As dogs age, they can develop symptoms similar to dementia in humans. It is termed Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or CCD. Dogs with CCD can show a variety of symptoms. Forgetting how to do simple tasks, such as how to climb stairs or how to back up, is a common symptom. Your dog may stand at the bottom of the stairs as if he is confused, or he may get stuck in a corner.
Another common symptom is becoming fearful. Because your dog is fearful, his personality can change causing him to growl or bite if suddenly startled. When approaching your dog, it is very important to make sure he knows you are there in order to decrease the chance of startling him.
Many dogs will also develop a fear of the dark. These dogs often pace restlessly at night. Finally, many dogs with CCD will no longer be housebroken. They will start to eliminate in the house.
There are medications available that will slow the progression of CCD, but similar to humans with dementia, there is no cure. The best thing we can do is gain an understanding of these changes and do the best we can to accommodate our geriatric pets. For instance, if your dog has grown fearful, try to minimize the amount of stress in his life. One example would be allowing him a safe place to go if there are small children in the house. If he has grown fearful of the dark, give him a nightlight. Also, he may need to be constantly shown how to do simple tasks. Finally, he may need to be placed into a crate when you are not home. This can accomplish two things; one, it will give him a place where he feels safe when he is alone; and two, it will keep him from eliminating in the house.
Geriatric dogs can be a challenge. Our dogs give us unconditional love and the least we can do is give them our patience and understanding as they age.