This is a hard post to write, but perhaps not for the reason you would think. My old dog Cricket has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. This condition is like Alzheimer’s or dementia for dogs. It’s hard to write about not because I am permeated with sadness about it. It’s hard to write because I’m not. I live with Cricket and attend to her, and I don’t see that she suffers much from CCD. Of course I regret the loss of her capabilities, and the decline can be hard to witness, but for her day to day comfort, I am more concerned about possible pain from arthritis and weakness in her rear legs.
It’s mostly hard to write about this because I’m concerned about being judged. There are a handful of videos on the Internet showing dogs purported to have dementia, and the videos to me are very sad. My visceral reaction is sometimes that the people are not doing the dog a kindness by letting its existence continue. Or perhaps that they are callous to suffering on their dogs’ part. So I wonder whether you’ll have that reaction to my pictures and video of Cricket.
I hope not. I remind myself when I see the other videos, and I hope you all will keep in mind as well, that we are seeing but a small part of the dog’s life. Not only that, but in my observation of Cricket, her own condition is not distressing to her. It can, however, be distressing to witness. It also requires careful management of her environment and a watchful eye on my part to keep her safe. I have written some about Cricket’s care in a previous post: Poop in my Pocket.
Am I being selfish keeping her with me on this earth? I truly don’t think so.
As long as she has enjoyment in life, minimal stress and pain, and still knows me (she has always been very attached to me and I am her anchor), I think her quality of life is just fine. Her appetite is good. She continues to go to work with me several half days a week, and she looks forward to those outings. At the office she is free of bother from other dogs, and has a completely carpeted surface to walk on. She toddles around after me or sometimes sleeps close by. She still sleeps pretty well at night (knock on wood). When she wanders or stands with her head in a corner, she does not display stress that I can see. In fact I see fewer signs of stress or anxiety from her now than I did before she got dementia.
My main purpose in posting these photos is so that others might see what doggie dementia can look like. Cricket started exhibiting symptoms in early 2011, but it was 2012 before I realized what might be going on. The first thing I noticed was a loss of comfort with people she used to be very close to. I don’t have pictures of that, obviously, but it was very disconcerting. Why would she suddenly give the cold shoulder to someone she had formerly known and loved?
By now she has close to a classic set of symptoms. But it took quite a bit of time to tease them out of problems she had because of sensory impairments and body stiffness. She was diagnosed by a vet early this year. There is medication for this condition, and it has helped Cricket.
Among her symptoms are:
- standing in corners or with her face next to the wall
- getting stuck behind furniture
- confusion about doors (trying to go out the hinge side)
- forgetting what she is doing
- staring into space
- occasional tremors
- pacing or wandering
- lack of interest in people (other than me)
Another thing I notice that is not on the standard lists is that she can’t get onto mats or pillows in a way that all of her body is on there. I’m pretty sure this is not a physical problem, in the sense of limited mobility or range of motion. She can’t figure out how to arrange herself. She will circle and lie down carefully but end up with her body sliding off the pillow or only a small part of her back on the mat. This is notable in view of her lifelong avoidance of bare floors.
She has lost the general ability to back up, and again, I suspect it is a cognitive problem. She can physically do it. She just can’t figure out that that is what she needs to do.
Here is a the abstract of a scholarly article that links dementia behaviors in dogs with specific brain changes detected by necropsy. In other words, it establishes that the behavior changes are linked to detectable brain changes.
Here is an article that lists many of the symptom behaviors of CCD.
So here are what some of the behaviors look like.
Here also, is a video of several of her dementia related behaviors. They are: getting “stuck” behind an office typewriter table; forgetting what she is doing; losing the door; and circling.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet and have no medical training for animals or humans. The information on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction included in this post comes from my vet, from articles, and my own observations of Cricket as her behavior has changed. If you are concerned that your dog might have CCD, please contact your vet.
I hope this was helpful to you, and not too saddening to view. Cricket has a good life, and seems to be unaware of her limitations.
Thanks for reading.
Topics coming up:
- How shock collar training works (I can’t put this post off any longer)
- When Premack is not the best choice
- Est-ce que votre chien veut VRAIMENT être caressé ? (Does your dog REALLY want to be petted?–the French version!)
Addendum February 16, 2013
Dogs and Dementia: What You Need to Know I published another article on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. It fleshes out the list of symptoms and also has 7 tips for living with and helping a dog with CCD that I have not published elsewhere.