Brain Ageing and Behavioural Changes in Senior Dogs

We all know that things change as we get older. Our bodies don’t necessarily always behave the way they once did. We become calmer, sleepier and less active. Just like our pets.

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The whole body is affected by the ageing process. That’s not news to any of us. The brain is no different, and in dogs, damage to the brain’s cells can alter your dog’s behaviour and levels of alertness.

Half of all dogs over the age of 8 will show some signs of an ageing brain. As your dog grows older, you may well see changes in his behaviour that can be put down to his age.

Scientists agree that ageing is primarily caused by unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals, which damage the cells of the body. The result, as this happens naturally in the brain over time, is a loss of brain function, which leads to behaviours that were not present during your dog’s younger years.

The brain is particularly susceptible to free radical damage due to a range of factors. Free radicals like to target areas with high lipid content, of which the brain is one. The brain also has a high demand for oxygen, from whence free radicals come. There are also limited antioxidant defences in the brain, and fewer opportunities for repair. It’s also worth noting that the nervous system is especially prone to free radical damage.

There is, unfortunately, not a great deal to be done to prevent the production of free radicals. A diet that is high in vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants especially, can counteract the damage and help to maintain a healthy body into old age.

How can you tell if your dog is showing signs of an ageing brain?

The changes that come with ageing happen quite slowly, so it’s hard to notice them right away. Your dog may spend more time sleeping, and have less energy. He may become a little irritable, as well. Vets tend to use the following symptoms as indicative of brain ageing:

  • Staring into space
  • Toileting ‘accidents’ in the house
  • Doesn’t respond to petting or doesn’t want attention
  • Fails to greet family members anymore
  • Doesn’t ask to go outside
  • Not interested in playing
  • Appears lost or confused
  • Wandering or pacing
  • Doesn’t respond to verbal cues
  • Sleeps more during the day and less at night
  • Seems unfamiliar with normal routine or surroundings

If your dog shows any of these signs, you should discuss this with your vet straightaway.

What can you do?

The first and foremost thing you can do for your dog right through his life is to give him good quality nutrition. Foods rich in antioxidants and nutrients are exactly what his body needs to ward off the ageing process. Vegetables and fruit are a very good source of antioxidants, and most dogs will enjoy chewing on a carrot or being tossed slices of apple.

Age is no barrier to wellbeing in dogs, and if they are fed well and exercised regularly in a way that meets with their own needs, they will stay healthier for longer. Ask your vet for more information on keeping your dog fit and well into old age.