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When To Put Down A Dog With Dementia?

After years of having your canine companion by your side, it can be difficult to imagine life without him.

It’s harder still to imagine putting your pet down due to an age-related disease like Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, aka dementia.

Canine dementia is a debilitating brain disease that causes mental and emotional anguish for dogs.

Senior pets, in particular, are prone to developing this condition.

If you own a senior dog, you would do well to become familiar with this disease, so you can be on the lookout for symptoms.

What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)?

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is a degenerative brain disorder similar to Alzheimer’s in people.

Like in people, this age-related condition can cause changes in your pup’s behavior, memory, comprehension and learning abilities.

As the condition progresses, your pup may become depressed, disoriented, forgetful, confused or hyper-aggressive.

He may not recognize you as his owner or be able to identify other members of his human family.

In the latter stages of this disease, your pup may be alive, but no longer living a healthy or happy life.

At this time, it would be good to discuss the option of euthanasia with your vet.

Like Alzheimer’s, the exact cause of canine dementia is unknown.

Veterinarians do know, however, that it occurs more often in senior dogs, and can start when your pet is around 9-10 years of age or older.

As this condition is hereditary, your pet could be at risk if dementia runs in his family.

A talk with your breeder or local animal shelter can determine if you should be on the lookout for dementia symptoms in your pup.

Symptoms of Canine Dementia

Canine dementia symptoms may vary in different pets.

The disease may affect some dogs more severely than others.

It may also accelerate at a different rate in different pets.

Fortunately, symptoms can be managed if the disease is diagnosed early enough, enabling your pet to live as normal a life as possible at the onset of this condition.

Quality of life is important to consider when making end-of-life decisions due to canine dementia.

As the disease progresses, your pet’s quality of life may diminish dramatically due to deterioration of his mental and emotional health.

In general, symptoms include:

  • Disorientation in familiar places like your pet’s home or local park
  • Anxiety displayed by relentless pacing
  • Prolonged periods of staring at nothing in particular
  • Having bathroom accidents indoors due to forgetting that this business is done outside
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Barking for no particular reason
  • Confusion due to not recognizing places or people
  • Changes of appetite (eating too much or too little)
  • Sleeping more during the day and wandering around aimlessly at night

If your senior pet starts exhibiting these symptoms or other unusual behavior, talk to your vet.

It could be the beginning of canine dementia.

Your vet will thoroughly evaluate your pet and diagnose his condition.

In early dementia, there are options for treatment to help alleviate symptoms, so your pup can live a more comfortable life.

Early Stage Canine Dementia Treatments

If your pet is diagnosed with canine dementia, your vet can offer valuable counsel on ways to manage his symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease.

Some possible treatment options include:

  • Selegiline — Your vet can prescribe this medication to help boost your pup’s memory and clarity of thought.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids — A change of diet to include foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can help improve brain function and awareness.
  • CBD Oil — Giving your pet CBD oil could help reduce anxiety.
  • Melatonin — Adding this supplement to your pet’s diet can help him relax.

In addition to these treatments, you can change the way you care for your pet to make it easier for him to manage his dementia symptoms.

First, create a “safe zone” area just for your pet.

This could be a corner of a room, a second bathroom or nook under the stairs — somewhere that’s easily accessible to your dog.

This area should be big enough to accommodate your pet’s bed, toys, food and water dishes but small enough that he can navigate without getting lost.

A safe zone can help your put feel more secure.

As much as possible, maintain a steady routine with your pup to include wakeup times, mealtimes, exercise and playtime to establish stability in his life.

It’s difficult for dogs with dementia to handle a lot of changes in their schedule.

A consistent routine can be a source of relaxation and comfort for you both.

Make sure your pup gets daily strolls for fresh air and exercise.

Outdoor time can be a source of stimulation for your dog.

Rather than long walks, consider short strolls throughout the day for fun and relaxation.

Let your pup walk at his own pace, so he can enjoy these times to the full.

Depending on your dog’s physical state, encourage playtimes indoors.

Hide-and-seek games with dog toys or treats hidden around his safe zone can help boost his focus and concentration skills.

Last, but not least, be sure to stay connected with your vet.

Routine vet care is imperative for senior pets with dementia as it enables your vet to monitor your pet’s physical and mental health.

Can CCD be Avoided?

There’s no cure for canine dementia and no guarantee your dog will escape this disease in his senior years, particularly if CCD runs in his family.

There are, however, measures pet owners can take to boost the physical, mental and emotional health of their dog as he ages in an effort to keep dementia symptoms at bay.

These measures include:

  • Giving your pup ample exercise throughout the day
  • Mentally stimulating your pup through exercise and play
  • Feeding your pup a nutritious diet at every stage of his life
  • Making sure your dog gets the rest and sleep he needs for his age

A dog that lives a hale and hearty lifestyle is less likely to develop serious illnesses in his senior years.

When Is It Time to Put Down a Dog with Dementia?

If your pup has been diagnosed with dementia, you will probably have to make the difficult decision of euthanasia at some point in time.

No pet owner wants to see their beloved pup suffer with dementia symptoms in his senior years.

Once dementia has fully engulfed your dog’s life, there’s no going back to the way he was.

Although dogs are capable of “existing” with dementia for some time, it’s not a life worth living.

Dementia robs your pet of his identity which establishes his purpose and reason for living.

Loss of purpose can leave your pet feeling fearful, confused and despondent.

Your pet won’t understand what’s happening to him and will be in no condition to help himself.

This leaves you with the responsibility of protecting your pet from unnecessary pain and suffering.

Working with a trustworthy vet can reduce the stress of making end of life decisions for a pet with dementia.

Your vet can give you greater perspective concerning your pet’s condition and future quality of life.

Your vet can also help you assess your pet’s mental and physical state to determine if euthanasia is the right choice at this stage of his life.

The following are some questions to consider when determining if it’s time to euthanize your pet due to dementia:

  • Is your dog still engaging with you? Does he recognize you as his owner and friend?
  • Is he eating well and still interested in taking walks, playtimes, cuddle times, etc.?
  • Is your dog showing signs of mental clarity? Or is he disoriented and having trouble finding his way around the house?
  • Is there “life” in your pet’s eyes or does he simply have a blank stare?
  • Is your pet anxious, fearful, confused or unsettled most of the time?
  • Is your pup suffering unnecessarily due to your hesitation to put him down?

It’s never easy to make an end of life decision for a long-term pet companion.

Once the decision has been made, however, your vet will ensure the process is done in a humane, painless way.

Many vets even visit your home to have the procedure done in an environment that’s comfortable for you and your pet.

If your pet is anxious or fearful at the time of his procedure, your vet may give him a sedative shot before administering the euthanasia solution.

This will help calm him down.

Your vet will then inject the euthanasia solution via an IV solution into a vein in your pet’s leg.

The solution travels quickly throughout the body, causing your pet’s breathing to slow down and eventually stop, followed by cardiac arrest.

Your pet will feel no pain or distress.

Once your pet has passed, your vet will confirm his passing by listening to his heart. He’ll then leave you alone with your dog, so you can pay your final respects.

There’s no easy way to say good-by to a beloved pet.

Pet euthanasia, however, offers a safe, humane, pain-free way to end your pet’s suffering from a non-curable, debilitating disease like dementia.

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5 thoughts on “When To Put Down A Dog With Dementia?”

  1. Thank you for your insight and clarity. I learn a lot, too.
    This is a club no one wants to belong to — I’m going through it now with my 15 yo Lhasa Apso — the confusion, relentless perseveration, the fear in his eyes, the forgetfulness, it breaks the heart. I finally scheduled the QoL / euthanasia appt; it’s 3 weeks out. This is the difficult side of love.
    My goal is to give him the calmest, most loving time until the end. My vet and her team have been wonderful through this, BTW.

    • I’m so sorry. My dog is having early symptoms. He’s only 11. I’m taking him to the vet Friday for diagnosis. I’m really sorry you’re going through this. (Hugs)

    • I am at the cross roads with my Coco.. She is 15 yrs old and is blind, hard of hearing, has dementia and muscle contractions.. She gets very nervous, paces all the time and forgets to eat and drink.. I have to hand feed her, we are up most of the nights… It is so hard… I sometimes feel she knows I am here, but it changes in the blink of an eye.. I feel the time is very near for us to have to put her down.. I hate having to make this decision. I feel so bad.. I love her so much, but what kind of life is this for her… Open to suggestions!

  2. Every day there is more and more information about dog dementia. I know I spent 2 years interviewing over 50 experts in this field and writing a book, “Sharmock’s Story,” about Early Prevention, Sign Recognition and Treatments and still every day there is more news. From diet, supplements, doga, massage, acupuncture, sniff walks, etc…to prescription meds, and CBD…but the best is to prevent or curtail this disease as early as possible.

  3. My heart is absolutely breaking. I think it is time to help my 13-year-old loving Pitbull, Rocky, finally rest. Every time he has a good hour or two I think that maybe he’s getting better but I know he’s not. I believe he still knows me and he’s always been such a loving pup, but more often than not now he is anxious and barking. Giving him lots of CBD oil and melatonin is the only thing that calms him, but then he’s usually asleep. This will be the hardest thing I have ever had to do.


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National Canine Research Association of America