Picture By Tamara Kenneally or http://www.tamarakenneallyphotography.com/
The Journey As told By Kira
Jimmy has been intensely bonded with me since he was rescued. Suffering from regular seizures, blindness, poor health and a past marred by severe neglect, a profound connection was forged between us. Aside from sharing our days together, for many years our most cherished time was spent cuddling. And that’s why I noticed the change so quickly.
One night when Jimmy and I were preparing to go to bed, I noticed for the first time he refused to settle. Instead, we stayed awake together as he paced the house panting, seemingly distressed in familiar, and safe spaces. Despite no signs of illness, the next night resembled the last, and even though I routinely carried him back to bed as he succumbed to exhaustion, his uncontrollable pacing would shortly resume. Concerned by this sudden behavioural change I made an appointment to see Dr Phil, and after a comprehensive physical examination that’s when I first heard the words: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.
Initially, the CCD disease rapidly worsened despite my immediate and frenzied attempts to stave its onset. At night, much to my heartache Jimmy retreated from my affection, and his pacing became increasingly distressing for us both. Each night I stayed awake with him, determined to reassure him that he was loved and not alone. But the worse was yet to come. A fortnight later he began turning in tight clockwise circles during his walks, followed by a weakness in his back legs. Shortly afterwards came his inapetitence and I was sure the end was near.
But concurrent to this I spent my time researching and devouring every resource on CCD. I kept a daily journal of Jimmy’s behaviour, read every academic article available, contacted experts in both dog and human dementia around the world, joined online forums full of heartbroken people like myself, and of course, I kept in constant contact with Dr Phil. With Dr Phil’s incredible expertise in synergising this wealth of information, we developed an exhaustive strategy which incredibly reversed almost all of Jimmy’s symptoms.
Of course no dog is alike in responding to treatment, and there are a variety of similar medications available with varying results. But overall there are three broad categories of CCD treatment which are essential:
2. Dietary supplements
3. Environmental enrichment
Here is a list of Jimmy’s daily CCD treatment under each category:
3. A sedative when needed at night
Dietary Supplements –
1. Aktivait -(is a a nutritional supplement to aid in maintaining a healthy central nervous system, and to support brain function in older dogs, Aktivait works by helping to avoid free radical damage and promoting brain signals. AKTIVAIT cainatinns DHA/EPA , N-Acetyl Cystine, Vit C, Vitamin E, Co Q10, Phosphotidylserine, Selenium etc all productas that have shown beneficial effects in mainatianng braIn Function in dogs -with deterinaating cognantive ability – We use it as one of the prodcuts to halep manage the again brain and Canine Dimentia)
In a rigorous, multi-centered, double-blinded placebo controlled study in 2004 “Akitvait” was proven to aid the management of dogs suffering from cognitive dysfunction behavioural symptoms. This is the first canine nutraceutical to be scientifically proven in this expanding field.
Aktivait contains many ingredients at good doses that work synergistically to hlep maintain our older canine veterinary patients with brain function deteriorating or dog dimentia. (CCD)
Aktivait – gives an dog more energy, helps with dog depression, Helps improve recognition of things esp for pets with dog Dimentia, , improves playtime
2. MCT oil
5. Vitamin B injections (every few weeks)
6. Fish oil
Environmental Enrichment –
1. Two 30 minute daily walks, ending when Jimmy’s circling behaviour becomes unmanageable. I also carry him in a sling to enable him to have to short rests when he first begins circling because this behaviour seems to be triggered by lower energy levels.
2. Games for mental stimulation, such as burying Jimmy’s favourite treats in a folded towel (or you can use a snuffle mat) for him to find, taking him for short car rides with the windows partially open (again to exercise his sense of smell as he’s blind), and actively encouraging him to play with his toys. Even though Jimmy is older, and I’m careful to recognize his physical limitations, I avoid treating him as old.
Here are some suggestions which helped Jimmy and I navigate CCD:
* I cannot stress the benefits of keeping a daily journal. After you first notice behavioral changes in your dog relating to CCD you’ll be surprised how quickly they escalate. A journal is a reliable way of checking in with your vet and tracking the efficacy of treatments.
* If your dog starts developing neurological weakness in their back legs, make sure the areas they frequent are carpeted. My house has floor boards, so I purchased rugs for his paws to grip onto.
* Don’t change the positioning of furniture in your house – your dog needs consistency in their immediate environment to help reduce anxiety, particularly at night.
* If your dog becomes inappetent and appetite stimulants don’t work (as with Jimmy) don’t be afraid to temporarily offer them ‘unhealthy’ but appealing foods such as roast chicken, sliced beef, Hills AD or cat food. Jimmy has responded well to dog food smoothies, specially prepared broth and gravy, and nutrigel, and when he can’t be tempted to eat at all I carefully syringe feed him small amounts throughout the day while monitoring his weight. Sometimes each feeding ‘session’ can take an hour of me gently redirecting Jimmy’s attention to his food, lightly dabbing food on his mouth to stimulate interest, and plenty of praise with eat mouthful. Changing how your dog eats can also help, such as hand feeding, holding the bowl to their chin, comforting them while they eat, or by spreading their food across a dinner plate (with hidden treats) for them to explore and ‘play’ with. Fortunately, Jimmy’s incompetence has only occurred periodically, so his increased nutrient requirements are met through offering him a very high quality dog food during his more cognisant days, in addition to his many dietary supplements.
* If you use Facebook, there are a number of CCD groups full of people sharing strategies for managing symptoms. And sometimes even just knowing that at 3am and your dog is pacing, you’re not alone. It’s important to have peer support!
* Remain patient, stay calm and seek grief counselling if you need it. Your dog is anxious about their behavioural changes, which are beyond their control. It is distressing to see them distressed, but by acting on our feelings we can unintentionally worsen their anxiety. Instead, gently reassure them and work within their ever changing limitations. CCD requires constant adaptation and endless patience to maximise your dog’s quality of life. You also understand your dog better than anyone else – you know their likes and dislikes, their quirks and how to engage with them. Use this awareness creatively to develop and refine strategies to overcome behavioural obstacles.
* CCD cannot be cured and any intervention is only designed to improve quality of life for as long as possible. Have honest conversations with people you trust about where you will draw the line as the illness progresses. Jimmy has always been very concerned about his cleanliness and toileting. Incontinence and loss of bowel control are common symptoms of CCD, and although many people use dog nappies and I’m committed to cleaning up after him, I believe it will distress Jimmy greatly. I will reasses his reaction if this symptom occurs, but in my mind this is when I will consider euthanasia. Just as living a good life is important, so is having a good death. Despite how distressing it is, be prepared early so when it comes time you don’t make hurried decisions you may later regret.
Finally, if there are two things I have learned on this CCD journey, it’s to think critically, and secondly be proactive in seeking help. Having a vet like Dr Phil who you trust implicitly and who unconditionally supports you is a cornerstone to success. But ultimately no one is going to be more dedicated to securing a positive outcome than you, and you must take responsibility for this.
After many weeks of treatment Jimmy and I were able to resume our nightly cuddles. The only difference now is that I cherish them so much more.