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Do dogs get dementia?

Dogs can become forgetful as they age, just as we do

Labrador and handler

The best way to prevent older dogs from getting dementia is to give them lots of regular exercise

A recent newspaper report suggested that a third of dogs develop some sort of cognitive decline from the age of eight, and two-thirds do so from the age of 15. Having known a good number of old dogs, this didn’t make surprising reading. Indications of dementia in dogs include the dog getting stuck behind furniture and needing help to get out, standing on the hinge side of the door rather than the side it opens, walking in circles, struggling to find its way around, forgetting what it has just done, even forgetting to eat, or failing to recall that it has just eaten.

Food and exercise are key

According to Professor Holger Volk of the Royal Veterinary College, contributory factors mirror those of humans, including eating more and exercising less. He also believes that a diet of cheap pet food may be to blame, while owners are less inclined to take older dogs for long walks that help stimulate the animal’s mind. Apparently, the best way to delay the onset of pet dementia is to make sure that the dog gets regular and vigorous exercise.

My 15-year-old springer certainly isn’t anywhere near as sharp as she once was, and the fact that she was retired from shooting after eating a pheasant rather than retrieving it suggests that she had forgotten her basic training. She was approaching 13 when the incident happened, though there were extenuating circumstances. The pheasant had been shot nearly an hour before and had fallen into snow. Thus when she went to retrieve it, the bird was cold. However, it seemed a good moment for her to retire.

Despite a bit of arthritis in her offside fore, she is still capable of a good walk every morning, with a couple of shorter outings during the day. Deafness and failing eyesight are reminders that she is an old dog, but I will get worried when she forgets her supper, the highlight of her day. As for food, she gets a high-quality dinner every evening, and a raw chicken wing in the morning. The latter is now chopped up for her to make it easier to digest. I don’t think she is suffering from dementia, just old age. However, I will be watching her carefully in future.