Becoming Strangers – Does my dog have Alzheimer’s?

He stopped and stared ahead and when I called to him he just stared at me. He usually skips along happily when I call, but not so much lately. Sometimes he just stands in place till I pick him up. He seems ok with me picking him up, but does not relax. It’s like I am a stranger to him. He has always been afraid of storms, but we had a wicked storm yesterday and he didn’t seem to mind. Usually he would be panting and shaking. He simply went round and round on the big pillow where he sleeps and when it was how he wanted it, he plopped down and went to sleep.

Sebastian has been our little pup for 12 of his 14 years. We inherited him from our son when their first child came along. I’ll save that story for another day. He has been a loveable, obedient sidekick to my husband and saw him through many bouts with depression. Now, I think, it’s our turn to help Sebastian.

I went on the internet to see if dogs have Alzheimer’s Disease. What I discovered is that they have something similar to Alzheimer’s called canine cognitive dysfunction. This is my first experience with having an animal live with me in the house so I have never had this situation before. As Sebastian aged, I began to consider what could happen to him physically, but never once had I considered he may have trouble with his mental status.  This realization is only about a week old and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it. Having him stare at a wall or into space in the yard and not know which way to turn is heartbreaking. This is a dog who ran with gusto his whole life, savoring the smell of every pee mail along the paths we’d travel, jumping up after every insect that would fly by and barking excitedly when another creature would scurry across the path in front of him. Here is a dog who would push his head under your hand a hundred times, if necessary, to get you to pet him, and who would bow low if your voice let him know he had displeased you in any way. Now there are periods of time when he is completely withdrawn.

I have a friend who wrote about Alzheimer’s Disease in humans for her doctorate in nursing. She entitled her dissertation “Becoming Strangers”. I know how to become a dog’s companion, but I do not know how to become when I am more and more a stranger to him. I think I am about to begin a new journey. If anyone has traveled this path already and could give me some pointers, I would welcome your comments.

God be with you and yours, Dear Friends,



6 comments on “Becoming Strangers – Does my dog have Alzheimer’s?

  1. Dearest Dawn… in my 56 years I have had five dogs, a 14 yr old, a17 yr old, a 15 yr old… and now two together, a two and a three yr old. The years inbetween were busy with university and resettling. The most difficult time in each were the last years when the changes came about. I always wished God would just set them into a deep sleep and then take them home while they were having good dreams. All of them just kept living and would have arthritis or a stroke which would affect their ability to walk or eat. They were faithful to the end but when they could no longer eat I had to take them in to the vet for help to get them into their final long sleep. It was always the hardest thing I have ever done and there is no real comfort in it except in the knowing that they no longer suffer. There is a dog supplement that helped them regain lost ground on occasion; you might try it/vi-sorbits.
    The most important thing is to just be there for them and make there way as pleasant and easy as you can. I spent many an hour caressing them and whispering sweet thank yous in their ears for all their faithful companionship.

  2. My wonderful cyber-friend through thick and thin, Susan.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with your dogs. Reading about them was so very helpful. I especially liked the part where you say, “I spent many an hour caressing them and whispering sweet thank yous in their ears for all their faithful companionship.” That is what I hope to do if they are able to bear the caress. Last night, again, we had a violent storm which would have sent Sebastian into our laps, curled up into a ball, shivering with fright. Like the previous night, he simply went to sleep. It’s as if he forgot he’s afraid of storms. Today on the walking/running trail he ran like the wind, but then stopped, seemingly frozen. I had to go to him and tell him we were going home and to come along. All of the sudden he seemed “to return to himself” and he stayed by my side till we got back to the van.
    I read the book “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks about human Alzheimer’s. It tore me apart. I never saw the movie because the book was so powerful. I will love each precious moment with this sweet pup, but will especially enjoy the ones we have left where he is himself…like seeing him run like a puppy this morning. I want him to run right into the arms of his Creator one day (probably not theologically correct, but I like the picture)!

    God bless you,

  3. Dawn, I felt your heart so deeply. . . and mine. It’s the hardest thing as our love puppies get older. Two things I might suggest: have her eyes checked and her ears, if you have not already done so. When my little dashound was going blind, she became VERY defensive, confused, etc. And my lab went deaf. That was even worse. I think she thought I never talked to her anymore, and the sadness on her face tore my heart up. She, too, quit responding to storms, knocks on the door, etc. It broke my heart.

    I like your picture, too, of running into the arms of the Creator. Enjoy each and every moment you have and just keep on loving this little one!

    May God Bless you!!!!

    • Dearest Cora,

      It never occurred to me that Sebastian just wasn’t hearing me anymore. He has deep cataracts so I know he doesn’t see well, but deafness, it never occurred to me. Thanks for the suggestion. You would think I, wearing bilateral hearing aids would have thought of that!

      Bless you,

  4. Ladies, I have not had a dog in years, but having cats over the years…I know how hard it is to put a pet to sleep after watching it reach a stage of suffering. The things you each have shared here touched me deeply. Pets can grip our hearts almost as much as people it seems.

    • Dear A.,

      My dogs have been my steadying companions during my life with humans. I reread Susan’s line again and again “I spent many an hour caressing them and whispering sweet thank yous in their ears for all their faithful companionship.” I plan to do that for each of mine. They have been so worth caring for.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with your pets. It really helps,

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