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Chocolate Havanese

Canine cognitive disorder

Generally, dogs are considered seniors when they reach about 3/4 of the expected life span for the breed. In a long lived breed like the Havanese, those golden years don't start till about 10 years of age. Many Havanese age slowly and gracefully, remaining lively and delightful companions into their teens. Some calm somewhat as they age while others do not. Most are still healthy and sprightly, very much a vital part of the family. After a decade of exuberant greetings, excited tail wags, kisses and cuddles, countless games of fetch, miles of walks and years of unconditional devotion, your senior Havanese may begin to show varying signs of advancing age. Signs of aging may include reduced vision or hearing, some tooth loss and perhaps a few arthritic aches and pains. They may take life at a bit slower pace and some may be a tad overweight. These slight and gradual physical changes are normal signs of aging.

On the other hand, if you notice subtle or significant personality changes, your senior Havanese may be experiencing something more involved than the simple passage of time. If your dog seems unfocused, confused or distant, or appears forgetful and getting lost, he may be showing signs of a condition known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or Canine Cognitive Disorder (CCD) often referred to as Doggie Alzheimers. This is not a condition that Havanese are prone to any more than any other breed; any dog of any breed may experience some symptoms as they age.

Cognitive Dysfunction is a physical disorder very similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans with gradually progressing confusion and disorientation. It is not a normal part of aging and not all old dogs develop it. Physical and chemical changes in the brain result in deterioration of thought processes, affecting how your dog learns, remembers, and thinks, which in turn can lead to behavioral changes, significantly disrupting the daily lives of you and your dog as the disease progresses. Frequently noted personality and behavior changes include disorientation, changes in interactions with people and other animals, loss of housebreaking and other training, and changes in activity level and sleep patterns. If your senior dog doesn't seem to be acting quite like they used to, or appears to be getting "dotty" or "weird", or displays unexplained or disturbing personality changes, it's worth a trip to the Vet to check things out. Many people do not mention their dog's changed behaviors and personality, thinking its just "old age", however many of the behaviors below are not a normal part of the aging process and need to be looked into and diagnosed by a Veterinarian. Your dog "may" have CCD if he displays a number of the behaviors below:

Signs and symptoms

Signs of disorientation
bullet Wandering or pacing aimlessly or walking in circles
bullet Appearing lost or confused in familiar places
bullet Becoming stuck behind furniture or in corners
bulletDifficulty with doors and stairways
bulletRepetitious, obsessive or compulsive behaviors
bulletStaring into space or fixating on objects or furniture

Changes in Interactions
bullet Less excited about greeting family members
bulletLess responsive to name
bullet Withdrawn or uninterested in normal activities
bullet Does not recognize familiar people or animals.
bullet Less interested in receiving attention
bulletSlower to obey familiar commands - trouble learning
bulletLess tolerant, grouchy/shy with people or other pets

Inappropriate elimination
bulletLoss of housebreaking
bullet House soiling regardless of potty break frequency
bulletAsking to go outside more or less often
bulletGoing outside then appearing confused
bulletGoing to the wrong door

Changes in Activity Level or Sleep Patterns
bulletSleeping noticeably more during the day
bulletSleeping less at night or nighttime restlessness
bulletDecrease in normal activity
bulletIncrease in abnormal activity

Other Behaviors
bulletEasily startled
bulletIncreased barking, whining or howling
bullet Change in sound of the bark
bulletDestructive behavior
bulletIncreased anxiety or fearfulness
bullet Trembling or shaking
bullet Easily stressed

Coping with CCD

These can also be symptoms of other problems which is why a veterinary examination is so important. Reluctance in using the stairs or to go for walks could be a sign of arthritis, inattentiveness could be due to a loss of vision or hearing, and incontinence could result from an infection. Once a physical and behavioral assessment has been done and other conditions eliminated, your veterinarian may make a diagnosis of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Unfortunately, there is no cure, however treatments are available that can potentially slow the progression of the disorder and alleviate some of the symptoms.

Careful thought, patience and consideration on your part can help family members and your dog cope with cognitive decline. You will have to consider your dog's needs by keeping his environment familiar and stable.

1) Minimize changes in lifestyle and daily activities
2) minimize changing or rearranging furniture in the dogs most frequented areas
3) develop and stick to a routine of pottying, feeding and watering
4) maintain regular moderate activity and exercise
5) maintain mental stimulation by encouraging gentle, short and interactive play sessions
6) keep commands short and simple
7) Be mindful of your dog's personality changes and limitations when introducing new people or other animals or even new food or toys
8) Be patient, be gentle and have realistic expectations.

These coping skills come from personal experience. Of my three Havanese seniors, one had CCD. Even when coping with Canine Cognitive disorder, your devoted companions' golden years can be enjoyable and fulfilling, though perhaps in a different way than you envisioned. Enjoy every moment of every day. No matter how long they live, it's never long enough.