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Is canine cognitive dysfunction disorder affecting your dog?

Published: June 2021 | Updated: February 2023

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) syndrome is an ailment often caused by a dog's brain aging, resulting in changes in consciousness, learning and memory deficiencies, and diminished reactivity to stimuli. Your dog may appear to be lost, dazed, or confused throughout random times of the day. 

Although the disorder's initial symptoms are moderate, they steadily worsen with time, a process known as "cognitive decline." It’s similar to Alzheimer’s in people; as people age their mental abilities slow, as do our dogs. 

In fact, approximately one-third of dogs over the age of 11 show clinical evidence of canine cognitive disorder, and by the age of 16, virtually all dogs show at least one symptom.

The Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Checklist

The most common signs of canine cognitive dysfunction in dogs include:

  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Extreme irritability
  • Decreased desire to play
  • Excessive licking
  • Inability to follow familiar routes
  • Excessive barking
  • Lack of self-grooming/self-care
  • Fecal and urinary incontinence
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Changes in sleep cycle (e.g., night waking, sleeping during the day)

What Causes CCD? 

The brain of an elderly dog atrophies, which essentially means the cells die, which plays a key role in brain function. Small strokes and other forms of mental injury may potentially play a role in cognitive deterioration in our dogs.

Although the specific causes are unknown, many of the same changes that create cognitive difficulties in humans are likely to cause similar difficulties in our dogs as well.

Diagnosing Canine Cognition Issues

You'll need to provide your veterinarian with a detailed history of your dog's health, including the start and type of the symptoms, as well as any situations that may have triggered the strange behaviors or difficulties.

Your veterinarian will then conduct a thorough physical examination to assess your dog's overall health and cognitive abilities.

Blood tests, ultrasounds, and X-rays are also used to rule out other disorders that could cause the behavioral changes seen in dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Treatment

Canine cognitive dysfunction condition necessitates lifetime therapy and support for dogs. When it comes to improving cognitive function in your dog, though, you can make a huge difference at home.

Maintaining a healthy and stimulating environment, for example, will help reduce the progression of cognitive loss in your dog, even if it won't "cure" him. This usually entails establishing a daily exercise, play, and training program (re-training).

It's also a good idea to make your home more accessible and safe for your senior dog. For example, your older dog can benefit from night lights to help him navigate in the dark.

Potty pads near doors provide a location for your dog to relieve herself if she can't wait until you get home or wake up.

Orthopedic foam beds (with washable covers) can help you have a better night's sleep by adding comfort to the body throughout the night and reducing stress on the joints.

Medication, dietary supplementation, and behavioral treatment can also be utilized to keep your dog active and comfortable.

Your veterinarian may also recommend a particular, well-balanced food to help your dog's memory, learning ability, and other cognitive functions.

Antioxidants, vitamin E and C, selenium, flavonoids, beta carotene, carotenoids, omega-3, and carnitine are commonly added to this diet, all of which have a beneficial effect on a dog's cognitive functioning.

Maintain a Routine

Routines are enjoyable for most dogs, but they are even more crucial for those with dementia.

The most prevalent symptoms of CCD are disorientation and anxiety. A lack of schedule can exacerbate these issues, as the dog is never sure when it's time to play, eat, exercise, or repose.

To assist your dog, try to maintain a consistent schedule for when she wakes up, goes to bed, walks, and gets fed. This isn't always simple, but it can help you feel less anxious. A steady sleep routine may help reduce your dog's chances of becoming confused during the night.

Keep Exercising

Walking is beneficial for dogs with dementia since exercise is connected to brain health and mental well-being. Moderate activity increases blood flow, allowing more oxygen to reach the brain. New smells and sights might also help to stimulate your dog's mind.

For older dogs with CCD, gentle walks are preferable. A vigorous stroll may be too much for your dog, and it may not deliver the same cognitive benefits. Allow him to take his time sniffing and walking at his own speed.

Continue Routine Check-Ups

Your dog's response to therapy and the course of symptoms will be evaluated by your veterinarian on a regular basis.

If you detect any changes in your dog's behavior, contact your veterinarian to explain the issue and determine if it requires an in-person visit. Some veterinarians now offer telemedicine which may provide a bit more convenience and less stress on both you and your dog.

Any alteration in an elderly dog might be dangerous, so consult your veterinarian at the first sign. Unless new concerns occur, twice-yearly examinations are sufficient for stable senior dogs.

Maintain or Improve Nutrition

Antioxidants are often discussed in human health and medicine, and researchers have investigated the benefits of providing an antioxidant-rich diet to older dogs to determine if age-related cognitive impairment improves. They've discovered something that's both promising and intriguing. 

Within two weeks of beginning an enhanced diet, older dogs receiving an antioxidant-rich diet exhibit improvements in learning and attention. The results were even more significant when nutrition was supplemented with mental stimulation such as walks, time spent with another dog, and re-training. 

Dogs on high-antioxidant diets tend to perform better in tests that measure an aged dog's spatial memory, capacity to differentiate between items, recognize items, and adjust to new conditions than dogs fed a normal diet.

Dogs who are provided supplements that support natural, healthy aging may also fare better than those without. A highly bioavailable product, like Canine Cush, could dramatically slow down the progression of CCD by reducing inflammation and improving any pain associated with movement (many senior dogs also experience arthritis making exercise more difficult). 

The Bottom Line

It's not always simple to deal with your dog's dementia. CCD is a complicated condition that necessitates a variety of treatments. And , symptoms are likely to alter with time.

Fortunately, there are a variety of options for preserving your dog's quality of life. To relieve symptoms and reduce the progression of the disease, your veterinarian may prescribe medicine and vitamins. The suggestions above can also aid in the management of your dog's condition.

The most essential factor is to treat your dog with love, patience, and kindness. Because many dementia symptoms are exacerbated when the dog is agitated, stressed, or confused, keeping him quiet and happy is critical.