Just like humans, some dogs age more gracefully than others. Some will continue to be playful and active during their senior years while others may become lethargic and even display moments of absent-mindedness.
These so-called senior moments are not uncommon and may be the result of biochemical changes that occur in a dog's brain as he ages. Similar to aging people, geriatric dogs can suffer from a memory disorder called cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or CDS. Often compared with Alzheimer's disease, CDS results in comparable symptoms: forgetfulness, disorientation, and not recognizing family members.
While not breed specific, CDS is specific to older dogs. Since smaller breeds are more likely to live longer, there's a stronger likelihood that this condition will affect those dogs.
What to watch for
Difficulty recognizing friends and frequent visitors. Friends and family members who visit frequently may not be as readily recognized and welcomed as previously. This can be one of the most distressing symptoms of the condition.
Frequent "accidents" inside the house. As the dog forgets he needs to go to the toilet outside, he is more likely to relieve himself inside.
Disorientated, aimless behavior. With this condition, it's possible for a dog to wander aimlessly around the house or walk into doors as he forgets which side the door opens.
Decreased interaction. Dogs with CDS show a decrease in their drive to play.
Changing sleep-wake cycle. The dog may wander around the house at night, and sleep all day.
If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, take heart. Symptoms of CDS can often be managed with prescription medication available from your vet. The medication has been proven to slow the progress of the condition and control its symptoms in many dogs.
Keeping your dog physically and mentally stimulated throughout his life may reduce his chances of suffering from CDS. One way to do this is by "targeting." Pick an object that is the designated target. It could be a stick, your finger, or any other object you choose. The goal is for your dog to successfully touch the object with his nose for a food reward. Another activity you can try is to hide his food around the yard. Searching and finding the food is not only fun and mentally stimulating for your dog, it's good exercise, too.