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  • Writer's picturekirsten kruska

Senior Dog Sundowners: Managing Canine Cognitive Dysfunction for a Happier Golden Age

Updated: 4 days ago

Senior Dog Sundowners: Managing Canine Cognitive Dysfunction for a Happier Golden Age

As our beloved canine companions age, it's not uncommon to witness changes in their behavior and cognitive abilities. For many dog owners, this can be a stressful and confusing time, especially when these changes resemble symptoms of sundowner syndrome in humans. This was my experience with my very old poodle, who began to show signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD). The good news is that there are new medications and treatments available that can significantly help manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life for senior dogs.

What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)?

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, often likened to Alzheimer's disease in humans, is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects older dogs. It leads to a decline in cognitive abilities, including memory, learning, and comprehension. CCD can manifest in various ways, and understanding the symptoms is crucial for early detection and management.

Common Symptoms of CCD

  1. Disorientation: Dogs may seem confused in familiar surroundings, get lost in the house, or have trouble finding their way around.

  2. Altered Sleep-Wake Cycles: Many dogs with CCD experience changes in their sleep patterns, including increased restlessness and wakefulness at night, commonly referred to as "sundowning."

  3. House Soiling: Dogs that were previously house-trained may start having accidents indoors.

  4. Changes in Interaction: Your dog might become less responsive to commands, appear less interested in social interactions, or show signs of anxiety and irritability.

  5. Activity Level Changes: There might be a noticeable decrease in activity and interest in play or walks.

My Experience with Sundowners in an Elderly Poodle

My journey with CCD began when my elderly poodle, Joey, started showing signs of disorientation and altered sleep-wake cycles. It was heart-wrenching to see my once lively and responsive companion become increasingly confused and restless, particularly during the evening and nighttime hours—a classic symptom of sundowner syndrome. This phase was incredibly stressful, as I struggled to comfort and care for Joey while seeking ways to alleviate his symptoms.

Managing Sundowners: Joey's Story

To manage Joey's sundowners, we implemented several strategies that made a significant difference:

  • Medications: Joey was given multiple prescriptions to help manage his symptoms.

  • Melatonin: Administering melatonin at night helped regulate his sleep patterns and reduced nighttime restlessness.

  • Antianxiety Chews: We also used antianxiety chews purchased from the vet to help calm Joey during stressful periods.

  • Creating a Safe Space: Moving Joey into a small, cozy space in the kitchen provided a sense of security and minimized his disorientation.

These treatments and changes allowed Joey to live happily until almost 19 years old, highlighting the importance of a tailored approach to managing CCD.

New Medications and Treatments

Fortunately, advancements in veterinary medicine have introduced new medications that can help manage CCD symptoms effectively. Here are some options that your veterinarian might recommend:

  1. Selegiline (Anipryl®): This medication can help increase dopamine levels in the brain, improving cognitive function and reducing symptoms like disorientation and altered sleep patterns.

  2. S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe): This supplement supports liver function and has shown promise in enhancing cognitive function in senior dogs.

  3. Diets Rich in Antioxidants: Specialized diets formulated with antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other brain-supporting nutrients can help protect against further cognitive decline.

  4. Environmental Enrichment: Keeping your dog's brain active through puzzles, toys, and regular exercise can slow the progression of CCD.

Tips for Managing CCD at Home

In addition to medication and dietary changes, there are several ways you can support your senior dog at home:

  • Maintain a Routine: Consistency in daily routines helps reduce anxiety and confusion.

  • Provide Comfort and Safety: Create a safe and comfortable environment, with easily accessible food, water, and sleeping areas.

  • Gentle Stimulation: Engage your dog in gentle activities that stimulate their mind, such as interactive toys or simple training exercises.

  • Monitor Health Regularly: Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to track your dog's health and adjust treatment plans as needed.

A Happy Ending: Joey's Journey

Thanks to these treatments, I was able to keep my poodle, Joey (Ch. Bellviews Loose Cannonade AX AXJ), happily until almost 19 years old. The medications and lifestyle changes made a significant difference in managing his CCD symptoms, allowing him to enjoy his golden years with comfort and dignity. This experience has reinforced my belief in the importance of early detection and proactive management of CCD.

Dealing with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction in senior dogs can be challenging, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can make a significant difference in your dog's quality of life. If your dog is showing signs of CCD, consult with your veterinarian to explore the best treatment options. Remember, while the journey may be tough, your loving care and attention can provide your furry friend with the comfort and support they need in their golden years.

By understanding CCD and staying proactive, we can help our senior dogs navigate this stage of life with dignity and happiness.

This blog post is in loving memory of my amazing Joey Poodle, Ch. Bellviews Loose Cannonade AX AXJ.

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