A NEWPORT vet has shared the story of her beloved dog who died from dementia earlier this year, in the hopes of raising awareness about the disease in pets.

Gemma Redmond was 14 when her family took in Koko, a Chocolate Labrador, in February 2009 as a nine-week old puppy.

She grew up with Koko, and credits her with saving her life twice.


“Koko was my companion through some dark times in my life; my guardian angel and watching her suffer from dementia was one of the hardest things I’ve ever witnessed,” said Ms Redmond.

“She saved my life in 2010 when I suffered a severe asthma attack in the middle of the night; alerting my parents who were able to react quickly enough for the attack to be controlled.

“Three years later I was diagnosed with clinical depression, and she helped stop me from trying to take my own life.

“Whenever I had suicidal thoughts, she would suddenly be there, as if she knew my thoughts and wanted to prevent anything bad happening to me.

“It was this bond that helped me recover.”

Ms Redmond, a veterinary nurse at Vets4Pets Cardiff Ely, started to spot the signs of dementia in Koko in February last year.  

“She was walking in circles, not settling down for a while and, when she did, would soon be back up pacing around,” she said.

“Koko would also have a glazed look in her eyes and would stand in the garden or house, as if she was trying to make sense of where she was and what she was doing.

“She would still want to play and would often be chasing and fetching balls, but then began to stop mid chase and look confused for a short time, before seemingly remembering and carrying on.

South Wales Argus: Newport vet Gemma Redmond spotted signs of dementia in Koko in February last year. Picture: Vets4PetsNewport vet Gemma Redmond spotted signs of dementia in Koko in February last year. Picture: Vets4Pets

“My colleagues were able to quickly recognise the early signs of dementia and I adjusted my life to help Koko cope; bringing in more routine, changing her food and simply being there for as much as I could.

“Koko was always a very placid dog and even with her dementia this hasn’t changed, so it was hard to accept Koko was going through something so awful.

“Sadly, as the months went by Koko was affected more and more by dementia; she couldn’t walk for long before stopping and looking at me to, as if she was asking me what was happening.

“She began to sleep a lot, looked confused nearly all the time, began toileting in the house and completely lost her once bubbly personality.

“I’ll never forget Koko, neither will my family or Nala (her family's dog), but she is in a better place now and has left us with so many happy memories that can never be taken away.

South Wales Argus: Koko relaxing with Nala, Gemma Redmond's family's dog. Picture: Gemma Redmond.Koko relaxing with Nala, Gemma Redmond's family's dog. Picture: Gemma Redmond.

“Dementia in pets is devastating to see, just like in humans, so the more awareness we have about it, the better care we can give to those suffering.

“It’s also helped me with my training and I’m now able to offer first-hand advice to any clients who have a dog, or even cat, with dementia.

“Koko was such a caring dog and I’ll use her memory to help me care for all the pets I see in my career as a veterinary nurse.”

A dementia symptom checker has been made available online by Vets4Pets to help owners identify behaviour changes in their pets and if they could be an early indication of the onset of dementia. 

Director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, Dr Huw Stacey, said: “Pet dementia is very similar to human Alzheimer’s disease in that it is diagnosed by behavioural changes, as degeneration in the brain leads to loss of learned behaviours and changes in sociability.

“It can affect all breeds of dogs and cats, and is typically seen in dogs over eight to ten years old, while for cats it can be slightly older.

“We want to help educate owners, so they don’t simply put down behaviour changes in older pets to old age.

“Unfortunately, just like in humans, pet dementia is a lifelong problem, and cannot be cured.”