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My Dog Had Dementia

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction changed our loving pet into a sad, struggling dog.

Fergie, Duchess of Yorkie (author photo)

Of all the dogs we’ve ever had, Fergie, Duchess of Yorkie was the calmest, sweetest, and while not the most cuddle-able, certainly snuggly enough. She never really learned to play, having come from, we believe, an abusive home or at least one where she was ignored.

Of course, Fergie wasn’t without her issues. She had a bad stomach, meaning we had to feed her special (and of course, expensive) food. And she had a little bladder, causing her to pee in the house when we were gone (and sometimes when we weren’t). But, for the most part, she was a delightful, wonderful pup.

And then she had her teeth cleaned. She never liked eating dog biscuits (which would have cleaned her teeth), so when we brought her in to have her her dental work, the vet had to pull eleven teeth. The poor puppy was now missing all but one of her teeth in the top front so she had to gum the food into her mouth! Soon after the extractions we noticed her making weird movements with her tongue out of the side of her mouth (like an old toothless man) and we figured it was just her way of getting used to the new feelings and lack of teeth.

Other strange behaviors followed. Her eating habits changed. Where before she would scarf down her food as soon as it was placed on the floor, now hours went by before she took a bite, and she often didn’t empty what was in her bowl. Sometimes she finished breakfast in the afternoon and wanted dinner a couple of hours later — which she didn’t finish until hours after that.

She became hard of hearing. She used to greet us at the door when she heard the garage door open but now didn’t move off the couch when we walked into the house and didn’t respond to our calls, whistles or claps.

And oh, the pacing! The click click of her nails drove us crazy, especially while we are eating dinner and she paced on the wood floors. Around and around the table, sniffing, licking, licking, sniffing, sometimes crying. It was so annoying — and heartbreaking.

She often refused to go outside, and once out didn’t leave the side of the house. No more long walks for her. She preferred to poop in the house, and unfortunately decided that the pee pads we put out are only for pee and she preferred to poop on the rug in the living room. And she was going blind. She began facing walls and furniture and running into things. She didn’t know where to stand to get back into the house after a walk and often hit her head on the door. Once inside, she often ran right into the kitchen cabinets.

Because she couldn’t see, she pawed at the air trying to find things –especially us. It looked like she was playing but we realized it was just her way of locating us.

Movement of any kind distressed her. She began to startle easily and growled at everything that moved. She didn’t want to be picked up and backed away from us. If we did need to pick her up, we had to back her into a corner and grab her. She became afraid of our approach.

Last summer, when it was time for her inoculations, we were told (by not our regular vet) that Fergie’s mouth was drooping and that she might have had a stroke which was causing the funny tongue movements. And she had cataracts, causing difficulty with her vision. None of this could be explained solely by her age, since at the time she was only ten — middle aged for a dog her size.

We thought the next step would be cataract surgery to repair her vision and brought her in for an evaluation. We explained to our regular vet all her behavior changes and were told that they are not due to her inability to see or a stroke but Canine Cognitive Dysfunction —animal Alzheimer’s Disease.

Yes, she had cataracts but the vet didn’t believe that surgery would impact her behavior much. In fact, dogs can adjust well to blindness as long as they are familiar with their surroundings. But, the pacing, skittishness, toileting and feeding changes, even some of the symptoms we attributed to her cataracts, like facing walls and pawing the air, are classic signs of CCD.

The vet prescribed a nutritional supplement to treat her aging brain and slow the changes due to the Alzheimer’s. There wasn’t a noticeable change after the two month trial, and we had the worst decision to make because her quality of life was declining.

I couldn’t imagine putting Fergie down although the vet said that most people wait too long after a diagnosis of CCD to euthanize their pet. She wasn’t in pain, she continued to eat, even if sporadically, and while she slept much of her day, when she was awake, she interacted with us. I didn’t want her to suffer, but I didn’t want to suffer either, losing such a wonderful pet.

But when we returned from a trip to New York, after boarding Fergie at the kennel, we realized that she had deteriorated beyond saving. She came into the house totally unfamiliar with where she was and was disoriented when we took her outside for a walk. This new behavior was beyond her “normal strangeness.” We knew the time had come. The decision couldn’t be about us, it had to be about Fergie.

We made an appointment for that coming Friday, to give us a few more days with our puppy. All week I felt guilty whenever I looked at her, held her, walked her, wondering whether she sensed what was to come or that we were the source of her impending demise.

Friday came too quickly. We put her in the car and drove to the office. I held her on my lap for the short drive to the vet. We checked in and the staff’s kindness was apparent from the beginning. Although we had to answer some questions about our wishes for cremation, return of remains and such and pay the fee, it was all done with love and empathy. Then we were taken to a room to wait for the doctor.

Unlike a typical exam room with a shiny stainless steel table, a hard back chair and a cabinet filled with veterinary supplies, this room was comfortable and welcoming. It didn’t feel medical at all. There was a couch, a large dog mattress on the floor, and pictures and loving sayings on the walls. But it was still the place we were going to put our beloved Fergie to sleep.

Our vet always listened to us and responded with good and caring advice. He was respectful to both us and our dog so he was the vet we wanted to handle this difficult time. He came into the room and gently explained what was going to happen. He was going to give Fergie a shot that would make her loopy and then another one that would stop her breathing.

He got down on the floor with the puppy, petted and loved her, and gave her the first shot. Although he said it would take a few minutes, almost immediately Fergie couldn’t stand up, losing her footing as she attempted to get off the doggie mattress. He put her in my arms and I held her, tears flowing down my cheeks, while he gave her the second, fatal injection.

I could feel Fergie’s head getting heavier on my arm as the medication did its lethal work. Then he left us alone with her. My little nine pound puppy weighed a thousand in my arms. Soon (too soon), her breathing stopped and her little pink tongue lolled out of the side of her mouth. We had been told that her eyes would stay open so we expected it, but it gave us the feeling that perhaps she really wasn’t gone.

We held her for a few minutes and said our goodbyes. My heart was breaking. Soon the vet tech came into the room and took Fergie from our arms.

It was over. Our beloved Fergie was gone. We just lost the best pet we ever had.



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Janis Price

Janis Price

Jan calls herself an amateur memoirist, having started writing short story memoirs after her retirement. She now teaches and motivates other seniors.