I frequently read comments on social media from people who criticize dog owners who surrender their old dogs to shelters. They ask “how could they do that,” “how can they be so cruel." But we don't know the circumstances that the owners may have been experiencing. While it’s true there are some heartless people who give up their old pets just because they’re old, there are just as many people who give them up for what they consider as valid reasons: 1) Old pets are more likely to require expensive medical procedures. Just like humans, as we age, our bodies begin to fail. Some people may not have the financial resources to deal with it. 2) Old dogs often get arthritis or other issues which may hinder their ability to negotiate steps. Some people’s homes may make it difficult or impossible for the dogs to even go outside. And if the dog is large, it cannot be lifted. 3) Dogs get dementia, just like humans, although many people don't know this. More and more vets are beginning to recognize it as a real condition. If you have ever lived with a dog who has dementia, you’ll understand the challenges and why someone may surrender the dog or choose to have it euthanized.
Living with Golly has given me first-hand experiences with a dog with dementia. It came on slowly and I didn’t recognize it at first as a cognitive problem. He started being afraid of walking in open, outdoor areas. I thought it was his fear of being attacked by other dogs, which had happened several times in our old neighborhood. He seemed ultra-vigilant whenever he was outside, except for in his yard. He was happy to walk on our 1 ½ acre property or hang out in the fenced area. Gradually, he resisted walking around the yard. I saw that his comfort area was shrinking. During this time, he started to become incontinent. He would have a bowel movement and not even realize it. He soiled himself while sleeping on his bed and on the sofa next to me. Then the urine incontinence started. It began as a slow drip I noticed on the floor when he was walking through the house, and it progressed to a complete inability to hold it. Then I noticed he was refusing to urinate outside. I would walk him and he wouldn’t urinate. Then he would come into the house and do it. Same thing with stools. At first, I thought the incontinence was a physical problem. Now I am seeing that it's more than likely from dementia.
I think the pacing was really what made me realize that Golly was suffering from dementia. He slept on my bed. He started getting up around 3am and paced the house. And yes, he was also pooping in my bed! It was after about 2 weeks of this nighttime pacing that I called my vet to discuss options for treatment. She told me that she had not seen good results from the popular Anipryl drug that is commonly prescribed for canine dementia. I had heard that trazidone was helpful, so she agreed to prescribe it. The prescribed dosage actually knocked Golly out for over 18 hours, so I halved it and that did the trick. He finally slept through the night.
Golly’s dementia is still progressing. He now paces in the evening around 7pm until bedtime. It’s completely unnerving because that’s when I like to settle down after a long day of cleaning up after the dogs, preparing their special meals, and other daily chores. But it’s also very sad to watch Golly as he paces, knowing he can’t help it and that he’s uncomfortable. We're looking into other options to help him. I bought a weighted blanket which seems to help occasionally. If you have any ideas, send them our way!