Brain train your dog: How to keep your older dog’s mind sharp

Rens Hageman
Rens Hageman

Raise your hand if you know what Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is. If your hand is in the air, you probably take written directions too literally; more importantly, though, you’re one of a precious few.

CDS is the name that pet behavioural specialists have given to the severe mental decline that happens in many dogs and cats as they get up into their geriatric years. It can involve things like disorientation, restlessness or increased sleep, increased agitation and separation anxiety, loss of appetite or interest in exploring, less of a reaction to sights, sounds and smells, and overall changes in the way they interact with you.

For lack of a better way to put it simply, specialists have likened CDS to pet “dementia.” How often does this occur in pets? More research needs to be done, but experts say that somewhere around 28% of dogs aged 11-12 suffer from the condition, and that number grows to around 68% by the time dogs turn 15-16.

So, how can you help your dog if he or she is dealing with this degenerative condition?

Feed them right

Many vets and professional dog trainers agree that a proper diet will help a senior dog have an optimal life. Be sure that the food you are giving him has plenty of vitamins C and E, along with selenium, beta carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. To find out which senior dog food is best for your aging pup, be sure to consult your vet.

Don’t over or under feed

This is true for dogs at any age, but it’s especially important for older dogs, because if they are an unhealthy weight, it increases their chances of suffering from various diseases and will harm their overall health. If your dog is already dealing with CDS, this will only make things worse.

Name their toys

The old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is misleading. Not only can you teach older dogs a few new moves, but it will help them stay sharp. A fun way to keep your senior dog’s mind in shape - or your younger pup, for that matter - is to name his toys. Start with just one toy until he recognises the name and brings it when you say to do so. Then keep adding a few until he knows them all by name.

Stay as physically active as possible

Just like with humans, exercise not only benefits dogs physically, but mentally, as well. Your senior dog may move more slowly than he did at a younger age, but there are still plenty of activities you can partake in with him. Try taking short walks in less crowded areas, playing fetch, or other activities your senior dog normally enjoys. Be sure to keep in mind that your senior dog is most likely more sensitive to extreme temperatures and crowds when taking him outdoors.

Get a toy that’s easy on the jaw

Your senior dog may have liked to rip even the toughest toys to shreds in his youth, but he may be discouraged from play with such rough toys now. Grab your dog a Kong or another toy with soft rubber that will be easy on their jaw and last a lifetime. To encourage play, feel free to stuff the Kong with a killer filling as a bonus.

Brush those pearly whites

Unhealthy teeth make for unhealthy dogs and open your best friend up to all sorts of potential problems. These only get worse as they age, and they can impact both physical and mental health.

Play hide and seek

Getting your dog to use his nose to find hidden treasure, like his favourite toy or treat, will stimulate all of his senses and build a positive bond between the two of you. To teach your senior pup how to play hide and seek, first command him to sit and hide the prize in an obvious area so he can watch to see where you’re putting it. Then give him a release signal to go find the toy.

Once he finds the toy, reward him big time. Once your dog is familiar with the rules, ramp up the difficulty of the exercise by hiding the toy or treat in a different room or underneath something. Get creative and hide the treats in cardboard boxes, in between couch cushions, or in different parts of your home.

Consider supplements

Before you do anything like this, it’s always wise to speak with your veterinarian first, but as more research is done into CDS and how to slow down the process, the number of tested supplements on the market continues to grow.

Coconut oil and SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) are two supplements that have tested well, but there are a number of others out there. If your normal vet doesn’t care for supplements but you’re still interested, you can always seek out the advice of a holistic veterinarian.

Ask about drugs

Dog owners don’t have many options available if they decide to turn to psychoactive drugs to improve the cognitive state of their pet, but there is one that has been approved. Ask your vet about Anipryl® (selegiline) and whether or not he or she believes that it can help.

While there’s no known way to completely stop or reverse CDS, the best way to deal with it is to keep your dog happy, healthy, active, and engaged. Do that and you’ll make their life as rich and long as it can be.

(Article source: Various)

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