Cats and Dogs
Article Rating
1 звезда2 звезды3 звезды4 звезды5 звезд

Do dogs forget their owners after 3 years?

Dementia in Senior Dogs

Note: I’ve had so many conversations with people about dementia in senior dogs in the past couple of months I thought perhaps it might be good to re-visit the topic with the hope that my words might be of some help to those of you who are dealing with the issue.

When I talk with people who are struggling with the decision to let their senior dogs move on to their next expression of spirit the issue of dementia often comes up, but I’ve found that people are sometimes unwilling to consider euthanasia if the problem isn’t physical. Somehow it’s easier (well, actually I know it’s never easy) to come to terms with the fact that a dog is suffering physically and needs to move on than it is to understand that mental and emotional suffering need to be taken into consideration as well as physical problems. My experiences with my own dogs, as well as many conversations with people about their dogs, have brought me to several thoughts that I’d like to share with you.

1. My bottom line is always quality of life when I’m talking with people about end-of-life decisions for their dogs. Dementia is an insidious and relentless condition that is very difficult for a dog to handle … and for you to deal with if you’re the person who loves the dog. Here are some behaviors to look for if you have concerns about your dog’s mental/emotional health:

  • Pacing, anxiousness, movement that doesn’t seem purposeful, disorientation
  • Staring for long periods of time, getting lost in corners, standing on the wrong side of a door waiting for it to open, unable to figure out the next step, acting dazed, seeming to be lost in familiar places
  • Peeing/pooping in the house: Seniors with dementia may forget to go outside to do their business, but it’s important to rule out a medical problem (urinary tract infection, gastrointestinal problems) before assuming the problem is related to dementia.
  • Withdrawing: A dog with dementia often won’t seek out human companionship, sometimes will even walk away while being petted, and often won’t greet family members when they come home.
  • Barking for no reason: The dog may no longer recognize people, or the dog may be lost in the yard or behind a door, or is generally confused … which could cause barking, especially at night.
  • Appetite changes that manifest in either losing interest in food or always being hungry
  • Sleeping pattern changes: A dog with dementia may sleep more than normal, or have night and day reversed—sleeping during the day and awake and confused at night.
  • Not responsive to your voice : You need to first rule out hearing loss, but if that isn’t the problem, the dementia may be interfering with your dog’s ability to process what you’re saying and act on your request, or the dog may even may be confused about his or her name when you call it.
  • Any other behaviors that might be unusual for your dog.

If you notice some of the above signs I’d suggest you keep track of what behaviors you’ve noticed so you can determine how often they’re occurring. Then, make an appointment with your vet to discuss what’s going on. Your vet may prescribe medications/supplements that can be helpful with dementia in its early stages, but you need to be mindful of the fact that often some medications are aimed at just reducing anxiety and you may end up with a dog that is not only confused, but also tranquilized and barely responsive, which means you’re trading one unhealthy state for another.

2. Don’t buy the tee shirt “Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt.” If you’ve read through the above list of common symptoms of dementia you may find yourself trying to explain away any symptoms your dog is experiencing by saying things like: “He’ll be better tomorrow.” “She’s just having a bad day.” “I don’t think she really minds being confused; after all, people are confused all the time.” “He isn’t in pain.” Please don’t rationalize what’s going on mentally or emotionally with your dog. Like people, dogs function on many different levels and like us, they like to be in control of their minds and bodies. Don’t compare your senior moments to what your dog is experiencing with dementia. When you walk into a room and forget why you’re there that’s often a momentary lapse caused by distraction on your part. Or, if you find your socks in the refrigerator, you just laugh and chalk the misplacement up to not paying attention. Your dog isn’t laughing when he can’t figure out how he got stuck in a corner. And … dementia is painful on an emotional and mental level.

3. Is the light still there in your dog’s eyes? I do understand that if your dog is blind or is vision impaired it’s difficult to tell whether or not the light is still there, but even with blind dogs you can sense whether it is or isn’t. The light I’m talking about sometimes isn’t so much a tangible thing as it is just a sense that your dog is still in there. If you feel like your dog isn’t fully present any longer and that no one is home, the light is fading or gone.

4. There’s a big difference between existing and living. Dogs can exist with dementia for a long time, but that existence is without joy, eventually is filled with fear, and can’t be called living in any true sense of the word.

5. When your dog loses his or her sense of identity that’s serious business. Recently I had to say goodbye to two of my dogs that were suffering from dementia. It was heart wrenching to watch them lose their sense of identity because dogs function on an intuitive level most of the time and their sense of who they are as dogs is important to them. Their sense of identity gives purpose and joy to their lives and when they become confused about who they are that sense of purpose and joy is compromised.

After reading the above paragraphs I know you must feel helpless and frustrated, but if your dog is in the early stages of dementia and you aren’t seeing the above-mentioned behaviors to any significant degree to cause you to consider euthanasia, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Offer your dog reassurance, physical comfort, and a constant reminder that you’re there.
  • Dementia isn’t something a dog should have to deal with alone. Be physically with your dog as much as possible.
  • Trust the bond you have with your dog to hold strong. Offer your fully present self to your dog on every level.
  • Provide external stimulation (rides in the car, walks, visits to the dog park, playtime with other dogs) to keep the world available to your dog.
  • Look for the positive. Allow your dog to see the light in your eyes. Practice being optimistic.
  • Try whatever your vet might prescribe because often you’ll see some good short-term results with the non- tranquilizing meds that will stimulate brain activity. Also, there are several dog foods on the market that claim to help with cognitive dysfunction. In short, with your vet’s suggestions in mind, try whatever’s out there.
  • Ok, I’ve said enough. I’m sure you get my point by now. What I’m talking about here is a steady progression of what I call the “foggy boy” syndrome. What I’ve found with my own dogs is that initially the confusion and disorientation isn’t terribly upsetting to them. They just roll with it and relax into a kind of “It’s no big deal; my person will take care of me” state of mind. But, eventually the confusion frightens them, they begin to panic and become fearful. That’s no way to live.

Please take dementia seriously when you’re considering your senior dog’s quality of life and think very hard about whether it’s really in his or her best interests to just exist instead of living a happy life in which he or she is fully present.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Share Dementia in Senior Dogs

Do dogs forget their owners after 3 years?


Reading Time: 4 minutes

Contributing Writer: Chan Choy Yu

Cover image source: Xan Griffin on Unsplash

Heartwarming, tear-jerking ( I’m not crying, you are! ) stories of cats and dogs reuniting with their owners after a long time apart are aplenty on the internet. And when we see instances like 19-year-old Chebon leaping into his dad’s arms after being separated for 7 years , we can’t help but wonder how a cat or dog’s memory work, and whether our pets will remember us for just as long as we can remember them.

In order to find out the answer to the latter question, let’s first unriddle the former:

The inner workings of a pet’s mind

Source: freestocks on Unsplash

Cats and dogs have different memory types, just as we humans do — namely, short-term memory, spatial memory, and long-term memory.

Short-term memory

Also known as the capacity for holding, but not manipulating, a small amount of information in the mind for a short period of time, short-term memory in humans typically lasts for just 18 seconds if no conscious effort is used to retain the information, around 5 minutes in dogs, and up to an impressive 24 hours in cats if the information remains beneficial and relevant to them!

This means that if a cat remembers the location of a treat but said treat has already been eaten and is not replaced, then it’s highly possible for this information to be overwritten by another even though it hasn’t been stored for 24 hours in the cat’s short-term memory.

The duration of retention is also affected by the means through which the information was acquired — memories related to a cat or dog’s movement or position tend to last longer than ones obtained purely through sight!

Spatial memory

Spatial memory is slightly different, in which it allows animals to remember the different locations of objects and places in the environment, in relation to one another. There is manipulation involved here and it allows them to navigate a familiar environment, which is very important in mobile animals and humans!

Long-term memory

On the other end of the spectrum, long-term memories are, as the name suggests, stored in the brain indefinitely and can be retrieved at will. However, long-term memory can be further categorised into various forms, including explicit memory (the intentional recall of information), implicit memory (unconsciously retained information), and episodic memory (the ability to remember firsthand experiences and associate them with their respective events or cues).

Experts believe that cats and dogs possess a certain degree of explicit memory, implicit memory, and episodic memory . While not as powerful and developed as ours, it still allows a cat or dog to show a preference for — or a loathing of — certain people based on previous experiences and according to Claudia Fugazza, department of ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest in PetMD , important events such as those related to food and survival and events that have an emotional impact are more likely to be stored in the long-term memory.

As for how far back cats and dogs can recall, there haven’t been much studies on it, but anecdotal evidence shows that it may even go up to more than a decade!

On remembering you

Source: Chewy on Unsplash

Now, what this means is that in the unfortunate event of a prolonged separation, it is possible that your pet will still remember you. That said, this entirely depends on how deep you’ve bonded before the separation, and how long you were together for!

This is because it remembers your scent, look, mannerisms, voice, and more, which it has associated with plenty of positive experiences before, thus giving rise to a very happy and affectionate welcome.

As for whether or not the time spent apart will affect the intensity of its welcome, that’s probably a no . Your furry friend doesn’t have the same concept of time as we humans do, which we have explained in this article , so while it knows that you two have been kept apart, it wouldn’t know if it is the first time meeting you in 3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years!

If they can remember, what does it mean for us?

Source: Roxanne Desgagnés

As mentioned earlier, since significant events can be stored in a cat or dog’s long-term memory and affect how it feels or acts towards certain stimuli, it’s time to think twice about our interactions with them and how we choose to bring them up.

According to veterinary experts and animal behavioural specialists, kittens and puppies have periods early in their lives where they learn rapidly about things in the world. Known as imprinting, the memories that are created during this time form the foundation of how they carry themselves in the world and interact with the things in it. For puppies, the imprinting period is during the first 12 weeks of life, whereas for kittens, the critical period lasts till the first 7 weeks of life.

It is vital to expose kittens and puppies to the socialisation and conditioning they need during this period of time, albeit with positive reinforcements only to avoid traumatising your furbaby for life. Our choices and actions influence our pets’ behaviour and memories more than we may realise; never forget that we have the ability to turn a potentially negative long-term memory into a positive one!

Link to main publication