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Dementia in Dogs - Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

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old senior golden dog and woman Photo © LaCoppola-Meier/Getty
Is your aging dog showing some curious behavior changes? Senior dogs, like humans, experience changes in the brain that can affect memory and comprehension. Dementia and senility are broad terms used to describe these changes. In dogs, the disease is called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome and it affects a growing number of senior dogs.

Symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction:

Similar to Alzheimer's Disease in humans, Canine Cognitive Dysfunction primarily affects memory, learning and comprehension. The following symptoms are common in dogs affected by Cognitive Dysfunction.

Be aware that these symptoms may also be due to various medical problems. Any dog with these symptoms should be seen by a veterinarian to rule out other health issues such as blindness, deafness, urinary tract infection, kidney disease, arthritis and more.

  • General confusion or disorientation
  • Wandering and/or pacing
  • Restlessness, sleeplessness at night
  • Acting "dazed" or staring off into space
  • Getting "stuck" in corners or small spaces
  • Seeming to be lost in familiar places
  • Going to the wrong side of familiar doors
  • Not responding well to his name or to commands he once knew
  • Acting withdrawn; interacting less with familiar people and other pets
  • Forgetting housetraining; having "accidents" in areas where he never did before
  • Less enthusiastic about games, toys or foods that used to create excitement
  • Other behaviors that are unusual for your dog

Most often, symptoms develop gradually and get worse over time. Not all dogs with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction will display the same symptoms. Again, if you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, be sure to see your veterinarian.

Causes of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction:

An exact cause for dementia in dogs is not known. Most likely, brain function is affected by the physical and chemical changes that occur along with the aging process. Specifically, Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is associated with the depletion of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Because a precise cause is not known, there is not a certain means of prevention. However, keeping your dog active and mentally stimulated by teaching fun tricks, playing games, exercising and participating in various activities together might help keep his mind sharp.

Diagnosing Canine Cognitive Dysfunction:

If your dog is showing signs of senility or dementia, it is important that you visit your veterinarian for a check-up. Your vet will go over your dog's history with you in great detail and conduct a thorough examination of your dog before reaching a diagnosis. Then, your vet may recommend some diagnostic tests to check for other health problems. Once other health issues have been ruled out, your vet might determine that your dog has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.

Treatment and Management of Dementia in Dogs:

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. It is a progressive degenerative disease, meaning it will get worse over time. However, there are some things that can be done to make you and your dog more comfortable.

Medical Treatment

A drug called Anipryl (selegiline, L-deprenyl) has been known to alleviate some symptoms of cognitive dysfunction in some dogs. This drug helps to prolong dopamine activity, something that is lacking in dogs with cognitive dysfunction. Anipryl is a tablet given orally once daily and is available by prescription only. This drug does not work in all dogs, but side effects are fortunately mild and uncommon.

Dietary Supplements

Vitamins and supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants have been known to improve cognitive function in some dogs. Talk to you veterinarian for information about dosing, as well as where to find the right kinds of supplements for your dog. There are also some other nutritional supplements and herbal treatments said to benefit dogs with cognitive dysfunction. One of these is called Neutricks, which is made from a calcium binding protein found in a specific species of jellyfish, aequoria victoria. There are many such supplements on the market, and results vary. When in doubt, ask for your vet's opinion.

Environmental Changes

There are several things you can do to improve your dog's environment, help accommodate him, keep him comfortable and help sharpen his mind.

  • Develop a daily routine for feeding, exercise and other activities. Stick to it.
  • Avoid rearranging your furniture or moving your dog's things. Keep clutter away from walkways and any areas where your dog spends time.
  • Teach your dog some fun tricks. Play games like tug-of war and fetch if he is physically up for it.
  • Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, but know his limits and don't overdo it.
  • Spend quality time together, strengthening the human-canine bond.
  • No matter what you are doing with your dog, go slowly and be patient. If your dog becomes frustrated, take a break. Try rewarding him with a treat and helping him get comfortable.
  • Above all, provide plenty of TLC.

Your dog's dementia is bound to progress. However, with a combination of the above options you may be able to improve your dog's quality of life for a longer period time. You can help keep his golden years golden.

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