Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is it Canine Dementia ?

Angus and Ro in their indoor kennel room  Note the plastic easily cleaned kennels even inside, for extra cool in summer, and extra heat in winter. The door to the outside exercise area can be closed.

    As you know, our dogs who live in our kennel and who rotate out to different areas of the farm to "work" are a passion of mine.  Most of them are rescues from pounds, some near and some far. Some of them are likely full blooded (purebred), and some of them are mixed.   I personally try to choose mixed breeds for their "mongrel resiliency", but truthfully, a dog in need that we can help, when the kennel is not full, gets the slot.  Most of them adapt very quickly and enjoy whatever their work is.  Some are used as watchdogs. Some are trained to watch over livestock.  One proved his worth as a "seizure dog", notifying us when another dog of similar breed had seizures.  They are all very dear to us.
          One of the sad things in this life is that most dogs live ten to fourteen years or so, and humans live seventy or eighty or more. The years of a dogs life pass quickly, and then, once again, you are looking at the impending passing of a dear friend.  Of all our dogs over the years, we have been very lucky.  Most have lived long lifespans, and have passed easily.
          Some years ago, on the last farm, a small tri-colored beagle appeared, and would hide from us.  We saw him occasionally, and he would cower.  We tried to feed him and give him water, but for a year, he would hide from us.  This was very concerning because rabies is quite a problem in the forests of our county.  A feral dog could become rabid and endanger our family, spread rabies to other wild animals, or attack our own pets or livestock.  We worked to catch him if just to take him for a rabies shot.  It took more than a year, but we eventually caught the dog. He was glad to have a family and steady food and water, but then frightened at intervals from relatively mild stimuli.  The vet believed him to have been a hunting dog who was abused because each time we tried to pat him gently, he would shrink as if he were sure someone were going to beat him. The vet believed him to be very old, even then. We named him Angus.

Angus just last winter, going for a walk in the snow.
Rosheen, during her walk in the snow.

            He adapted well when we developed this particular farm, and has really enjoyed the safety of the kennel, particularly at night.  Late last autumn when he had his annual physical with the vet, she told me she thought that he could be older than twenty. She told us that tri-colored beagles can live a very long time. We actually had an appreciation for this, as we adopted a former hunting dog from a construction site in the 1980s, and he was eventually euthanized by the vet for lung cancer. He was also exceedingly old.
           Lately however, we have a new concern with Angus.  Angus shares his large kennel area with a spayed Jack Russell Terrier named Rosheen  (although I think on her records, it has the traditional Gaelic spelling of Roisin. She is Ro for short.)   Lately, Ro has been looking a little jumpy, and the items in their kennel have been thrown around overnight.  I also have occasional found Angus in the outdoor run area of the kennel in a dog house, facing backwards and barking voraciously.  Sometimes, he seems to bark at things that aren't there.  We are able to calm him and he does know us, but it appears that Angus has developed something called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.  Sometimes, as dogs age, they develop brain lesions, and they have difficulty regulating their brain chemicals.

These are some of the general symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome:

    Stares into space
    May become lost in places that are ordinarily familiar, either in the house or in the yard.
    Is easily startled.
    Loses the ability to keep himself clean.  Has lost the skill of being housebroken.
    Interacts with his human and canine family less. Plays less.
    Sleeps more during the day,  may be disoriented and agitated at night.
    (At lot like the "Sundowner's Syndrome" we see with some human dementias.)
    Shakes or trembles, even when it's not cold.
    Is hesitant to eat or drink or accept a treat.
    No longer enjoys favorite toys. May fear them.
    Some CCDS dogs vocalize excessively
    Some may seem a bit more aggressive.

 It can be hard to tell these symptoms from normal aging, or as simple complications of failing hearing or sight,

Of course, not every dog with some of these symptoms has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, and not every dog who does has ALL of these symptoms.  Angus seems to have the "Sundowner's Syndrome" pretty consistently, and I am sure life for Ro is less relaxed than it used to be.

      If you have a dog with these issues, it is probably not necessary to euthanize him.  Most vets would prefer to see a pet who has developed a sudden dementia, because there are drugs specifically for this disorder. First, they like to rule out medical causes for changes in behavior. If it IS CCDS, then a drug called L-selegelene has been used, and the more common registered name for it is Anipryl. Apparently, many vets are of the opinion that this is more a brain chemical issue than it is a lesion based syndrome.  Although it may be expensive,  it can be treated, often successfully for a period of time. The dogs dementia process usually slows and may reverse, although eventually, the dog either passes or the dementia moves on.

     I will mention this to our vet, but meanwhile we will try the softer solutions.   We will try to play with him during the day, so he is tired enough to sleep at night. We will be understanding of his gradual failure. We will move slowly around him, and not make changes to his kennel room.  We thought about moving Ro to a neighboring kennel room, but if the dog is not aggressive, and Angus is not, then changing their world is strongly discouraged by veterinarians and animal; behaviorists. The time for discipline or teaching is probably now past.  We will support our dear friend through his aging, and through his eventual passing.

       In the country, we use our dogs to alert us to bears, coyotes, rabid animals, bobcats,  coydogs, feral dogs,  and a rare mountain lion. We depend upon them very heavily for both patrols, notification, animal supervision, and herding depending upon their breed.  However, our lives are very much enriched from their companionship as well.

One of the best and most complete discussions of CCDS can be found at:

Update:   November 26, 2012:      Angus is still with us.  He functions during the day by following whatever his kennel mate Ro is doing.   At night sometimes, especially if there is a change, such as windy weather, he makes a lot of noise and  moves the water and food dishes and bedding in his kennel room.  He does still recognize us, and is comforted by us.  He still eats well and enjoys the dog biscuits we bring.


Gorges Smythe said...

Sorry to hear that you are losing your dog, even though still living. I've seen humans suffer the same fate, including one very dear great aunt. My heart goes out to you.

kymber said...

Jane - i am so sorry for poor little Angus. i am glad that you are taking care of him and treating him like an elderly family member, as he deserves to be treated. thank you for this information as i had never heard of CCDS - but when you think about it, it just makes sense. please keep us updated on how Angus is doing.

your friend,

JaneofVirginia said...

Thank you. I should be more philosophical. A dog who was abused and then discarded has lived ten years with us where he knew plenty of food and clean water, love, medical care, play and companionship with other dogs, including his "roommate" Ro. We all age, and we all pass. It just seems to me that I am perennially saying goodbye to a faithful canine friend I have loved. Perhaps I should love fewer canines ! LOL

JaneofVirginia said...

It bothers me because I have had multiple dogs all of my life, and most of them have lived to an advanced age before passing. I have never once had a dog with CCDS. I always thought that poor nutrition might be a factor, and since I am very careful about dog nutrition, perhaps that's why I have not seen it. However, I cannot adjust for years of poor nutrition before Angus encountered us.