disease and CCD in humans cause memory loss, due to the inability to communicate verbally in dogs, it is not always easy to recognize this problem. To diagnose memory loss in older dogs, we must look at other symptoms, such as the inability to obey even basic commands or the loss of grooming habits.
We recommend taking your dog to a vet every 6 to 12 months for a general check-up, especially when the dog is reaching old age. However, even during check-ups, it can be difficult for a veterinarian to observe symptoms of neurological problems. It is largely up to pet owners to detect the initial signs of the problem, to transfer them to the trusted vet.
We can find disoriented dogs, lost in areas they would have otherwise known. Dogs with neurological problems will have reduced interaction with their environment, family members, and other animals. They can begin to urinate indoors, even though they have been trained for years to do so outside. Also sleep can be disturbed and become more active at night. It is imperative that we look for other signs as they can be symptoms, such as incontinence that can also be related to other medical conditions.
The changes are progressive. They appear subtly at first and then increase over time. For example, they may urinate indoors on an exceptional basis, but as degeneration progresses, this occurs more frequently. The disease is aggravated when the dog urinates on herself without even getting up.
It is important to take the dog to a professional for an accurate diagnosis. The vet will perform various diagnostic tests to make sure that there is no physical pathology causing the behavioral changes.
Treatment of neurological problems in dogs
It is important to state first that there is no cure for most neurological problems in older dogs. The reason is that we cannot regenerate brain matter. If neurons no longer work, we cannot get them back. The only circumstances in which there can be treatment is when the damage is temporary. For example, trauma can cause the dog to have an aneurysm that can be removed by surgery.
The best thing to do is to control the symptoms. In some cases, there may be an intervention through medication. These are specifically drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease in humans, but there have also been some positive trials in dogs. This would not reverse the appearance of SDC in no time, but it is to be expected that it will slow down your progress.
Another way to improve the quality of life for dogs with CCD is to help stimulate their cognitive function. This includes playing intelligence games and teaching (or re-teaching) certain commands and making sure they stay mentally active. Physical exercise is also important.
Prevention of neurological problems in dogs
Although we may want to control the symptoms of neurological problems or CDS, it is not something that we should only do when we see that they appear in the dog’s old age. By providing a healthy lifestyle for our dog in his youth, we can better prevent neurological degeneration when the dog is older.
All dogs are unique and will have different physical needs. However, no dog should be allowed to be obese. Make sure to provide a healthy and balanced diet with quality feed. Don’t overfeed them with treats and don’t feed them any foods they can’t handle. Omega-3 fatty acid foods are essential for brain development, so make sure your nutrition is complete.
Walk your dog when necessary and incorporate training early. This will help keep your mind sharper in old age. However, since we don’t know the exact causes of canine cognitive dysfunction, you should also know that this is not something you can completely avoid. Don’t blame yourself if it happens to your beloved dog, just stay by his side to help him in any way you can and give him the affection he deserves.