Is my dog suffering from brain ageing?

Old dog staring

(Q) My Jack Russell is 16 years old. She walks around the house and doesn't settle. She is always looking for food. If you drop something she thinks she must eat it. Lately she wees and poos everywhere, as if she has no control. She is thin and fragile, and deaf.

(A) Roberta says: It sounds to me as if your dog is suffering from brain ageing. Signs of brain ageing include loss of sleep/wake cycle (which can cause dogs to be unsettled), withdrawal, loss of memory, and loss of house-training. However, similar symptoms can be seen in dogs with liver or kidney disease, or hormonal disorders, so I think your priority should be to get your dog checked out and have some blood tests done to ensure there are no underlying medical problems that would benefit from treatment.

If there are, you might find she improves substantially once you address these problems. You can also get the vet to check her ears and make sure they aren't blocked with wax or infected, causing her loss of hearing. If the ears are clear then the hearing loss is likely to be age related and irreversible.

If your Jack Russell does have a problem with brain ageing, then there are medicines that can help improve cerebral blood flow, and supplements and foods containing anti-oxidants which might improve brain function.

Spotting the signs of canine senility

  • Confusion - staring into space for long periods and appearing anxious, even in familiar surroundings.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns - wandering around in the night and barking for no apparent reason.
  • Toilet training habits down the pan - soiling in the house and lack of attention to personal grooming.
  • Disinterest in exercise and affection - rejecting offers to walk and play.
  • Forgetfulness - at mealtimes and in behaviour around the house.

Any of these signs could indicate a problem. So don't delay, make an appointment with your vet.

Top tips

  • A comfy bed becomes even more important - choose one that is also easy to get in and out of.
  • Keep dogs with vision and/or hearing difficulties on a lead while out on walks and under constant supervision when in the garden.