I’m proud to announce that Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction has won a Maxwell Award for 2016. The Maxwells are awarded yearly by the Dog Writers Association of America. My book won best book in 2016 in the category of Behavior, Health or General Care.
The winners in all categories were announced at a banquet in New York City on February 12. I didn’t get to go, but a friend texted me as soon as it happened. I’ve been on Cloud Nine!
I thank the Dog Writers Association of America for this recognition and honor.
I’m running a celebration discount on the PDF version. The PDF is available for purchase on this website, and I’ve marked it down from $12.95 to $9.99.
The PDF is designed for both pleasant online viewing and a nice print copy, so it’s like getting two versions in one. The print is large, at 14 points, and the photos are in color. Here’s a sample page. The discount will run through midnight on March 21, 2017.
In addition, Amazon and Barnes and Noble seem to be having a price war and have marked the paper book down from $15.99 to $11.48.
My book is also available in Kindle, Apple iBook, Nook, and Google digital formats. You can purchase all the formats here.
Please feel free to share this announcement with anyone who has a senior dog. My book can help!
I am proud to announce that my book, Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, has been nominated for a Dog Writers Association of America’s Maxwell Award 2016. My book is one of three nominees in the category of Behavior, Health or General Care.
The winners in all categories will be announced at a banquet in New York City in February.
How About a Discount?
I’ve been thinking about discounting the PDF version anyway, and this seems like a good time to do it. The PDF is available for purchase on my website, and I’ve marked it down from $12.95 to $8.95.
This version is designed for both pleasant online viewing and a nice print copy. The print is large, at 14 points, and the photos are in color. It’s a version that can be used two ways, and right now it costs less than all the others. Here’s a sample page. The discount will run through midnight on January 1, 2017.
My book is also available as a print book and in Kindle, Apple iBook, Barnes & Noble, and Google digital formats. You can purchase all the formats here.
Please feel free to share this announcement with anyone who has a senior dog. My book can help!
Research at the University of Sydney has already helped two senior dogs with dementia and may eventually aid humans with Alzheimer’s disease as well. This novel approach is not based on medication, supplements, or activities. It consists of the following steps:
Assessing the dog as a good candidate and pre-testing the dog’s cognition;
Taking a skin sample from the dog in a surgical procedure;
Converting the retrieved adult skin stem cells to neural stem cells;
Injecting them into the dog’s brain;
Performing medical follow-up and retesting the dog’s cognition.
The procedure is not to be undertaken lightly since it involves anesthetizing the dog twice and, well, brain surgery. Anesthesia can be tricky in senior dogs, but blood work can help determine its safety. The good news is that two dogs with dementia have successfully undergone the procedure. Researchers accepted these dogs into the trial because they had clinically demonstrated dementia but were otherwise in good physical health. Laboratory measures of their cognitive skills before and after the procedure show greatly improved cognition. The owners are pleased with the results as well.
I think the best way to learn about this is from the mouths of the researchers involved. The following video is a TV interview with two of the team members at the University of Sydney. Timmy, one of the dogs who underwent the procedure, and his owner are there as well. You can’t get a real sense of Timmy under the bright lights of a television set, though. A little farther down is a link to a video that shows Timmy active in his own yard.
Another dog had the procedure in March 2016 and is also doing well. The research team and the dogs’ owners are very excited about the results so far.
Finally, here is more technical information about the procedure. It includes the researchers’ contact information for folks who want to investigate enrolling their dog in the clinical trial: Dogs + Cells Trial: Cell Therapy for the Reversal of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. If you are in the Sydney area and are at all interested, don’t hesitate to contact the researchers through the form on the page. Through my interest in dementia in dogs, I have gotten long-distance acquainted with team members. I’m impressed with their sincerity and careful work.
It’s rare that dog lovers can get behind any form of clinical study that involves animals. And of course, anyone considering it for their dog would have complex decisions to make. But this is potentially a triple-win situation. The procedure has a chance of helping the dog who undergoes it. As the research yields more data, it will advance the knowledge of canine cognitive dysfunction besides being an available treatment for more dogs. Finally, scientists’ work may eventually help humans in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
When I first published my book in 2015, I wrote that there was no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction. That is still the case, but this fascinating research offers some hope.
Enrichment is a win/win situation. Studies say that we **may** be able to slow the onset and progress of canine cognitive dysfunction by enriching our dogs’ lives. But even if we don’t, we certainly are helping them in the moment.
I have gotten to know Jennifer Fearing and her lovely dog Yoda through my book and this page. She read my book and prompted the Sacramento Bee to mention it in an feature article about aging pets. I’ve linked the article below.
What I want to highlight from the article is the movie Sue Morrow of the Sacramento Bee created of Jennifer and Yoda. It is a beautiful example of caring for a dog with cognitive dysfunction and keeping him active and engaged.
Jennifer has loved and cared for Yoda since he was an abandoned pup, four weeks old. Even with the slight standoffishness that has accompanied his dementia, you can see how strong the bond is between them. The movie gives me goosebumps. Jennifer speaks so frankly of their relationship, the ways she helps him. Jennifer is working with board certified veterinary behaviorists at U.C. Davis to give Yoda the best life possible for his remaining time, and speaks about the importance of recordkeeping to track his condition and quality of life.
Jennifer told me that Yoda has had no small part in shaping the person she has become., and that she feels it is her privilege to care for Yoda. We should all be so lucky as he.
My friend Jane Jackson has graciously agreed to share her story about her wandering senior dog Beetle and how she kept him safe at night. These are her words.
“I have a Jack Russell Terrier who will be 16 the day after Christmas. In the last year, he had started to pace and wander at night and eliminate in the house. I had never crate trained him beyond the early puppy stage although I had tried a couple times. He hated confinement (this was before I had trained at the Karen Pryor Academy, so I didn’t know how to help him feel better about it). My husband was really tired of cleaning up the house or the alternative when he got up in the morning (he got up long before I did) though, so something had to be done. I put a wire crate in my bedroom, right next to my bed, put Beetle’s favorite blankets in it and when I went to bed, I put him in it with a treat or two and then dangled my hand through the wire in an effort to help him feel comfortable as I tried to go to sleep. Before long, I could feel and hear him start to shake, pant, and then whine, and so I opened the crate door. He walked a couple steps and pooped on the floor. That obviously wasn’t going to work.
Beetle, cozy in his bed in his ex-pen, with night light nearby
Next I thought I’d try an ex-pen setup as I had seen another trainer do for her elderly beagles. I was afraid he’d howl and panic being confined but I gave it a try hoping he wouldn’t soil his bed. I put the ex-pen around his favorite bed in his favorite corner and made it about the size of two crates, putting pee pads on the bare floor. I waited until he was asleep and then closed it up. I turned a night light on right next to it, crossed my fingers and went to bed. Lo and behold, he was sleeping peacefully in the morning and the pee pads were clean and dry. The same thing happened the next night, and the next and so on. In the approximately nine months since we’ve been doing this, I’d say he has peed on the pads maybe once a month. I’ve never heard a peep from him (our bedroom is close enough I would) and my husband says Beetle is sound asleep when he gets up in the morning. He opens the pen so that when Beetle does wake up, he can get out on his own.
It is astonishing to me that this works and I can justify it in various human ways but I just wanted to share it in case someone else has a dog who can’t tolerate a crate and assumes that an ex pen won’t work.
I got this particular ex-pen because it is plastic and I didn’t want a wire one scratching up our wooden floors. The thing I dislike about it is that it is REALLY loud when you move the panels. They don’t slide open and closed, but POP, POP, POP. I find it annoying but it scares the bananas out of Beetle. I open it all up during the day (as seen in the photo below) so I have to remind myself to get it set up for nighttime before he drifts off. I do always sit with him (the dining room table is right next to this) until he goes to sleep. I don’t know if it’s necessary but I prefer it to feeling like I’m locking him up and leaving.
The open pen during the day
My human best guess is that being confined reassured him rather than panicked him because it limited his options. Rather than wandering around the dark house looking for me or a way out, getting more and more anxious, he just went back to sleep. I didn’t use a webcam so I don’t know how much he paced in there but nothing was disturbed and as I said, I never heard a peep even though he was always one to squeak or howl if he got locked somewhere behind a closed door by accident.”
This is Eileen writing again. What works for individual dogs really varies. But Jane and I wanted to share this method because it’s worth a try for others who are dealing with night wandering and incontinence issues in their dogs. Beetle doesn’t normally like being confined, but he felt safe and comfortable in the ex-pen setup. Some of the rest of you may be so lucky with your dogs as well!
Jane Jackson is certified by the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior (KPA CTP), is a Certified Level 2 TAGteacher, and a member of Alexandra Kurland’s coaching guild.
I’ll be covering the definition and prevalence of the disease (much more prevalent than most of us knew!), common symptoms (including on unpublished videos), the treatments that show promise, and questions to ask your vet. I’ll also discuss the commonalities with human Alzheimer’s, and most important, how to keep a dog with dementia safe and enriched. I’ll include the subjects of euthanasia and quality of life. Euthanasia seems to be an even more difficult decision for owners of dogs with dementia than with a dog with most other infirmities.
Even though the behavioral symptoms that arise with cognitive dysfunction mostly can’t be modified with training, I’ll talk about how trainers can help their clients with dogs afflicted with this condition.
There will be resources galore for further information including links to videos, product descriptions, and assessment and decision-making tools. There will also be time allotted for questions.
The webinar will be recorded and all participants will receive the URL for access. This is a great option if you can’t come at the scheduled time.
Cricket with advanced cognitive dysfunction late in her life
15-year-old Kaci learning to roll a food toy around and access the goodies inside
You can teach an old dog a new trick, and you might be surprised how much she enjoys it!
Research studies suggest that one thing that can slow the course of dementia is for senior dogs to have a lot of enrichment in their lives. In the laboratory studies, the enrichment consisted of getting exercise, social time with another dog, toys to play with (they were rotated every week or two), and training. The training was done with positive reinforcement (food rewards for correct actions), and was actually quite a challenging task.
Dogs with early stage dementia who got these forms of enrichment had less cognitive decline than those who didn’t.
Do Try This At Home
Most of us would want to stave off dementia in our dogs if at all possible. One thing you can do that combines two of the above interventions, toys and food, is to teach your old dog to play with food toys.
Food toys are specially made objects, usually made from wood, rubber, or food-safe plastic, that hold food for dogs. They are designed so that the dog has to move the toy in certain ways to get the food to come out. They range from extremely easy to very complex.
You might think it’s unkind to ask a dog to work for some of his or her food. But you would be surprised at the enjoyment dogs usually get out of these types of toys. It certainly appears that they get a sense of accomplishment out of solving the puzzle and getting the goodies that are inside.
The key, though, is to start slow. Otherwise the dog can get frustrated or lose interest very quickly.
How to Start
Choose a toy that they dog will need to barely nudge to get the food out. Put good treats in there: something your dog really likes and that also will readily fall out of the toy. I.e., not anything too wet or sticky.
(If you leave food out for your dog all the time, it will be harder to get him interested in a food toy. If you want to try it, start feeding your dog meals instead of free feeding, and/or put more exciting food in the toy. That’s a good idea anyway; some pieces of cheese or beef jerky for example will generally serve to get your dog very interested in the toy.)
Cricket knew how to roll around a food toy too!
Put the toy where your dog can see or find it (the dog in my movie is almost blind, but has been taught to seek out goodies with her nose). When the dog starts to interact with the toy, refrain from “helping” or even talking to her very much. The goal is for her to discover for herself that she can get food out of the toy.
You can see in the movie that the first toy I chose for Kaci was just a little too hard. Rather than sitting down and doing it “for” her, we quit with that one and I found an easier toy so she could do every step by herself.
Once your dog gets the hang of one toy, the next one will be a little easier even if it’s a little harder, if you get my meaning. Your dog will understand the concept better and be ready to try things. She learned some persistence and different behaviors to get the food out of the first toy; she can do more this time.
The star of the movie, Kaci, is 15 years old, diabetic, and almost completely blind. She has a very small amount of early stage canine cognitive dysfunction. Yet she is currently learning how to get food out of different toys and also how to find hidden food by smell (nosework).
The movie shows how I introduced a couple different food toys.
Keep in mind: the idea at this stage is not to “challenge” your dog. Make it fun: use tasty food and make sure it’s easy to get out. That way your dog will be thrilled next time you get a toy out. You have plenty of time to add difficulty later.
As I say on the treatment page, there is no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction. There are no silver bullets. The beneficial effects shown by some interventions have not been dramatic, including the effects of enrichment. However, there is no down side to enriching your dog’s life with food toys and other stimulation, as long as the activities are safe and supervised. Even if they don’t slow down dementia one bit, your dog is getting to do something interesting and fun in the moment.
To be notified for a discounted copy of my book on dog dementia when it is released, sign up in the sidebar of the Welcome page.
You can consult the Merck Manual online for more information on these, but please also take your dog to the vet. Many causes of cognitive dysfunction call for immediate intervention.
Conditions that Resemble Dementia
There are also conditions with similar symptoms to dementia. They include hepatic encephalopathy, with its signature symptom of head pressing, and vestibular disorder, a condition of the inner ear and brain.
Head pressing is most often associated with a liver condition called hepatic encephalopathy, but can be a symptom of other conditions, all of them serious.
In head pressing, the dog presses her head against a wall. This can resemble the behavior of standing in corners or next to walls that dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction perform, but is different in one important way: the dog visibly presses her head against a surface.
I don’t have the rights to a photo of head pressing, but this article has several photos and good information:
Geriatric vestibular disorder is an abnormality of the parts of the brain and inner ear that control balance. The behaviors that dogs suffering from it exhibit can resemble those of a dog with dementia, but there is generally no cognitive decline involved.
Vestibular disorder often has an unknown cause, but can sometimes result from an ear infection, so a vet visit is in order.
The reason I have written this post is so that people don’t assume from a couple of symptoms that their dog has cognitive dysfunction. It could be that, or could be other things as well. Please get a definitive diagnosis from your vet so you will know how best to help your dog.
Senior dogs need more frequent vet checkups anyway!
Here is a short video of what my dog Cricket’s circling behavior looked like.
Circling can be very obvious once the dog has an advanced case of dementia, but it doesn’t necessarily start out that way. Cricket was doing it for several months before I noticed. At the beginning she didn’t stand in one place and do it; her circling was integrated into how she walked around. When I would see it I attributed it to other things.
Circling can also be a symptom of several other diseases and conditions, so if your dog has started to circle or shows other oddities in her gait, please take her to see your veterinarian.