Geriatric Dog - Cognitive Decline

(5 Posts)
moosemama Wed 08-Jul-20 15:55:32

Ddog1, a Lurcher, is almost 15 years old. He had his last vet check six months ago and the vet was really pleased with him. Other than some arthritis in his back legs he’s really healthy for his age. He’s due for another check and his vaccinations next week.

However, I’ve recently started to get a bit concerned about him. For a couple of months he’s been acting a bit odd. Same time every afternoon he would start acting stressy, tail tucked under, running to the front window, then the back garden, slinking around and generally looking panicked. (This is totally out of character for him, as he’s normally super laid back and a really calm, happy lad.) Initially we put it down to all the bbq’s that were going on during lockdown, as the timing certainly seemed to correlate with the smells wafting around and he’s a funny old stick, who hates the smell of meat cooking for some reason. (He also couldn’t get away fast enough when we tried to introduce him to raw feed - he was terrified of a chicken leg, wouldn’t even walk past it!). We’re a veggie house, so maybe it’s our fault for not socialising him to meat?

When the weather changed to cold and rainy, and the windows were closed he carried on doing it. Also, if he heard our noisy next-door-but-one neighbours in their garden while he was out there he would leg it back in the house in a panic, with his tail tucked under. He’s also progressed to getting really restless in the evening. Moving from bed to bed, acting anxious and looking worried. He’s sleeping more and a lot more deeply and not responding to sounds that would normally wake him or sometimes even to his own name. When you call him he looks around confused and takes a minute to work out who is calling. A few weeks back he took off after the wrong person (as in someone on the other side of the park) when my husband was walking him, so now he’s on a longline just in case.

We have noticed that if you interrupt his anxious behaviour by taking him for a short walk that seems to stop it in it’s tracks and he comes back full of beans and more on the ball, as if the stimulation gets his brain going again.

I’m probably making it sound worse than it is, as most of the time he’s his usual calm, dopey self and seems really content. It’s just discreet episodes of weirdness.

For background, I should add that we lost ddog2 on 13th June after a long and pretty horrific illness. We originally got ddog2 when ddog1 developed separation anxiety after the loss of our old girl 7 years ago and whilst it helped with the SA, he never really bonded closely with him, although they lived happily alongside each other and he was fond of him. He was here when ddog2 died in my arms (catastrophic stroke) and seemed to handle it a lot better than he did when we had to have our other dogs pts. He was obviously sad for a couple of days, but then seemed to settle into his new routine, has loved all the extra cuddles he’s had from everyone and the odd behaviour pre-dated ddog2 dying, although in fairness he was a very poorly dog and needed to be nursed 24/7.

So, bearing in mind the possibility of some grief for ddog2 being tangled up in there somewhere, I am thinking we are probably seeing signs of cognitive decline. I have started him on Activait and that has definitely helped. After two weeks on it he’s stopped the stressy, anxious afternoon episodes completely, which is brilliant.

As a quick walk seems to bring him out of it and kind of reset him, I have been considering whether we need to be doing more to keep his brain active. He is a lovely boy, bless him, but not the sharpest tool in the box. He’s more emotionally intelligent than brainy, iyswim! He always knows exactly when you need a hug or his big soppy head in your lap, but he’s the only dog I have ever had who didn’t really take to learning lots of new things with the clicker/shaping, etc. He learned the basics ok, but was never keen to learn new things, like my other dogs have been, so I didn’t push him, as he’s much more the big daft softie type, who enjoys the basics of good food, lots and lots and lots of love and fuss and his walks and tennis balls. As long as that’s all in place he is a calm, loving, happy lad.

So, if it had been one of my other dogs I’d have done some training and perhaps have invested in a few treat puzzles for them to work on, but I know from experience that he just isn’t interested. Even as a young dog he couldn’t even be bothered with kongs unless the food practically fell out itself and when we’ve given them to our other dogs he would wait until they had loosened the food and walked off, then snaffled what was left. (Perhaps not so daft after all!). He did like the treat dispensing balls and the kong wobbler, but having just invested a lot of money in our kitchen cupboards I’d rather not have them bashed about with him chasing those around, plus he has a tendency to skid on one of his arthritic legs on the kitchen floor, so I wouldn’t want to risk him hurting himself.

I have bought him a snuffle mat, not expecting much of a response and he absolutely loves that. Took to it straight away. So he’s getting half of each of his feed, his vitamin pills and a couple of treats in that a couple of times a day.

Obviously this is something I will be discussing with the vet next week. In the meantime, does anyone have any other suggestions of things we can do/try to try and keep his brain active and stimulated? I have had other dogs who have lived to the same age, but none that have shown any signs of cognitive decline like this.

OP’s posts: |
PollyPolson Wed 08-Jul-20 16:32:53

Bless him. It sounds like you are on the right track and getting him on Activait and it helping is great news.

I reckon he is happy to earn his retirement and maybe he does not need the mental stimulation in the same way. Cuddle strokes, grooming, maybe a bit of doggy massage is the way to go.

Hopefully keeping him more chilled and less stimulated may help him to relax and feel more contented.

If he likes his snuffle mat, then alternating it with scatter feeding will keep him busy (and is pretty tiring), you can also roll his kibble into an old towel and he has to unravel to get to the food.

He sounds lovely smile I love the oldies.

moosemama Wed 08-Jul-20 18:35:44

Thank you. He’s no angel, definitely has some grumpy old man moments every now and again, but fundamentally he’s an absolute sweetheart.

If he’s not sleeping, he’s either enjoying cuddles, strokes and hugs (he asks for hugs, we don’t inflict them on him) eating or going for one of his little pootles through the park. There are five of us at home, youngest is almost 12, so there’s always someone available for fuss and love.

I came up with the idea of a snuffle mat when I dropped a scoop of kibble as I was transferring it from the bag into the storage container and he spent the next ten minutes hunting for every last bite. By scatter feeding, do you mean on the lawn? I’m not sure about that one, as I have had the devil’s own job stopping him from snaffling for pigeon and magpie poo, complete with greengage and cherry stones off the lawn. I could give it a go indoors somehow. I will definitely give the towel idea a go though.

I hadn’t thought of massage. He does seem to like a gentle groom, so that might be another thing he would enjoy.

Having no experience of canine cognitive decline and having read up a bit, I just want to do whatever I can to try and avoid him becoming really anxious like some of the dogs I’ve read about. Essentially I just want to do my best to keep him content and comfortable and carry on making sure he knows how loved he is.

OP’s posts: |
moosemama Wed 08-Jul-20 18:37:52

Here he is.

OP’s posts: |
PollyPolson Wed 08-Jul-20 18:47:23

Oh my very handsome gentleman smile

I scatter fed on grass or paving stones, kitchen floor anywhere that is safe really.

If he doesn't chew cardboard pop some food into a box, when he finds this easy you can put screwed up paper in it to make it harder to find the kibble. Again if he doesn't eat paper!

Another one is to use a tray you cook muffins in and pop the food in and you can put balls on top so he has to nose the balls out of the way to find the food.

I think his face shows he knows he is loved

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