You may have had the unfortunate experience of witnessing, or even caring for, a loved one or family member with dementia. Watching a loved one slowly deteriorate, and forget who they are—or who you are—can be incredibly heartbreaking. Much like the familial bond, the human-animal bond is also very precious. In fact, some people, particularly elderly pet owners only have their pets to keep them company. So, when an aging dog is diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, or CCD, it can be just as heartbreaking.
What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), also known as Canine Cognitive Syndrome (CDS) or Canine Dementia is very similar to Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Cushing’s Disease in humans. The clinical signs and symptoms in dogs closely resemble those a human would experience. CCD or CDS involves age-related cognitive decline. Like humans, Canine Cognitive Syndrome also affects dogs later in life. As the brain begins to change and deteriorate, signs of the condition begin to show.
So, what exactly happens to your dog’s brain as he or she ages? Studies of humans with Alzheimer’s Disease have shown that the presence of beta-amyloid plaques play a role. A beta-positive plaques were discovered in dogs over the age of 10. Cognitive decline symptoms are typically slow and gradual. Most pet owners witness changes in their pet’s behavior and general awareness over a period of time rather than suddenly.
Cognitive functions encompass key mental processes, such as perception, memory, awareness and judgment. Many will often refer to cognitive decline as a “foggy brain”.
Signs of Dementia in Dogs
Most older dogs that experience dog dementia will experience a wide range of signs and symptoms. One of the most obvious clinical signs is a decreased awareness or responsiveness to stimuli in a dog’s environment. In fact, approximately 50 percent of dogs over the age of 11 begin to experience clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome. By the time older dogs reach the age of 15, the number of dogs that display at least one sign of CCD increases to 68 percent.
Clinical Signs and Symptoms
All older dogs are at risk for CCD after a certain age. However, every dog is affected by the condition differently. For example, one individual dog with CCD or CDS may show different signs of the disease than another. Therefore, it is important for pet owners to be aware of this, and be on the lookout for signs of CCD.
So, what exactly are those clinical signs? Here is a list of the most common clinical signs and symptoms of CCD in dogs.
Reduced ability to see and/or hear.
If your dog seems to be struggling with seeing objects, or has stopped responding to your voice, then this could be the first sign of dog dementia. Many pet owners often confuse these signs with general aging. While general aging could definitely play a role, it is important to keep in mind that these signs could be more serious. These could be the beginning signs of cognitive decline and the onset of CCD.
(Note: This also could be a sign of general hearing loss. Be sure to rule this out with a veterinarian prior to assuming your dog has CCD or CDS.)
Aimless wandering or pacing.
Older dogs who seem to pace or wander randomly or aimlessly may be confused, disoriented, or experiencing some anxiety. So, if your dog is randomly wandering or pacing throughout the house, which is odd or strange behavior, then this could be a sign of CCD.
Difficulty with navigating unfamiliar environments.
Similar to the point above, older dogs that may be suffering with CCD will seem “lost” in unfamiliar environments. They will have difficulty finding their way around, or even finding you.
General confusion and/ or disorientation.
Regardless of whether you are with your dog at home, or visiting your favorite park, dogs with CCD will seem generally confused or disoriented. Even if you bring your dog to the park every day, dogs with CCD may seem like they don’t recognize their surroundings.
Staring off into space.
In addition to being confused and disoriented, your dog may be spending more time staring off into space rather than interacting with you or your family.
Barking at random, or for no reason.
Most pet owners don’t always understand why a dog barks. Healthy dogs can sometimes bark for no reason. This is often because they hear something that we can’t. However, healthy dogs are also alert and very aware of their environments. Dogs with canine dementia will experience decreased awareness, and an increase in random barking. Although this is enough to get on any pet owner’s nerves, it could be a sign of a more serious disease, such as CCD.
Random barking is also a sign of a obsessive behavior in dogs. Furthermore, dogs with CCD will commonly experience other obsessive behaviors, such as licking, scratching, chewing or pacing.
Increased fear or anxiety.
If you have noticed your dog reacting fearfully to loud noises, cars passing by, or to visitors in your home, then this could be a sign of canine dementia. Dogs that suddenly seem to be scared all the time may have CCD.
Inability to recognize familiar objects or people.
If your dog acts like he doesn’t know who you are, try not to take it personally. If your dog also cannot find his favorite toy, bed, or awkwardly approaches his food bowl, then all of these could be signs of CCD.
Altered sleep-wake cycle.
If you have had your dog for at least a decade, then he or she has likely adapted to your sleep schedule. However, dogs with CCD often forget these sleep patterns. Many dogs with CCD will sleep during the day and awake all night. If you notice more barking or howling during the night, then your dog is likely confused as to why he is the only one awake, and why you aren’t. This is a sure sign of CCD.
Increased house soiling.
House soiling, or an increase number of “bathroom accidents” throughout the house is a sign of CCD. Dogs with CCD or CDS seem to forget that they are supposed to go outside. Many also forget how to use the pet door to go outside.
(Note: This could be also be a sign of other diseases. Be sure to speak with your vet about your dog’s symptoms before assuming your dog has CCD.)
If you dog doesn’t seem to want to interact with you or your family, then this could be a sign of CCD. This may be one of the most heart-breaking symptoms of all. When you are trying to spend time with your dog, and he or she seems very withdrawn, then it’s probably time to call the vet. Your dog may also shown similar social withdrawal while around other dogs.
Dogs with CCD will experience appetite changes differently. Some will experience a loss of appetite whereas others might overeat. Be sure to be on the lookout for these signs. Any severe change in appetite should be monitored carefully. Be sure to also call your veterinarian.
Any other unusual behaviors.
All in all, if your elderly dog simply just doesn’t seem like him or herself, or is acting weird or funny for longer than a few days, then this could mean dog dementia. If your dog is at least 10 or 11 years old, then it’s possible that he or she is beginning to show signs of CCD. Be sure to record his or her behaviors in a journal. Then, when it’s time to pay a visit to your vet, you can present your findings and dog’s behavior. This may help your vet diagnose your dog’s condition.
As we mentioned above, it’s important to remember that dogs with CCD will experience different signs, symptoms, and behaviors. Different dog breeds will also experience different behaviors. So, it is important to keep this in mind when monitoring your dog for CCD.
Treating Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to firmly diagnose Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in dogs. There isn’t one specific diagnostic test. This is because many of the clinical signs and symptoms of the disease are similar with other illnesses and conditions. Regardless, if your dog isn’t acting him or herself, or seems “off” in some way, then it’s probably time to call for veterinary attention.
What Will A Vet Do?
Many senior dogs and cats suffer with high blood pressure or hypertension as they age. This is incredibly common in senior dogs and cats with Cushing’s Disease. High blood pressure can impact general cognitive functions, which is why many senior dogs and cats begin acting a little funny.
In addition, if you have noticed more house training accidents or house soiling, then this could also be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs are very common in senior dogs and cats, particularly females. A veterinarian will likely order a urinalysis to rule out a UTI, urinary incontinence or other possible kidney issues.
Your veterinarian will likely perform a general physical examination of your dog as well as perform a series of tests to rule out any other possible diseases or illnesses.
Here are some diagnostic tests that your veterinarian my perform:
These tests will evaluate the overall functions of the kidney, liver, and pancreas. Chemistry tests also evaluate sugar levels in pets.
A blood test will help identify if there are any tick-borne illnesses or diseases, or other blood-related issues. These types of diseases are more common in dogs and cats that spend a lot of time outdoors.
These particular tests will ensure that your dog is properly hydrated, and he or she isn’t suffering from an electrolyte imbalance.
As described above, a urinalysis allows a vet to screen for UTIs and other urinary-related diseases that could be affecting the kidneys.
A thyroid test.
This test allows the vet to determine if the thyroid gland is producing too little of the thyroid hormone.
ECGs typically screen for any abnormal heart rhythms. Any abnormal heart rhythms could indicate the presence of heart-related issues or diseases. ECGs also assess the overall heart health of pets.
Depending on the vet, and your dog, additional tests may be required. The appropriate tests depend on your dog, his or her symptoms, age and medical history. The overarching goal is to determine what is best for your dog or cat. Your veterinarian will likely take this course of action to rule out other diseases, illnesses, and conditions. If your vet reaches the conclusion that your dog has CCD, then he or she will likely prescribe some form of veterinary medicine to help your dog with his or her symptoms.
So, what exactly can a veterinarian do? There are a handful of veterinary medications that are prescribed to dogs with CCD or CDS. One common medication is known as Anipryl selegiline (or selegiline hydrochloride). Studies have shown that this particular drug has helped slow down the progression of cognitive decline and CCD. In fact, this particular drug has been used to help treat Parkinson’s Disease in humans.
Anipryl selegiline is available in pill form, or chewable tablets for dogs. However, it can be quite expensive. So, many vets recommend shopping around for this particular medication in order to find one that fits your budget. Anipryl is a brand name. Other cheaper, generic brands of selegiline are also available.
Senilife or Senilife XL is another medication that can help CCD or CDS in your dog. Senilife contains a chemical known as phosphatidylserine, which can help treat humans with Alzheimer’s Disease. Because of its effectiveness, phosphatidylserine is also used in supplements to help senior dogs.
A Natural Treatment Approach to CCD or CDS
If you prefer to take a natural approach to treating your dog with CCD or CDS, there are some things you can do. As we briefly mentioned above, monitoring and adjusting your dog’s diet can help reduce the progression of CCD or CDS.
For example, increasing your dog’s intake of fatty acids can help drastically. Fatty acids are commonly found in various types of fish. Fatty acids have medium-chain triglycerides, which have proven to provide cognitive health.
If your dog doesn’t like fish, then you can try Omega-3 fatty acids supplements. One of the most common supplements that are high in fatty acids is coconut oil. You can find coconut oil over-the-counter in various department stores or online. Coconut oil is safe to give dogs. Lastly, CBD oil not only has an exceptional composition of fatty acids but CBD is great for cognitive health too.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid is an enzyme that acts as a powerful antioxidant that combats free radicals and promotes overall canine health. In fact, studies have shown that feeding Alpha-Lipoic Acid to dogs on a long-term basis can improve overall health, including neurological functions. Studies have also shown that this powerful enzyme and antioxidant provides benefits to senior dogs and other aging pets.
Special Enrichment Toys.
In addition to closely monitoring your dog’s diet, and feeding him or her natural supplements, there are also some special enrichment toys you can use. These special toys are filled with food, and are designed to help a senior dog use his or her nose to sniff and find the food. Once the dog discovers the toy, he or she needs to figure out how to move the ball to allow food to fall out. This exercise helps the dog continue to use his or her brain to help preventing it from becoming “lazy”. In fact, some studies have shown that enrichment toys have helped reduce the progression of CCD or CDS in dogs.
Regardless of whether you prefer to use veterinary medicine or drug therapy, or a natural approach to treating your dog, it’s important to be patient. Drug therapy and natural methods can take time to work. However, they can help prevent severe cognitive decline in senior dogs, and live quality lives over the long term.
Life Expectancy of Dogs with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for CCD or CDS. However, there are some things you can do to help your dog live more comfortably. Dogs with CCD or CDS are also put on special diets, which can help reduce symptoms as well as slow the progress of the CCD or CDS. When your dog reaches elderly age, the best thing you can do is to ensure the best possible quality and comfort of your dog’s life. Being proactive when your dog begins to show early signs of dementia can also ensure that your dog receives the care he or she needs.
In fact, studies and research have shown that, much like humans, elderly dogs are able to live longer. This also includes dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Dogs with CCD or CDS can live just as long as dogs without the disease, on average.
For example, a group of board-certified veterinary behaviorists at the University of California-Davis studied the life expectancy of senior dogs with and without canine cognitive dysfunction. The cross-sectional survey involved at least 98 dogs. Throughout the study, researchers did not uncover any negative effects on the life expectancy of dogs with CCD or CDS. The dogs with the disease lived long, normal lives.
Furthermore, the study group of dogs with dog dementia lived slightly longer than the average healthy elderly dog. Researchers believe that proper medical care and attention helped these dogs lived longer. All in all, CCD or CDS may not shorten your dog’s lifespan, but it can affect your dog’s quality of life.
For example, geriatric dogs that require around-the-clock veterinary attention no longer have a positive quality of life. In many studies, geriatric dogs are often euthanized.
Therefore, it’s important to address any clinical signs or symptoms of CCD or CDS as soon as they begin to show. Then, take the necessary steps to make your dog as comfortable as possible will help your dog live a quality life. You may need to try different medications, diets, toys, and so on in order to determine what works best for your dog.
Pet owners should also ensure that their pets pay a visit to veterinarian at least twice a year. This can help ensure that your elderly dog or cat gets the proper medical care and veterinary attention they need to ensure a long, healthy life. As we suggested above, it’s helpful to keep a journal or diary with notes of your dog’s behavior each day. That way you can recall key facts and information to your vet during your dog’s visit.
Living With A Dog with CCD or CDS
Unfortunately, many pet owners don’t always notice when their elderly dogs begin to slip. It is only until there are house training accidents, strange behavior, a disruption in sleep-wake cycles or other strange behavior that pet owners take notice. If you wait too long to act on any strange behavior, then it may be too late.
However, being proactive and ensuring your elderly dog or cat receives the proper medical attention will help him or her live a normal life span.