It’s not enough to worry about keeping our brains sharp as we age, we need to think about our dogs’ brains too.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, or CCD, is a problem for half of all dogs over 11 and can have devastating quality of life consequences. Not unlike Alzheimer’s/dementia in humans.
It can be difficult to watch your beloved dog go through the changes in personality dementia causes. But if you think senility is a part of the aging process and there’s nothing you can do about it, that’s not true.
Our pets will not live forever. But being proactive when a problem starts will keep our fur babies healthy and happy for as long as they’re with us.
If you know the signs of CCD and act quickly, the treatments will be more effective.
What does dementia look like in a dog?
As our dog’s age they change. No question about it!
A loss of hearing or vision can cause your dog to walk into walls or ignore your commands. Kidney problems can mean accidents in the house. Arthritis can make your dog avoid activity. And cancer can bring about a lack of appetite.
Surprisingly, these can also be signs of canine dementia. Because the signs of dementia are also the signs of so many other health problems, your vet must rule out other conditions first.
Here are 21 things to look out for if you have a senior dog.
- They get lost in the corners or behind furniture
- They have trouble finding and using doors
- They don’t respond to their name
- They can’t navigate the house and seem disoriented
- They’re restless at night, sleeps during the day
- They don’t signal to go out and have accidents
- They don’t want to play
- They don’t respond to sounds or people
- They don’t recognize family
- They tremble
- They’re extremely irritable
- The lick excessively
- They don’t self-groom
- They lose their appetite
- They’re slow to learn new tasks
- They don’t respond to commands they’ve previously learned
- The bark, howl, and whine inappropriately
- They pace or wander aimlessly
- They stare at walls or into space
- They startle when you turn lights or television on
- They’re hesitant to take treats
If the alarm bells are going off as you read through this list, call your vet. Don’t chalk it off to old age. A senile dog is an anxious and unhappy dog. Just like any other aspect of aging, we need to manage dementia for our pets so they can enjoy the best quality of life possible as they enter their golden years.
Remember too, that symptoms may start off mild but cognitive decline can worsen. If you get a treatment plan in place, you may be able to delay serious dementia.
What causes CCD?
There are 3 major pathological changes that occur in the brain in older dogs that can cause diminished mental function.
1) The brain shrinks
2) Dopamine levels drop
3) Beta-amyloid plaque (a protein) accumulates in the brain
Any one, or all, of these things can result in memory loss and impaired cognition.
We know what happens in the brain that contributes to diminished cognition. But just like in humans, no one knows why these changes in the brain happen to some but not others.
In dogs, there may be genetic factors that predispose them to senility.
What are the treatment options?
First, your vet must rule out a health or behavioral problem before confirming CCD. If they’re certain dementia is causing your dog’s symptoms, there is unfortunately no cure.
But there are treatments. And they can be effective in slowing the decline and reducing anxiety.
Anipryl, a drug used to treat Parkinson’s in people, is approved for use in dogs with CCD. It can take a few months to kick in, but it works in many dogs. The earlier you start it, the more effective it is.
Your vet will likely suggest environmental enrichment. Schedule exercise and play time into your dog’s daily routine. Introduce new toys and teach some unfamiliar, simple commands to improve memory. Even spending time with a doggy friend can be beneficial.
Diet’s important too. A food rich in antioxidants, like Husse Optimal Light, is important to brain health. Studies show that combining diet and environmental enrichment improves cognition in dogs with dementia.
Sometimes doctors will also suggest supplements like Vitamins E and C, selenium, flavonoids, beta carotene, carotenoids, carnitine, and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) which studies show improve mental function.
A dog suffering from CCD should see the vet twice a year to assure treatments are keeping stress and anxiety in check, and that your dog is still enjoying a good quality of life.
But it will also be up to you to keep your dog’s environment as stress free as possible.
Don’t move furniture around, or redecorate. Keep clutter to a minimum so the dog can easily negotiate its surroundings. Use short commands to avoid confusion.
Know your dog’s limit with new situations, people, places and other dogs. And develop a routine feeding, watering and walking schedule that your senior pup can count on.
If you’re noticing your dog’s quality of life is deteriorating and the treatments recommended by your vet aren’t helping, consider talking with a veterinary behaviorist. They may be able to help your confused pet.
If you prefer holistic options, talk to your vet about Chinese herbs and/or acupuncture to treat senility. These treatments have worked.
As our dogs age, there’s little we can do to stop the clock. We all want the best for our pets. We want them in our lives as long as possible. But we can’t be selfish.
My vet once said something that stuck with me. I always remind myself of his words when it’s time to make that gut wrenching decision to euthanize. What he said was simple, but it hit home. “It’s the quality of the years, not the quantity,” he said.
If your dog is living a life filled with anxiety at every turn, that’s not quality. When our senior dogs decline, we need to be compassionate. And always remind them they may change but our love for them never will.
Does your dog suffer from Canine Cognitive Dysfunction? How do you deal with it? Please share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.