Eevon and April: Best Friends from Day One Until the Last

Guest post by April Franklin

This is my own tale about my beautiful girl Eevon Rose Franklin.

elkhound mix in blue dog bed

Eevon came to me from a pet store at two months old, my aunts bought her for me for my 16th birthday and the funny part is we were all told I was getting a small dog like a rat terrier.

elkhound mix puppy EevonShe was small as a puppy with nice sized paws and so much thick fur. We slept together, went for “walks” together (she walked by two houses and collapsed in the yard so I carried her most of the time). By six months she was beautiful, very fluffy and NOT small at all. Which my parents weren’t all that happy about but I loved having a big girl to pal around with.

She was sold at the pet store as a Norwegian elkhound mix but I’m not sure what else. I saw German shepherd in her and several people mentioned possible wolf. All I know for sure is that she loved to hear herself talk and she loved to talk back to you.

She was so vocal and always let you know exactly what she wanted and that she wanted it NOW. It drove my parents and sister crazy. She ran out the door at the first opportunity she got for a fun game of “chase Eevon through the neighborhood,” she stole countless loaves of bread off the counter, ham steaks off plates, a dozen cookies off the dining room table (even tried to put the chair back to hide the evidence), head butted my closet door open to eat my Easter candy and got into the trash so much we moved the can to the back porch.

Eevon the senior elkhound mix and her owner and friend AprilShe also learned to sit pretty (sit up), tell me (speak), whisper (speak softly) and lay down from my sister’s older Dalmatian. She learned high five and shake from me. She would do ANYTHING for food or treats. She developed a wonderful bond with my dad, she loved eating his candied cherries whenever he got them and he always seemed to think he put them someplace she wouldn’t get to them but he was very wrong. She loved to get in his lap and force him to lay back in the recliner while he was reading a magazine so that he could hold her easier and moved his hand to pet her.

senior elkhound mix sitting in a chairWhen he was diagnosed with cancer and was sick she always wanted to be near him. After almost two years of battling the disease he passed away and she felt it just like we did. She lay in his wheelchair, on his hospital bed in the living room and we mourned together. His passing changed her just as it did all of us and we had to kind of get to know each other again. She developed dog aggression with the other two dogs in the house and that took a lot of time to sort out. We went to the lake for walks and she loved to watch the ducks. We went to a walking trail around 5 in the morning and she would always sniff out deer tracks and I think if I had left her to follow them she probably would have found them!

At the age of eight she became terrified of thunderstorms and would shake so much her teeth would chatter. We found calming chews that worked wonders for her. At 14 she was diagnosed with arthritis and started having problems with mobility. Through all those years even with arthritis she was stealing bread from the kitchen counters and going upstairs to lay on my bed and roll on my pajamas (even wearing a bra on her head.) She demanded dinner at 9 and 6 (she later changed it to 8 and 4:30/5.) She would herd me to the snack cabinet and bark at me “I want a snack! I know you brought in chicken jerky and pork chews!!”

Also around 14 years old, she was diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction, staring into corners, walking in clockwise circles and forgetting which way doors opened. I would guide her around and help her day to day as the time went on. She started having trouble sleeping and having nighttime anxiety so we tried melatonin which helped her a lot. I also made her a playlist on my iPod with relaxing music for her. We went on great walks around the neighborhood she loved the scenery and all the smells. We also just went and sat together in the front yard just watching life bustle around us. Me and my beauty queen.

Sadly in November of 2017 Eevon had lost 12 pounds in four months and was unofficially diagnosed with cancer. I then had to start thinking of her end of life care and that was the hardest thing I would ever do. She had developed severe anxiety every time I left the house and had gotten so upset she soiled herself. I started making her a bathroom schedule to train myself to make sure she got out when she needed to go out and that started to lessen the incidents along with watching how long I was gone. I tried digestion enzymes with probiotics which seemed to really help put pep back in her step and she did wonderfully until December 11.

After coming home from the store and she was panting and shaking horribly. I had thought she had gotten overstressed, the next day she slept, the day after she slept as well and the day after she was only walking in counter-clockwise circles, barely walking had to have assistance always, couldn’t sit herself up when laying on one side and curling her body in on itself which she had no control over laying on the other side. Sadly December 22, 2017 I told her I loved her and I always will. I kissed her over and over. I held her tightly against myself to keep her calm and comfortable and I had to say goodbye.

Eevon the senior elkhound mix and her owner and friend April

I decided on private cremation, I could barely leave the vet’s office that day just thinking of her in that room alone and I couldn’t imagine not bringing her home with me in some way. That last morning I didn’t sleep but maybe two hours. I stayed up watching her and memorizing all the little details about her. I watched movies with her and hugged her. I sang her Tom Jones parody “it’s not unusual to be loved by Eevon. It’s not unusual to have fun with the fuzzy one!” I made so many songs about her, I loved to sing to her and even now I still do.

It will be a month on Monday and my whole world is emptier without her here. My life is quiet and I don’t know how I will live without her. Every day there is a huge hole, I still turn on her music every night before I go to bed and I find myself waking up at 4 in the morning waiting for a voice that I won’t hear again. We used to watch “K-9 to 5” on Animal Planet every Sunday and we talked about all the different jobs she could do, I always thought she would have been perfect for a therapy dog but she always liked the taste tester at fancy restaurants idea (who knew?)

senior elkhound mix with dementiaShe never did either of those jobs but she had the greatest job in the world. Being my best friend, she was my baby, we laughed together, we cried together, we had great days and hard days. We were always there for each other and I’m so thankful for every day I had with her. She made it to 16.8 years old—she would have been 17 on April 20th and though I know her mind would have made it and she would have fought for me I never wanted her life to be a fight.

She was too beautiful to ever be in any pain and although I’m heartbroken I know that she’s happy and when my time comes we will be together again. Until then I’m left with trying to do anything I can to keep her presence around me and memorialize her in jewelry, pictures, writing and her songs.

Copyright 2018 April Franklin

Six Fun Enrichment Activities for a Dog with Dementia

My rat terrier Cricket lived to be about 17 and had dementia since she was 14 or 15. As her cognitive abilities decreased, I was still able to find things she enjoyed. Enrichment activities are important at any age. Our activities just got simpler and simpler as we went along.

I had taken Cricket on a walk virtually every day of her life until her dementia got too advanced to do that. Our walks got shorter and shorter, and then she just couldn’t do it anymore. She didn’t have the marbles to be able to walk more-or-less next to me on a leash. But we morphed the walk into a wander in my front yard. I figured out how to do some other enrichment activities she enjoyed as well. Here are six of them.

• Nosework. When Cricket’s dementia was not yet advanced, I taught her to search for treats in cardboard boxes. She enjoyed this and it was a real workout for her brain! If you try this, be sure to make it super easy for your dog. The idea is not to “challenge” your dog. It’s just to give him something interesting and fun to do.

• Sniff sessions. Cricket enjoyed sniffing things until the very end. Even when she didn’t have the ability to walk on leash, we still went out into the front yard, where she wandered around and sniffed things.

• Simple food toys. If you use very simple ones, like the toys made for puppies, even dogs with moderate dementia can enjoy food toys. Note: only introduce food toys if your dog has a good appetite and still enjoys food. Food toys do make eating more of a challenge, which you don’t want to do with a dog who has appetite problems.

• Trips to a safe, familiar place. I know I was extra fortunate to be able to take Cricket to work with me. I work in a two-person office that is not open to the public, and Cricket had gone there on and off for years. She had familiar beds she could get into and knew where the water bowl was (until very late in her life). I actually started taking her every day as her dementia got more advanced. I was able to keep an eye on here that way. Plus I think even this mild change of scenery was good for her, as was riding in the car (since it didn’t scare her).

• Sunning. This sounds pretty trivial but all of my older animals have enjoyed the sun. I always make them comfortable beds in the house where the sun comes in. Cricket and I spent time on my back porch all year around when the sun was out to catch some rays.

• Cuddling. I feel very lucky that Cricket solicited attention from me until the very end. I know that some dogs get more withdrawn. Her favorite thing was to come and wipe her face up and down my pant legs. Sounds a little weird, but it was very cute. The most important thing to keep in mind is that some dogs don’t want to be petted or cuddled, or want to be touched only a certain way. For instance, my dog Zani doesn’t particularly like to be petted or stroked, but she likes to sleep in my lap or curled up close to me. It’s worth it to learn what your dog enjoys and doesn’t enjoy.

I have a lot more information on enrichment for dogs with dementia in my book on canine cognitive dysfunction.

What do you do with your senior dog that he or she enjoys?

Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson

Poop in My Pocket: Life With an Old, Old Dog

This story is from 2012 when Cricket was still with me, previously published on eileenanddogs.com.

The very first thing I do every morning when I wake up is turn over and take a careful look at my very old dog Cricket. She has a special place on the bed surrounded by pillows on three sides and me on the fourth. Here is what I often see.

Old dog, rat terrier, asleep surrounded by pillows

Cricket sacked out in her fortress on the bed

First, frankly, is she breathing? Then, what is her alertness level? Is she still sacked out or is she looking at me?  Big “oh-oh” if she is sitting up or trying to get off the bed. I have to make an important decision right away. Who gets to go to the bathroom first? Me, Cricket, or Clara the puppy?

These days it’s usually Cricket, although once in a while she sleeps in enough that I can get a head start. The other dogs virtually always have to wait since it is not safe to leave her out of my sight on the bed.

Small rat terrier starting to stand up on colorful bedcovers

Cricket needs to go

Cricket has neurological weakness in her back legs and a bit of arthritis. She needs some help in the morning, typical for an old dog.  And as soon as she stirs, I don’t have very long to get her outside. She is 16 years old, and when she needs to go, it’s right now. In that case, I put on my glasses, throw on a robe, step into some shoes, and grab my phone. I lift her up a little and stand her on her four feet on the bed so she can get her bearings and practice standing. Then I pick her all the way up. I usually have a treat in my pocket and I offer it to her (I have taught her to associate being picked up with good things). Amazingly, even bleary-eyed and dry-mouthed, she usually wants the treat. Her teeth are in good shape.

I tuck her under my arm and she chews on the treat as I carry her down the hall. I unlock the door, go down the steps and take her into the front yard. Without fail, as soon as I step out the door she takes a deep sniff, then snorts a little. Then I make the daily search for a moderately level place on which to set her. Every degree of slope counts against us in the morning.

After I choose the place, I put her down very gently but don’t let go. I keep my hands under her chest and abdomen and help her stand up. I try to get her pointing downhill (there is nowhere completely flat). If she needs to pee first, I let her go and she manages. If she needs to poop, she often needs a little more help. I keep ahold of her, switching my grip to keep her from falling over backward.

Old rat terrier waiting at the door looking expectant

Cricket waiting to go to work with me

Things improve after that first trip outside. Like a lot of older humans, Cricket is stiff in the morning and a little slow to get going mentally. But even though she has dementia, she definitely perks up as the day progresses.

By the time I leave for work, she is generally crowding me at the door to make sure that I don’t forget to take her along.

And later in the day, she is downright frisky.

Here she is getting her supper:

But back to the title of the post. The other day I went through our morning routine. I took a look at her and the answer to the daily question was clearly: Cricket needs to go. The old dog gets priority. As I was carrying her down the hall, I offered her a treat but she seemed distracted. This happens sometimes. I took her outside and she peed, but that was all. Now that is very unusual. We stayed out for quite a while, but no go. I got bored and reached into my robe pocket for my phone.

Not yet.

I pulled out my iPhone.

Now.

Perched on the top edge of my phone case was a small, neat piece of brand new poop. I stared at it for quite a while in disbelief, willing it to be something else. It remained poop. I transferred the phone to my other hand and very carefully peeked into the suddenly very interesting pocket. Nothing else. I very carefully removed the phone poop with a leaf curled in my fingers and stuck it under a rock or something. I actually don’t remember that part, even though an embarrassing amount of my brainpower is normally spent keeping track of the location of poop. Amazingly it had not smeared around on my phone case or in my pocket. It had just perched there politely. But even a moderate poop cleanup is not something you can do later.  But neither could I run frantically into the house to clean things up because I still had a 16-year-old dog toddling around in my front yard. Also, there was a very important question: where was the rest of the poop?

So holding the phone a bit outstretched (wouldn’t you?) in my left hand, I picked up Cricket with my right and tucked her above my hip in her usual place, noting the positioning of her butt and my robe pocket for future reference. Watching my step, I trekked back to the house for cleanup and a change of clothes.

Once inside, I saw the rest of the poop in the hallway where she had dropped it while I was carrying her down the hall. That’s why she had been distracted earlier when I offered her the treat.

I have never been so glad to see poop on the floor!

Old black and white rat terrier in the sun

Cricket in the sun

Resources

My book on canine cognitive dysfunction:

Book cover for Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Copyright 2012 Eileen Anderson

Euthanizing My Dog With Dementia: The Dreaded Choice

Cricket was my familiar, my baby, my little soulmate. We chose each other and stuck together like glue.

Adopting a Middle-Aged Dog

When I got Cricket from rat terrier rescue, she was already about six to eight years old. I thought I was in for heartbreak by adopting a middle-aged dog. Well, I was, but not because we got only a couple of years. We got ten years, and I’m so grateful for that. But I was still in for heartbreak because of how much we loved each other and because ten years, or twenty, or thirty would never have been enough.

Cricket as I remember her best: confident and direct. The other dogs disliked her direct gaze.

Cricket was a robust little thing. Only 12 pounds, but sturdy, intense, brave, and frankly, bitchy to other dogs. Even with limited interactions between the two of them, Cricket managed to intimidate my very pushy puppy Clara, who quickly grew to be more than three times Cricket’s size but never even thought of messing with her.

Cricket never had many health problems. The worst thing that happened was that she would repeatedly scratch her cornea when rolling in the grass and had to wear a cone on her head for long periods during the summer. And as she aged, she developed neurological weakness in her hind legs. But that was it, man. Otherwise, she was healthy as a tiny, sturdy horse.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

So as bad luck would have it, this strong little dog who was aging so well and was so physically strong started to lose her mind instead.

I had some experience with dementia since my mother had Alzheimer’s, but I had no idea dogs could get it until then. I tell the story of Cricket’s diagnosis and how I learned about dementia in my book. But that’s not my focus today. Most of the people who come to this website are already struggling with the thought of euthanizing their dogs. So I am going to skip ahead, over our wonderful years together, and go to the end.

There’s that look again

I have to be honest. I could talk about the tragedy of canine cognitive dysfunction and the pathos of watching a dog’s mind deteriorate. Those things are real and commonly experienced by owners. But in my case, once I learned what was going on, I rolled with it. Goofy and mixed up, she was still my little Cricket. She was still essentially herself. I do realize now that, while I had to deal with some pretty difficult symptoms (like her pooping on the rug and walking around in it almost every day), we had it easier than a lot of others. She actually slept at night. She got quieter instead of barkier, to the great relief of my other dogs.

But this is the hardest thing to explain: I wasn’t really that sad about her dementia. Of course, I wished she had all her marbles. She had been such a sharp little dog. But I could and did accommodate her decline. She lived for two years after her diagnosis. I couldn’t be sad all the time. I loved her fiercely. She was still 100% my little girl.

Starting to Consider the Euthanasia Decision

I started agonizing over the decision of when/whether to euthanize her pretty early in the game. She scratched her cornea again when she was 15 or 16, and since by then she couldn’t cope with the plastic cone, I thought I was going to lose her. Over a scratch in her eye! But I found another kind of device she could wear that prevented her from bothering her eye, and she healed up and was fine. Whew. Thank goodness for the inflatable doughnut.

But from then on, I was always assessing. Was she happy? Were her days mostly positive? Was I being selfish by keeping her with me? Was she miserable because of her declining mental capacities? I checked with trusted friends regularly to make sure I wasn’t unduly biased.

Through observation, I determined that she wasn’t bothered by her decline. She didn’t know about it. This is true of many humans with Alzheimer’s as well. Not all, but many. There is even a name for the syndrome of not knowing you have something wrong with you: anosognosia. It is actually a typical symptom of dementia. And to all appearances, Cricket had the doggie equivalent of that.

What’s Are the Problems With Common Attitudes To Euthanasia?

I feel confident in reporting about typical attitudes in the U.S., and these may be prevalent in most other English speaking countries as well. People who can afford to give their pets good medical care usually decide to euthanize their pets when they won’t eat and start to waste away. If we feel like we can control the pain of whatever condition they might have, we take “not eating” or sometimes “unable to walk” as the main turning point. But I have come to observe that many pets are already living with pain and a poor quality of life before they refuse food or become too weak to walk.

I started listening to wise people like Blanche Axton and Sue Matthews, who both wrote beautiful pieces about their attitudes towards euthanasia and were kind enough to let me reprint them in my book, Remember Me. I think the chapter where the three of us tell our stories gives more comfort to people than any other.

They—and I—don’t want to squeeze out every last day our pets can handle. We want to help them leave this life before the final decline. The saying, “Better a week too early than a day too late” has become my mantra. I imagine this is shocking to some people. We all need to make our own decisions about this. But I bet also that to some people who are struggling with guilt over a dog with dementia it can be a great comfort.

The Last Months

In 2013, Cricket could no longer go on a real walk (she circled instead). She got trapped behind stuff and paced or circled much of the day. But she still went to work with me most days. She had a good—a great—appetite. And she still knew me. This was pivotal for me, and I don’t think I was being self-centered. She had gone through periods of anxiety early in the onset of dementia but seemed to have passed through them. The medication she was on, selegiline, probably helped. But I feared the day she would forget me. Maybe the anosognosia would help there, too. Maybe she could keep sailing through life just fine without me. But I didn’t want to risk it. So that was one benchmark I was conscious of. I wanted to let her pass out of this world before she forgot me, lest she would become anxious again.

A friend remarked how she always stayed close to me. When I was present, she would toddle up (remember the rear end weakness) until she could sniff my leg to make sure it was me. Then she would stick around with me. She would stay with her head right next to my leg, her nose often touching. This was such a comfort to both of us. And a signal to me of what was important to her.

In the spring of 2013, I observed that she enjoyed our time together outside less. She had lost most intention. She still peed when I took her out, bless her heart. But after that, she would simply walk downhill, wherever that took her. She had little volition. And she was less interested in smells. In late March she forgot how to drink water. She still had an appetite and ate healthily, but she had forgotten how to drink water. I made all of her meals into soup with milk or unsalted broth, or just water in a pinch. She continued to eat with gusto and I kept her hydrated that way. But I knew her quality of life was teetering.

rat terrier with dementia with her head on a pillow

Cricket near the end of her life

She grew frailer. She had no metabolic or internal problems that I knew of, but her rear end weakness was making it harder to walk. Her balance was poor and when she did walk she had no idea where she was going. I knew the time was coming, and I obsessed about when. I was proud that she was still at her lifetime normal weight of 12 pounds. She was still eating great. When might that change? What else might change before that?

Owning My Decision

People often say that the dog will “tell you when it’s time to go.” My opinion may not be a popular one, but I believe that when we wait for dogs to tell us, we have often waited too long. So many dogs are stoic. The day they lose one more pound and look more emaciated, can’t get up to stand, or look at us pleadingly may well come after they have already suffered. We can’t eliminate all suffering, but we don’t have to force them to go down this road, either because we want their companionship or we feel guilty taking our beloved dog’s life.

So I didn’t wait for a signal from Cricket. She was cognitively impaired, after all. I can be sentimental and romantic, but I won’t do it at my dog’s expense. It’s a romantic thought that the dog will know when it’s time to go and somehow convey that to you. I decided not to count on that.

The day Cricket had a major seizure, I decided to euthanize her. That, to me, was the turning point that indicated we were looking at a downhill slope in her quality of life.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I decided to euthanize her immediately. I didn’t try for a sweet last day or night. The weekend was coming up and I didn’t want her to have more seizures. And I had already been trying to make all of her days sweet.

It Wasn’t Her Decision

These are some of the hardest words I’ll ever write, but Cricket didn’t go easily. The vet had to use six times the normal dose of the drugs to euthanize her. There was a point during the process where, if I could have, I might have changed my mind. But I was afraid she would be left with permanent damage if I tried to reverse the process. In the end, I still think my decision was the right one. But when she sat in my lap, alertly looking around, after the first dose—double what should have euthanized her—it was agony.

On the other hand, I had long known that this was the way she would go out of the world. She was tough—terribly, terribly tough—and full of life. She wasn’t going to make it easy for me. That’s who she was.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Is an Illness

It is very, very hard to euthanize a dog who can still walk, will still eat, and has it in her to growl at the vet. I can’t count how many times people have come to this site with a dog who is in very late stage dementia but the person is convinced that they are being selfish for considering euthanasia. These people don’t strike me as selfish. Not at all. I think in some cases, euthanasia is the most unselfish things we can do for our dogs.

Dogs with metastatic cancer or end-stage kidney disease are obviously ill. We can see their suffering. But sometimes, when dogs with advanced dementia still have fairly healthy bodies, we can’t see it. But canine cognitive dysfunction is a progressive, debilitating illness, as serious and impairing as many others.

You folks who come to this website are almost all suffering. You don’t usually get a lot of praise or affirmation from the world for all you are doing. But you are heroes to me because of the amount of thoughtful, endless care you provide for your sweet, ancient, confused dogs. I wish for peace and comfort for all of you and for your dogs.

 

See more resources regarding euthanasia here

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

Life Expectancy of Dogs with Dementia

“How long does he have?”

This is one of the first questions we usually ask when we start to recover from the shock that our dog has something akin to Alzheimer’s.

The good news is that there is some evidence that dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction live just as long, on average, as dogs without it. You read that right. There is a study that showed that CCD does not reduce dogs’ life expectancy.

Statistical Life Expectancy of Dogs with Dementia

Closeup of an old, mixed breed dog's face as she gazes at the camera with her chin on a bed

Old, wise Moira–photo credit Jared Tarbell; see license below

A group of researchers studied the life expectancy of senior dogs with and without canine cognitive dysfunction (Fast, Schütt, et al, 2013). In the study of 98 dogs, they found no negative effect on the longevity of the dogs who had the disease. The dogs lived normal life spans. Actually, the group of dogs with dementia had slightly longer life spans on average. The researchers theorized that this could have been because of the high quality of medical care they got due to their condition.

These were senior dogs, and 74 had died or had been euthanized at the time of the final follow-up. But only six of these dogs were euthanized primarily because of dementia.

So some good news is that CCD may not shorten your dog’s life. But it can affect your dog’s quality of life. My book on CCD describes the steps you can take to enhance your dog’s life and possibly his longevity.

But What About My Dog? How Fast Will the Dementia Progress?

Mixed breed hound dog with a face white from age

I don’t think of Zani as a senior at nine, but she sure went gray fast!

Average life span is one thing. The factors that affect our individual dogs are another. Researchers have recently identified stages in the course of canine cognitive dysfunction. Identifying the stage of your dog’s dementia can give you an idea of the possible progression of the disease.

In this observational study, the researchers detected three stages of the disease (Madari, Farbakova, 2015). The stages were determined by taking data on the occurrences of 17 different behavioral symptoms in a large group of senior dogs.

The researchers grouped the symptoms into four categories:

• Spatial orientation
• Social interactions
• Sleep-wake cycles
• House soiling

They recorded the frequency and time of onset of symptoms in the different categories. With this information, they were able to divide the progress of CCD into three stages.

Dogs in the mild stage had generally not been identified by their owners as having any problems.  (This finding implies that most dogs with mild CCD do not get diagnosed at that stage.) The main problems in the mild stage were slightly changed social interactions with their owners and changes in sleep patterns (e.g. sleeping more in the daytime). My own Cricket’s first symptom was a change in social interaction with one of her best human friends. At the time, we couldn’t figure out why Cricket suddenly acted afraid of her.

Dogs in the moderate stage tended to show obvious loss of house training and often were hyperactive during the night. Their owners definitely noticed behavior changes, and the dogs needed more care.

Dogs in the severe stage had problems in all four of the categories, and their owners reported dramatic behavior problems. These included things like aimless wandering, barking through much of the night, lack of responsiveness to their family members, and house soiling.

The study also found that progress from mild to moderate cognitive dysfunction was fairly rapid. About a quarter of the dogs who had initially been diagnosed with mild cognitive dysfunction had progressed to moderate dysfunction in six months. This portion rose to half the dogs at the one-year mark. This is roughly five times faster than the progression of human Alzheimer’s. The scientists remarked that that might be related to the fact that dogs’ life spans are about one-fifth of ours.

The upshot is that the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction typically worsen, and often pretty quickly. But there are interventions that will slow down the progression or help the dogs’ quality of life.

Blind pug dog sunning herself on a wooden porch

Hazel at 16. Blind and with CCD, she still had many pleasures, including sunning herself.

Words From a Veterinary Behaviorist About the Progression of Dementia

In the U.S., board-certified veterinary behaviorists are vets who undergo years of structured training in animal behavior after veterinary school and must pass a rigorous examination before being certified. They are trained to treat behavior problems as well as underlying medical problems and often work in tandem with a general vet and a credentialed dog trainer. They are the specialists best qualified to diagnose and treat canine cognitive dysfunction.

Board certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. E’Lise Christensen, DVM DACVB was kind enough to answer some questions about the life expectancy of dogs with CCD in her practice and experience.

Is canine cognitive dysfunction a fatal disease like Alzheimer’s?
I haven’t seen information on that and I haven’t seen dogs die on their own of CCD. The reality is that families seeking help from veterinarians aren’t likely to have their pets die at home from this disease, but rather they will be euthanized due to the disturbing symptoms or due to another medical co-morbidity in my experience.

What’s the longest you’ve known a dog to live after a diagnosis of CCD?
Approximately two years, but since it’s a diagnosis of exclusion, it’s always possible that cognitive dysfunction is both under-diagnosed and over-diagnosed. For instance, some dogs with symptoms of cognitive dysfunction will improve markedly with great dental work and pain medication.  This suggests that perhaps pain is complicating their behavioral profile. Some diagnosed with CCD may die quickly because they actually have quickly progressing brain tumors.

Can medical, nutritional, and lifestyle changes positively affect the life expectancy of an individual dog?
I believe interventions can improve longevity/life expectancy because they may calm the symptoms and improve quality of life for both families and their pets. I see it in my practice as a veterinary behaviorist as well as in the general practitioner side.  If the veterinary clinician is astute and practiced with early intervention and proactive treatment, a patient who was scheduled to be euthanized for this disorder could be saved for potentially several months, if not longer.

However, really proactive treatment of cognitive dysfunction is still hard to find for clients. It can be difficult to find a veterinarian who knows all of the treatments for this disorder, unless he/she is a veterinary behaviorist. Knowledgeable clients who passionately advocate for their pets will likely have the best outcomes.

How early do you recommend medical or other interventions for a senior dog?
I think it’s reasonable to consider starting cognitive protection on every patient as early as age seven.  And that’s when we often implement supplementation, etc., in our practice, even if the patient has no clinical signs.

Focus on Early Intervention

Dr. Karen Overall (also a veterinary behaviorist) covers the title question in her book, Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats.

Q: How long will the dog have left if he or she is treated?”
A: We cannot know the answer to this question, but the earlier intervention is attempted, the greater the likelihood of a longer and happier life. Overall, the amount of life left will increase [with treatment], but the Quality of Life will increase even more.

Some board certified veterinary behaviorists will do long distance consults via telephone or video conferencing with you and your local veterinarian. You can search the directory of members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists to find some help for your dog and your family.

The two studies I cited almost seem to contradict each other. One says that dogs with dementia may have the same life expectancy as those without. The other describes the fast progression of the disease. More research will surely be done on both of these fronts. But the results aren’t really contradictory. What they do tell us, though, is that if our dog shows any signs of cognitive abnormality, medical help is in order. This can even be done as a preventative measure as Dr. Christensen describes.

In the end, none of us knows our dog’s exact life expectancy. But what we can do is be proactive about enriching his life and staying in close contact with a knowledgeable veterinarian or vet behaviorist for possible medical interventions. Dementia will present different problems to you, your dog and your family as it progresses. But there is help out there for many of those problems.

Text regarding dog life expectancy: Knowledgeable clients who passionately advocate for their pets will likely have the best outcomes. -- Dr. E'Lise Christensen, DVM DACVB

References

Fast, R., Schütt, T., Toft, N., Møller, A., & Berendt, M. (2013). An observational study with long‐term follow‐up of canine cognitive dysfunction: Clinical characteristics, survival, and risk factors. Journal of veterinary internal medicine27(4), 822-829.

Madari, A., Farbakova, J., Katina, S., Smolek, T., Novak, P., Weissova, T., & Zilka, N. (2015). Assessment of severity and progression of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome using the CAnine DEmentia Scale (CADES). Applied Animal Behaviour Science171, 138-145.

Text copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

Photo of Moira Copyright 2009 Jared Tarbell and used according to this license.

Photo of Zani copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson.

Photo of Hazel copyright 2014 Blanche Axton.

Snuffle Mats: Great Enrichment for Senior Dogs

senior dachshund noses around in a pink and white mat for food

Chile, the 14 1/2 year old dachshund, enjoying her snuffle mat

Snuffle mats are one of the easiest food toys for dogs to learn how to interact with. And if my dogs are typical, snuffle mats are among the most fun ways to eat as well.

A snuffle mat is a mat with multiple fabric strips protruding from a base. Homemade ones are usually created by weaving fabric strips through a grid—usually a rubber mat with a pattern of holes. Some pre-made ones are stitched together on a fabric base instead of the rubber mat. The fabric strips are placed as densely as possible to make lots of places for kibble or other dry food to hide. The dog manipulates the fabric strips with her nose and paws as she sniffs out the food.

closeup of food in a snuffle mat

Enrichment

Snuffle mats and other food toys are great ways to provide your dog with enrichment.

The ASPCA defines enrichment as:

Additions to an animal’s environment with which the animal voluntarily interacts and, as a result, experiences improved physical and/or psychological health. —ASPCA Canine Enrichment Program

Enrichment, especially lifelong enrichment, has shown to reduce the incidence and severity of canine cognitive dysfunction. So even if you came to this site because of your older dog, be thinking about your younger or future dogs as well.

In my book, I have a whole section about enrichment for dogs with dementia (and all senior dogs).

Here is my senior dog Summer getting excited about her snuffle mat and then going for it. You can even hear her snuffling!

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Tips (and Cautions) for Using Snuffle Mats

tan dog eating her dinner out of a snuffle mat• Introduce your dog to a snuffle mat only if she has a good appetite. They are not appropriate if your dog is picky or frail. They do make eating a bit more of a challenge. Most dogs with a hearty appetite will find it a fun challenge.

• You can elevate the snuffle mat to make it more accessible if your dog has back or balance problems,

• Be careful with puppies. Snuffle mats are not appropriate for puppies in the “chew everything” phase or for any dogs who want to chew up fabric.

• Supervise any dog with a snuffle mat. Pick it up as soon as the dog is finished so she won’t be tempted to go for the fabric. I was afraid my dogs would want to eat the fabric, but I never let them get in the habit and now they leave the mat alone when they are finished with their meal. But I still pick it up, because they are dogs and there’s always a first time!

• Wash it regularly. Most dog food has a moderate amount of fat in it, so the mat will eventually get greasy. (Not to mention slobbery!) My snuffle mat is washer and dryer safe. It does take a long time to dry.

• Be sure to use fabric that is “food safe” if you make your own. No toxic dyes, etc. This is why I bought one readymade from a reputable source.

• Consider your dog’s normal eating habits. Snuffle mats, like most food toys, may not be interesting to dogs who are free fed. The point of food toys is to challenge your dog to use his body and brain to get his meal. If he has food accessible all day in a bowl, he may not be interested. Follow your vet’s advice on this of course, but most trainers recommend feeding your dog in meals, rather than having access to food all the time. It opens up a world of training games and enrichment with food. It also allows you to notice much more quickly if your dog isn’t eating normally.

Sources

  • black dog sniffing a snuffle matHere’s a source for making your own: Snuffle Mat Mayhem. You can also check Pinterest.
  • I bought my mat from Your Mannerly Mutt. I love it! There are lots of handmade ones on Etsy as well.

 

 

If anybody has a photo of their senior dog enjoying a snuffle mat that they would to share, drop me a line through the photo gallery page. In the meantime, happy snuffling!

Thank you to Tina Flores of Doggie Einsteins Training for her photo of adorable Chile the dachshund enjoying her snuffle mat! 

Dachshund photo copyright 2017 Tina Flores.

Other photos and all text copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

Suus: The Rescued Dachshund Who Found Her True Home

Guest post by Nadia Hermans from Belgium in which she tells the story of her dachshund Suus, a former mill dog who is doing great at the age of 17. When I saw Nadia’s photo of Suus in her custom stroller, I had to know more! Nadia kindly shared Suus’ story–Eileen Anderson

wire haired dachshund in the woods in Belgium

How Suzanne (aka Suus) Came To Us

When our dachshund Didi died ( adopted from a nice woman who couldn’t take care for her anymore due to ALS disease), due to liver failure some four years ago – she was only 7 years old but she had a great life. She had Cushing’s Disease and the tumor was located in the adrenal glands and in this case dogs who have the disease live less longer,  We knew, as fond as we both were about this breed (my wife and I)–we knew we would adopt another dachshund, no matter how old but definitely adopting.

Since we had adopted our Lili, an ex-Spanish street dog, we knew that we would never buy a dog again, there were so many dogs waiting in shelters for a new home. ( Lili passed away about 5 weeks ago due to a mast cell tumor which was inoperable, she was 16 and also a great dog.) We looked on shelter pages on the internet and found on the general internet a strange advertisement, 4 dogs for sale and one of them was a dachshund, for only 100 euros [about $117 American dollars]. The price was strange for a dog of only 6 years old and we were suspicious. My wife phoned the owner and when we got the address we knew it was a former big puppy farm on the other side of our little country.

We went to see her 2 days later and when the owner, a too friendly lady (we later called her Cruella De Ville) showed her to us we were internally angry and very astonished. She was completely unattended, her fur looked long and filthy but from the first time we looked into those gentle eyes we knew that she was going home with us. We went for a little walk so we could take a closer look at this poor girl who looked much older than 6. She was so gentle, so shy but not really fearful for a mill dog but rather submissive and you could see she liked our gentle voices and pushed us to pet her. The love of the whole world was in those eyes and we were in love.

She Needed Our Help

I saw a little bald place on her back and a hump on one of her breasts and she had a terrible smell coming from her mouth and what we could see of her teeth—they were infected and brown. We didn’t discuss this with the owner; we paid 50 euro ’cause she gave a 50 euro discount for the vet and a European passport and we went home. In the worst case scenario, she would have Cushing’s, and a lot of teeth would have to be pulled. But no matter what she was our girl now and she was safe. At home, 3 dogs were waiting for us, Lili, Jitse a mixed breed, and Bela-Bartok,  a Cairn terrier female ( She passed away due to heart failure two years ago and was nearly 17.)

Because we both were for years volunteers in different dog shelters we had met and cared for a lot of ex-mill dogs and knew what we could expect, thinking about non socialization, not being used to live in a house, not used to live with other dogs and cats not to mention the severe behavior problems that could occur. We knew we were taking a risk taking her home.

On our way home I phoned our vet Lieselot to tell her we were on our way home with a dachshund and to make an appointment as soon as possible. We could go the next day. We named her Suzanne, which became Suus and when we got home the meet and greet with the other dogs went very well, she sniffed at them and vice versa and then we gave her a bath. Later on she fell asleep for the first time in a warm basket in her first house covered by a warm fleece. We adored her from the first minute. She got a complete medical checkup by our vet and her rotten teeth were pulled out first… The hump was a breast tumor so she had two more major operations to remove all her nipples and was sterilized at the same time… Her bloodwork showed that she was positive for Cushing’s disease and soon we started with Vetoryl. She recovered very well from surgery twice. She also had a heart murmur and got medication for that too.

Suus surprised us having no severe behavior problems such as being fearful or aggressive but acted quite happy in her all new environment and she followed us all around the house and bit by bit she got very fond of walking around in the garden. The other dogs accepted her and Bela-Bartok became her special friend; they slept together on our bed. We taught Suus to walk on a leash and taught her the most important skill ‘the recall’ and she did well. So she could run free too without a leash. Due to the heart murmur, we could only do small walks in the beginning but after some time she could come for an hour or more.

Our Bond

There was a bond from the moment we saw her. We took her home because we wanted to give her a life no matter how old she was. We never think about losing them, a senior when we adopt one, no, we think about what we can give them no matter how long their life will be. We knew that mill dogs didn’t have a life and although our Suus wasn’t completely unsocialized she knew not much more than her kennel and its environment. She is so gentle, so friendly and likes her treats, her raw meat food and she likes to puzzle or search for treats in her Snuffle Mat or in the woods or our yard. Her hunting dog instincts were still there and she tried to catch a rabbit now and then but wasn’t fast enough.

Additional Health Problems

One day in the morning I think about two years ago there was something terribly wrong with her. She fell over, head tilt, no balance anymore and so tired… but she wanted still to eat so I hand-fed her and after that, she fell asleep. Our vet told us after she examined her that it was the old dog vestibular syndrome—we had never heard about it. The only thing that mattered was “is it treatable?”. It wasn’t but normally it resolves itself after a week or longer. Two weeks later she was better, everything was ok again. Months later she had it for the second time but it resolved itself again after a week but a slight head tilt stayed and also a little loss of coordination.

But Suus kept going like she has always done, no matter what comes on her path she wants to go on and she does: our hero. It’s like she embraces life. She couldn’t join us on our long walks and walking her alone was no option, she wanted to be with her friends. She rushed almost falling to the car port to go with the gang and even tried to jump into the car which was impossible but she jumped anyway so I had to catch her. So there was the thought of designing another stroller. I had designed one for our Bela-Bartok when she got too old to do long walks so the idea was not new. The one from Bela was ruined completely after walking the woods, the Ardennes, traveling abroad, uphill and downhill.

dachshund in a custom stroller in the woods

Suus in her custom stroller

I saw on the internet that one could buy a stroller especially for dogs. So we bought a second-hand Innopet brand but the Princess didn’t like it, she wanted to jump out of it, it was too high above the ground I thought. So I searched for a children’s stroller and removed the seat and build a seat low to the ground and yay she liked it and stayed in it until she had rested enough so she could do some walking again. Because of the stroller, she can come with us everywhere—we went for 2 weeks to France last month, an 11-hour drive but we drove only at night so the dogs could sleep. This stroller is her second pair of legs…. She is with us, with the gang and sees what is happening being comfortable at the same time and smells the grass beneath her feet. Suus is a very nice and gentle dog and she likes everyone who enters our house and she has a lot of fans on my Facebook and in real life.

She still sleeps on our bed with our two male cats, Walter and Woodstock, and when she has to do potty she wakes me up by pushing her nose in my ear or licks my face so I have to carry her down the stairs into the yard and back. The other dogs sleep downstairs cause they don’t like cats and our living room is upstairs and they have their own entrance so they are separated and everyone is happy. There is also Luis, a mix Jack Russell/Podenco, an only male adopted and reactive to bikers, people he doesn’t know, cars, horses etc. But he likes his older dog sisters.

We go to a behavior therapist and take courses in tricks and agility with him. Last year we adopted a Cairn terrier, Ruby-Mae, a 12-year-old lovely girl but for more than 5 years left unattended. That is another story of mistreatment. They all get along very well. Every day we go for walks in the woods, in the country ’cause I’m fond of nature and trees. I work as an educator-nurse ( in a home for disabled people due to trauma, degenerative diseases– like for example Huntington’s chorea, and other muscle diseases and people who had acquired brain injury) and work only night shifts for 60%. This means only 2 or max 3 nights a week do I have time for the gang. My wife does the same job but with mentally disabled people during the day. Suus doesn’t have signs of dementia yet, or not that it is known or visible to us. She is deaf for more than a year now but still has some of her sight and knows some hand signals. She was never a barker but she has a great bark which she only uses when she doesn’t find us or is locked into a room by accident….

Mill dogs… We saw lots of mill dogs ending up in the shelters, some of them in very very bad shape, some couldn’t walk, had never seen grass or the sun, completely unsocialized… very sad. It is the government that allows the major dog breeders and though there were protest marches, petitions to stop this criminal and inhumane behaviour there still are a lot of puppy mills in our country. I could write a book about what I’ve seen in shelters in those 15 years. Nothing will ever stop us from adopting dogs or it has to be that we get too old ourselves… Every dog deserves a happy life !!

front view of dachshund in her custom dog stroller

Suus looking like a biker in her stroller

Photos and text copyright 2017 Nadia Hermans

Is There Such a Thing As Doggie Alzheimer’s?

Dog owners sometimes refer to their senior dogs as having “doggie Alzheimer’s” but it’s more accurate than most people know.

Veterinarians have known about a similar condition, canine cognitive dysfunction, for several decades. A study in 1996 established a relationship between certain behavioral changes in senior dogs with physical brain changes.

Some of the behavioral changes include

  • disorientation
  • changes in social interactions (usually getting shy with or forgetting their humans, or drawing away from their former animal friends)
  • sleep disorders
  • loss of house training
  • changes in activity level
  • memory loss, and more.

Some of the more common observable behaviors are

  • the dog forgets how to go through doors
  • stands around seeming dazed
  • goes to the bathroom just after coming inside the house
  • wanders haphazardly
  • walks in circles (see the video at the bottom of this post)
  • faces walls
  • or gets stuck in corners.

But is canine senility really doggie Alzheimer’s? Is it the same as Alzheimer’s in humans? The answer is a cautious “yes.”

dogs with cognitive dysfunction and humans with Alzheimer's both get beta amyloid plaques in the brain

Beta amyloid plaques in the brain–image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Human Alzheimer’s and Doggie Alzheimer’s

The image above is beautiful but the subject is not. It is an image of the microscopic “plaques” that form in the brains of humans with Alzheimer’s and dogs with cognitive dysfunction. That’s right. The same thing happens in the brains of both our species. This particular image is from a human brain. Plaques are not a good thing. They mix up normal cognition.

Cognitive dysfunction in dogs is so close to human Alzheimer’s that dogs are used as test subjects to learn more about the disease. This is a double-edged sword. Most of us don’t want dogs to be experimented on. But because the conditions are so similar, the advances in research on human Alzheimer’s may help us learn more about canine cognitive dysfunction and work towards a cure.

And much of the research isn’t so bad. There are many survey-type studies and studies with pet dogs to gather data. And there is the hopeful work at the University of Sydney that may actually be reversing the symptoms of dementia in dogs using stem cell transplants. This is coming from a joint research team on both dog dementia and Alzheimer’s. The subjects are beloved pet dogs who are healthy enough for anesthesia and get a second chance through the stem cell transplant.

Humans with Alzheimer’s get another common brain abnormality: neurofibrillary tangles. It was formerly thought that dogs with cognitive dysfunction didn’t get these. But they are now being found in some autopsies of dogs. They are less common than the plaques. Some scientists believe that the disease doesn’t get as advanced in dogs as it does in humans because they don’t live as long as we do. That would be an explanation for their not getting the full range of physical brain changes that humans get.

dog with Alzheimers resting on a bed

Luckily, Cricket never had severe sleep disturbances. That can be one of the hardest things for dogs, people with Alzheimer’s, and caregivers to deal with.

So yes, our dogs do get something like Alzheimer’s. But we can’t diagnose it ourselves. Too many other conditions can share the same symptoms. If you notice changes in your senior dog’s behavior, please take her to your vet for a checkup. And keep in mind the actual name of the condition: canine cognitive dysfunction.

Wandering: A Symptom Humans and Dogs Have in Common

In this video, my dog Cricket has moderate cognitive dysfunction. She still shows a little bit of intent when she walks. She stops to sniff things and she comes back to me for a treat and when she is startled. So it’s not completely aimless, but it’s getting there.  You can see her do some circling and wandering. (A year later when she was in the yard she would just always go downhill, where gravity took her.) She had severe hearing loss at the time of this video. This is probably why Zani’s barking startled her. She was used to a fairly silent world, but she could hear that sudden bark. She came to me and I carried her up the steps into the house. She had lost the ability to navigate steps, and mine are steep.

Link to the video for e-mail subscribers.

New Facebook page! Follow Dog Dementia: Help and Support on Facebook!

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

Preparing Your Old Dog for Fireworks and Other Scary Noises

My little Cricket was afraid of the sounds of fireworks and thunder in her middle age, but she went so deaf that in her last years she couldn’t hear them at all. Thankfully, she lost her fear. That may be true of your senior dog as well, but plenty of dogs retain their hearing, and some are scared of what they hear this time of year.

Canada Day and U.S. Independence day are both coming up. There are some things you can do to make it easier for your senior dog.  I have a fireworks preparation page on my other blog that has tips for keeping dogs as safe and calm as possible. Check it out and make your preparations!

You can access the page below. Feel free to share!

6 Ways to Prepare your Dog for Fireworks Starting TODAY

Summer cheese 2

Summer gets spray cheese with each thunder clap

© Eileen Anderson 2017

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Book Wins Maxwell Award

My book won!

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.

DISCOUNTS

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.

Click here or the “Add To Cart” button to purchase the PDF.

Add to Cart

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.

Book: Remember Me: Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive DysfunctionMy 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!

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2017