Greying whiskers, stiff joints and cloudy eyes are familiar signs of an ageing dog. Like humans, elderly dogs require little more than good care and a healthy lifestyle to stay happy and robust in their golden years. Age-related brain changes, however, might require a bit of extra care and attention.
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In a presentation to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, British veterinary behaviourist Sarah Heath said that canine dementia, like ageing itself, has no "miracle solution." No test can confirm dementia. Doctors examine the dog for pain, cancer, or heart or liver disease, which can also cause mental confusion. When no other medical cause presents itself, dementia probably stems from age-related changes in brain chemistry and blood supply.
Dr. Heath lists four main signs of dementia: "disorientation, changes in social and environmental interaction, changes in sleep/wake cycle and breakdown in housetraining." Some dogs, according to the Vet Info website, will walk aimlessly in circles, fail to recognise their favourite people, forget to eat, or stare at the hinge side of a door as if waiting for it to open.
Various prescription medications can increase dopamine or improve blood flow in the brain. In addition to drugs, vets may recommend diet and lifestyle changes. Dogs, like humans, can benefit from antioxidants in their diet. Vet Info and Dr. Heath both mention prescription diets and supplements as useful treatments for dog dementia. Certain vitamin B supplements also help, according to Vet Info. Lifestyle changes might include shorter but more frequent exercise, mentally-stimulating games, clearly-marked doors and other behavioural supports.
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