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Dementia in Dogs

Hi John,

My friend has a 13 year old Schnauzer named Sammy. Sammy has always been a rather highly strung dog.  Since she moved into a new home in April of this year, Sammy’s behaviour has gone from bad to unbearable.  He has virtually destroyed anything and everything he can get his teeth into, even so far as getting up onto kitchen tables and getting into cupboards.  She has tried unsuccessfully barricading him out of rooms and has attempted to lock him in one room during the day when she is not there.  He has pulled towel racks off of walls, eaten shower curtains, comforters, rugs, you name it and he has destroyed it.

She has put him on anti-anxiety medication at the maximum dose with no response whatsoever along with a natural remedy that she puts in his drinking water also without success. She is completely at her wits end and it is breaking her heart to leave the house everyday as he is getting more and more distraught every time she has to leave him.  She is seriously considering euthanasia to put him out of his misery at this point.
We would really appreciate your opinion in order to make the best and most humane decision for Sam. -Stephana

Hi Stephana,

The change in residence is probably what’s behind this but it may just be a coincidence or a catalyst. It can be hard on a dog particularly a high strung dog and even more so for an elderly one. However such a drastic change in behaviour in a dog of that age usually indicates something awry physically.  If she hasn’t already suggest your friend book a veterinary appointment for an in depth examination; blood work, x rays etc. The average breed of dog should be seen for an annual geriatric examination when they hit about 7 years old. Shorter lived breeds, usually the physically larger ones closer to 5. The same goes for cats they need extra consideration for age related ailments, but you can likely wait a tad longer.

At the same time, ask his veterinarian to consider whether Sammy might be suffering from dementia.  Symptoms are occasional disorientation and confusion. They can get  lost in their own home or yard. They mightn’t recognize a familiar person, wander or pace more. Sleep patterns can change, more sleep, less sleep during the night or day. House training might be hit and miss as during puppy hood. His symptoms may not be pronounced yet but it may be contributing to his anxiety. There is a drug that has had some success improving a dog with CDS’s quality and length of life.

His age is a real factor here influencing what you can and can’t do. One thing I always do for a dog in this sort of circumstance is get it in shape and run its rear off every day before heading out for my day. Not a good idea for an elderly dog but I’ll bet is activity level can be carefully enhanced. It helps a lot. Not just because the dog is too tired to do much other then sleep but it has a real calming influence due to adjustments in the dog’s body chemistry. Additionally book some time with a good dog trainer to learn how to teach Sammy some better coping skills.

As to whether to put him down or not. Tough call. Check out the possibilities I’ve outlined to see if there might be extenuating circumstances. If they don’t provide any realistic treatment possibilities and the quality of his life is as poor as it must be for him in such a constant agitated state and your friend can’t realistically change her life style  I’d then talk to a rescue. There are people willing to take on a dog with the special needs of a geriatric dog. I’d recommend she offer to cover his medical bills for the rest of his life to increase the chances of finding the right home. The problem of course is that another change may be just to much for the old boy.


-John Wade 

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