Dementia is everywhere these days; one in four people is expected to get dementia at some point in their lives. It’s a horrendous disease and one which I have close experience of having watched my Nan slowly become unrecognisable.
What most people don’t realise is its not only people who get dementia, I certainly didn’t, but also dogs too. When your dogs are really the equivalent of children to you, like ours are, then it can be devastating.
We have two dogs, Sophie a little ginger chihuahua who’s two and Betty, a pug who is roundabout 11-12. Betty has canine congnitive dysfunction syndrome , also known as doggy dementia. She’s had it for about a year and a half and it’s slowly getting worse. Believe it or not there is some medication out there that can help but most people we’ve come into contact with have never heard of a dog having dementia. I wanted to write this post for people who have dogs with dementia or think they might have a problem with their mind, as it can be a stressful and heartwrenching experience.
Betty is an amazing dog. She was a backstreet breeder rescue. Pregnant again and again, she was whisked away from breeding for a life of love , walks and dog treats. Having so many babies has given her strong maternal skills. She nursed our little kitten Belle, and then again even produced milk for Sophie when she was a pup. She loves to play ball and run around. She loves a squeaky toy. She can give a high five and loves to kiss you. She loves her food, particularly a bit of cheese and a dog treat. To us she is a really important part of our family. Yet since she started to change some of the things she loved have gone. She no longer plays ball. She doesn’t very often play with a squeaky toy anymore. She barks a lot. For most of her day she barks if anything scares her. She used to be the most tolerant dog with other dogs. Now she barks at them, right in their faces if she can get to them, which makes for a pretty stressful walk at times. Think of the equivalent of someone with dementia walking up and down constantly or saying they want to go home. It’s sometimes their way of exhibiting distress. Without themedication she ,takes now though she probably wouldn’t be here. She used to sit in corners with her back to everyone and just lie on the floor staring into space. Not eating. So the medication gives her some life back, and us some of our Betty back.
Betty with her sister Sophie
It’s going to get worse. Betty is really physically healthy so it’s unlikely her body will give up before her mind does. So at some point we will have to make the incredibly difficult decision of when she’s had enough. We spoke to a great vet last week who told us to think of her favourite things and when these no longer make her happy the time might have come to be kind to her. So we’ve made a list; treats, food, walks, toys, back scratches, sleep. When those things no longer make her happy, and she spends more time wandering around barking of being distressed then we’ll know but it will make it no easier to say goodbye. She’s our little ball of cheese and every extra day we have where she’s OK we’re thankful for . Along with all the other feelings we have is the guilt when we shout at her when she’s barked non stop in a really high pitched voice for half an hour and you feel like you can’t take it any more. But mostly we take it day by day. For Betty
If you have a dog living with dementia we have some tips that might help;
Make sure you see the vet – we had to have lots of blood tests and checks before the vet could tell us what was wrong. It might be worth keeping a diary of your dogs behaviour which might help in diagnosis.
Keep routine – dogs with dementia like to have the same routine they’ve always had so making sure they have their favourite toys, walks at the same time every day and to the same places where possible
Reminiscence for dogs – Betty loves the beach so we take her to beaches when we can. She comes alive like a much younger dog on the sand , running about. We think she remembers going to the beach as a younger dog which brings her to life a bit. Try things you know your dog has always loved and hopefully you’ll see your dog of old come out of their shell.
Reassure – It can be really hard if barking is one of the things your dog does is bark on and on (and on ) for you to stay sane and calm can be really hard. However it’s at these times more than ever that your dog needs reassurance. We’ve found holding Betty tight really helps. There are jackets called Thunder jackets which some people say help as well.
Encourage your dog to do the things they love – these are the things you can hold onto to remember the dog you used to have. As Betty’s behaviour changes it can be easy forget the dog she was but by making sure she can still do the things she loves we get to see those flashes of the dog we’ve known.
Have you got a dog wth dementia ? Have you got any thoughts or tips on caring for them?