Age has its complications, and human beings are not the only ones who suffer the effects of time. As they age, many dogs begin to show signs of mental deterioration or dementia. Elderly dogs may need increased care to help them move gracefully through their later years. Love, together with an understanding of the special problems older dogs face, can go a long way toward making a dog's golden years happy, but there are practical considerations as well. Often, specific changes in the home environment, special furnishings, or equipment such as ramps, can make a huge difference in the quality of your senile dog’s life.
Have your dog checked by a veterinarian to rule out other possible causes of unusual behavior that may mimic cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or what was once called old dog syndrome. Many problems of older dogs -- arthritis, infections, hearing or vision loss -- can produce similar symptoms. Ask your vet what to expect as your dog ages, so that you will be prepared.
Follow your veterinarian's recommendations for diet, medication and exercise for your senile dog. All dogs benefit from proper nutrition and regular exercise, but older dogs and dogs with disabilities or decreased activity levels may require specific diets and a less vigorous or more specialized exercise program.
Monitor your senile dog closely. She may be confused, or she may wander more than usual. This behavior could lead to painful consequences if she becomes lost outdoors or blunders into a dangerous area of the house, yard or neighborhood.
Keep a collar with clear identification on your senile dog at all times. It should include your phone number, email address and physical address.
Give your dog a quiet, easily accessible area to sleep or lounge. The American Veterinary Medical Association warns that senile dogs may exhibit changes in energy levels and sleeping habits, often sleeping more during the day and less at night. They may also have trouble using stairs to get to their usual spots.
Spend time with your senile dog, offering mental stimulation through frequent playful interaction. Games promote mental health and may help stave off more serious mental deterioration.
Plan to spend more time at the vet's office. Senile dogs are nearly always elderly, and elderly dogs need more frequent vet care. Vigilance in regard to physical health will benefit your dog’s mental health as well.
Expect that your senile dog may sometimes lose bladder or bowel control. He cannot help it and must not be punished. It may be helpful to use diapers or disposable sleeping pads if the problem is severe.
Be aware that your senile dog's appetite may change. Do not force a dog to eat if she is not hungry. If she skips meals frequently or begins to lose weight, or if she shows a marked increase in water intake, have your veterinarian check her over. Your vet can rule out other possible problems and recommend dietary changes if needed.
Understand that your beloved dog may not always recognize you or behave as you may expect her to, just as humans suffering from dementia often fail to recognize family members. This is not a failure on your part or your dog’s part; it is merely a symptom of the disease. Continue to offer your pet all the kindness and love you can muster.