Canine Dementia

Dealing With Canine Dementia From Dr. Fox’s Animal Doctor syndicated newspaper column Dec 2022

Dear Dr. Fox,

During the last couple of months, our 12 year old terrier mix’s nighttime behavior has changed. After a certain time of night, (approximately 7:308 pm), he begins to pace, pant, and keeps going to the door to be let out. We stopped letting him out until the last ‘out’ of the night since it doesn’t appear he has to relieve himself. He will sometimes settle down, then get up to start all over again.

About twice a week he gets up in the middle of the night, paces, pants, and paws the bed. We let him out briefly, then he seems to settle down, though he has woken us up 2-3 times in one night a few times.

His weekday routine is: one 15 minute walk in the morning, outside in the backyard around 3-4 pm, dinner at around 4:30 pm, 40 minute walk around 5 pm, 15 minute walk around 9:30 pm (last out). On the weekends, he spends more time in the backyard, but this doesn’t seem to alter the night behavior.

Until recently, he has always been able to sleep at night for 10 hours without trouble. His last blood work was six months ago and everything was normal.

About 6 months ago we switched him to Blue Buffalo life protection formula for seniors and he eats this with cooked chicken mixed in it. He has never been interested in eating in the morning, though we have always left dry food for him in his bowl in case he gets hungry.

We have read about this behavior in dogs with dementia, but are not sure if this is the issue. I have not seen an article about this on your site. What steps do you suggest?

Thank you.

D.S., Ann Arbor MI

DEAR D.S., From what you describe it seems quite apparent that your dog is showing clear signs of dementia. It is encouraging that his blood readings show he is in relatively good physical health.

I have advised many owners whose dogs have begun to behave like yours and find that giving 3-6 mg of melatonin one-half hour before bedtime can help all get a good night’s sleep. Melatonin is also an excellent antioxidant which may help “detox” the brain.

I would add additional antioxidants to your dog’s daily diet such as a teaspoon each of raw grated carrot and crushed blueberries plus a few drops of fish oil and 100 mg magnesium which can benefit both the brain and heart. Two supplements which also benefit people and have a calming effect are L-Theanine (from green tea) and Tryptophan (high in turkey meat). So I would substitute turkey for the cooked chicken you give your dog and give your dog 50-100 mg of L-Theanine and Tryptophan daily with food.

If these measures do not result in significant improvements within 10-14 days discuss with your veterinarian putting your dog on anti-anxiety medication beginning with a low dose while continuing with the treatment I have suggested.

Also, giving your dog a slow and deep, relaxing massage before bedtime, as per my book The Healing Touch for Dogs, may prove beneficial. Human patients spending some time hospital can develop a disorienting “hospitalization dementia” which daily massage therapy has been shown to significantly ameliorate.