Old dogs can teach us new tricks
I didn’t realise it, but my old labrador-cross, Belle, is teaching me a valuable life lesson.
Greying and with a gait getting wobblier by the day (that sounds familiar), our faithful family hound is 17, pushing 18 – a big dig for a little dog.
She is mostly blind and deaf, but her sense of smell is still spot-on. She knows exactly where her food bowl is and also the location of the kitchen rubbish bin which she now considers a secondary food source when indoors.
As can be expected, she does a lot of sleeping during the day and has her favourite spots outside, depending on where the sun is shining.
In recent times though, we have noticed she can occasionally become a little disorientated, even to the point of walking into a wall and seemingly trying to figure out what to do next.
And that’s not unusual for ageing dogs, according to Dogs NSW veterinarian and spokesman Dr Peter Higgins, who, in a media release that lobbed on to my desk, says disorientation is a common symptom of ‘doggy dementia’, or canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD).
Dr Higgins said he had seen older dogs literally get stuck in the corners of a room and not be able to navigate their way out of it.
He said some dogs just stared into the distance and looked as though they had ‘tuned out’.
“This can be really alarming for both the dog and its owner,” he said.
Indeed, it can be. But Dr Higgins said research into ‘doggy dementia’ showed there were ‘striking similarities’ to Alzheimer’s in humans.
He said Australian research has probed the effects of old age in dogs and had revealed there were many common traits, both behaviourally and pathologically, between ageing humans and ageing dogs.
Due to the similarities, research into ‘doggy dementia’ had benefits for caring for older dogs as well as ageing humans.
Said Dr Higgins: “By expanding our knowledge of ageing and dementia in our canine companions, we can improve life for man’s best friend, as well as for our own older citizens.
“There is a lot to be learned from doggy dementia that can help humans with similar problems.
“Even in old age, a dog is truly man’s best friend.”
Dr Higgins said ‘doggy dementia’ could not be cured, but steps could be taken to make life easier for the dog and its owners, including ‘dog-proofing’ the family home.
He said it was important to take older dogs for a regular walk on a leash and to interact with your pet more than usual.
Patting, talking and cuddling were all very important and ‘hug therapy’ had a lot of benefits, he said.
Works for me too.