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Also known as senility, cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a degenerative change in the brain that causes your dog to become anxious, forgetful or confused. You may notice that he has potty accidents in the house when he never did before, wanders aimlessly or gets “stuck” in corners or sleeps more. He might not meet you at the door when you come home from work the way he used to do.
Although it can't be cured, CDS can sometimes be managed with medication, environmental changes and behavior modification techniques. Your veterinarian should examine your dog to make sure his symptoms aren’t being caused by another health problem, such as arthritis or a urinary tract infection. Once those are ruled out, your vet may prescribe medications that can help. In addition, you can make it easier for your dog to avoid potty accidents by taking him outdoors more often or installing a pet door.
Is your dog picking up his food and then dropping it or having trouble chewing? There’s a good chance he has painful periodontal disease, a common problem in senior dogs. Plaque and tartar can build up heavily over the years, especially if teeth aren’t brushed or professionally cleaned on a regular basis.
Schedule a thorough cleaning, and then follow up by brushing your dog's teeth every day to keep them clean. I do it, and I know you can, too. Keeping the teeth and gums healthy is an important part of keeping your dog in sparkling good health.
You may begin to notice that your dog is more hesitant when he moves around, especially in the dark. That’s often a sign of vision loss.
Cataracts, dry eye and nuclear sclerosis are among the eye conditions that can affect older dogs. Look for signs, such as a white cloudiness in the pupil (cataracts), a bluish haze in the pupil (nuclear sclerosis), or generalized redness, discharge and frequent eye infections (signs that could indicate dry eye or a variety of other conditions).
Medication can help with dry eye, depending on the type and severity of the problem. Cataracts can be removed surgically, but our dogs get around so well using their sense of smell that it’s often not necessary. Just remember not to move the furniture around, or he might bonk his head.
Remember how your grandma used to send you to get your grandpa for lunch because he didn’t hear her call? You may have noticed the same thing happening with your dog. The sense of hearing begins to go with age; it’s just a fact of life.
You can’t purchase hearing aids for your deaf dog — yet — but you can still communicate with him. Teach hand signals, stomp your foot so he feels the vibrations and knows you are nearby or use the time-honored method of going to him to alert him that it’s dinnertime. He’ll appreciate it.
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