Though you might expect your older dog to experience a certain degree of physical deterioration as he gets older, you may not realize that the aging process also affects a dog's brain. As a dog ages, the brain's neurotransmitters become less effective, and that can lead to changes in his behavior and capabilities.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CDS) is a memory-related disorder that is not unlike Alzheimer's disease. A dog with CDS—sometimes called "Old Dog Syndrome"—may experience disorientation, and may no longer recognize you or other members of your family. The most noticeable indication is often the loss of housetraining: A dog with CDS may have an increased number of "accidents" around the house.
Common signs of CDS
Dogs with this condition may:
- Appear lost or confused in familiar surroundings. Often, they get "stuck" in a corner or behind a piece of furniture, not knowing the way out.
- Frequently stare off into space or at walls.
- Have a difficult time recognizing familiar people.
- No longer respond to their name or other verbal cues.
- Stop following their usual sleep routine: they either sleep more than usual overall, or sleep less during the night.
- Become noticeably less active.
- Increase their wandering or pacing.
- Urinate or defecate indoors.
- Want more—or sometimes even less—attention from you and family members. In some cases, they will even walk away from someone who is showing them affection.
- No longer greet you when you come home.
- Have an increase in separation issues when you leave the house.
If you recognize these symptoms in your dog, book an appointment with your veterinarian so he or she can do a comprehensive physical exam. Many of these signs can also indicate other problems, as well.
Keep your dog's brain active
As your dog ages, it's important to keep him busy with activities that encourage mental stimulation. Brush up on some of those training exercises you took him through as a youngster. You can even try teaching him a new trick—but be patient. And engage your dog in activities that force him to use all of his senses. As with people, an active brain is often a healthier, more alert brain.