Canine Cognitive Dysfunction & Dementia In Dogs

If you have a senior dog in your life, canine cognitive dysfunction is something you should be aware of.

Our pups can experience cognitive decline as they age, leading to symptoms ranging from minor difficulties to serious impairment.

So what is CCD in dogs, and how does this condition impact a dog’s life?

In this article we will discuss the details of canine cognitive dysfunction, or dog dementia, and help you better recognize this condition as it develops!

In this article we will refer to CCD and canine dementia interchangeably.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction In Dogs

What Is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)?

Canine cognitive dysfunction, or dog dementia, is a condition that refers to the mental decline that can occur in our senior canine friends.

CCD can cause a gradual decline in an otherwise healthy dog, resulting in noticeable behavioral changes that typically worsen over time.

Canine dementia in our furry friends can lead to confusion, change in personality, altered behavior, and even forgetfulness around normal routine.

CCD can be upsetting for a dog owner to witness, as it can deeply impact a dog’s quality of life as they age.

What Causes Canine Dementia?

Similar to dementia in humans, there is no exact cause for dementia in our canine companions.

This condition is most often believed to develop as a result of brain atrophy, which is a normal aging process of the canine brain.

Though it’s likely that CCD develops due to death of cells within the brain, there are a few other possibilities that have been linked to the condition.

First, some experts believe there may be a genetic link to canine cognitive dysfunction.

This means that a predisposition to the condition may be passed on from dog to dog, causing some lines of dogs to be more at risk than others.

There is also ongoing research on whether or not it’s more common in small breed dogs, but it could be due to the fact that they typically live longer lives.

Another potential cause of canine dementia is the presence of other neurological conditions.

Conditions such as brain tumors or seizure disorders may cause a dog to be more at risk of developing the condition later on in life, but this possibility is still being researched.

Is Canine Dementia The Same As Alzheimer’s In Humans?

When discussing canine cognitive dysfunction, it will often be compared to the condition known as Alzheimer’s in humans.

Though these are two entirely different conditions, they do have many similarities that help pet owners better understand their dog’s current situation.

When discussing the similarities between canine dementia and Alzheimer’s, there are a few common symptoms present.

CCD in dogs causes a gradual decline in memory and comprehension as a dog ages, and Alzheimer’s in humans causes this similar deterioration.

Comparing the two can help a dog owner have a basic understanding of what is happening to their furry friend, as many have an understanding of the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s.

One thing to keep in mind is that though Alzheimer’s in humans is linked to certain lifestyle factors and other predispositions, CCD in dogs is likely a result of the normal aging process.

It’s estimated that anywhere from 60-70% of dogs will develop dementia as they enter their senior years, where Alzheimer’s is seen in about 11% of the elderly population.

There are many significant differences between the two conditions, but it can be used to help describe CCD to dog owners.

Symptoms Of Dementia In Dogs

If your pup is entering their senior years, you may begin to notice subtle changes in their behavior.

Understanding the difference between normal aging and the set in of canine dementia is essential for best supporting your pup, making it important to educate yourself on the potential symptoms.

To help you better understand your aging canine friend, let’s discuss some of the signs of CCD in dogs below.

Some of the most common signs of dog dementia include:

  • Forgetting commands they once knew
  • Forgetting their normal routine
  • Appearing disoriented or confused
  • Shying away from interaction with others
  • Disinterest in playing or other activities they once enjoyed
  • Blankly staring or zoning out often
  • Changes in their normal sleeping behaviors
  • Increased anxiety, especially at night
  • Panting and pacing
  • Wandering around aimlessly
  • Vocalizing more than usual
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulties learning new commands
  • Increased occurrence of accidents around your home

If your canine friend is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, we always suggest having them seen by your veterinarian for further guidance.

Can You Treat Canine Dementia?

Unfortunately for the senior pups in our lives, there is no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction.

Though you may not be able to eliminate the condition altogether, you can potentially slow the progression of the condition and improve your dog’s quality of life.

To give you the tools needed to offer your dog longevity, let’s discuss the most common management options for CCD in dogs below.

Symptomatic Care

If a dog is struggling with canine dementia, there are a few ways to combat their current symptoms.

For example, some dogs experience debilitating anxiety that makes it challenging to sleep at night, and these dogs may benefit from an anxiety medication with mild sedative effects.

Some veterinarians have even had success with antihistamine use for restless dogs with CCD, but every situation will vary.

Dietary Supplements

The use of dietary supplements in managing CCD is beginning to gain traction with some veterinary professionals.

Though most of these supplements seem to make the most impact when used as a preventative measure, some experts believe that daily supplements may help to slow the progression of CCD.

Supplements such as omega fatty acids and medium chain triglycerides contain antioxidants that may improve memory, making them a topic of discussion in many CCD treatment plans.

Cognitive Exercises

If your dog has been diagnosed with dementia, your vet will likely recommend mental exercises to help your dog maintain their cognitive skills.

Experts believe that cognitive exercises can help to preserve a dog’s mental awareness for as long as possible, potentially even preventing cognitive decline in some areas of their life.

Some of the best mental exercises for dogs with CCD include keeping up with known commands, offering them mentally stimulating toys, and even introducing them to new tricks.

CCD Medication

Though we mentioned that there are no curative options for CCD in dogs, there is one prescription medication that can be used to potentially slow the progression of the disease.

Anipryl is a medication that can be used in dogs with severe cases of CCD, though it was originally developed for use in treating Cushing’s disease.

After discovering its ability to improve cognitive functions in some dogs, experts began to explore the use of Anipryl in our mentally impaired canine friends.

This medication can only be obtained through a prescription from a veterinarian, so we suggest speaking with your vet about the ways Anipryl can help your pup.

Making Life Easier For Dogs With Dementia

The most important aspect of caring for a dog with dementia is trying to make them as comfortable as possible.

Meeting your dog’s needs can help them immensely in maneuvering through life with CCD, and can improve their quality of life for as long as possible.

Some of the best ways to make life easier for a dog with dementia include:

  • Being patient. This condition is just as frustrating for your pup as it is for you, and they will need plenty of patience and love as the condition progresses. 
  • Helping your dog remember the basics. This means reminding them where the food and water bowls are, maintaining any daily routines as best as possible, and redirecting them if they ever seem confused during daily tasks. 
  • Offering daily exercise. Though your senior pup may not be as active as they once were, it is essential to offer your dog plenty of daily exercise when they begin to experience CCD symptoms. Daily exercise can help them release any pent up energy, helping to decrease the amount of frustration they experience each day. 
  • Sticking to a routine. While all dogs crave structure, dogs with dementia require structure to maintain their happiness. Changes in their normal routine can be extremely overwhelming for dogs with CCD, as it can be challenging for them to grasp.
  • Maintaining a relationship with your vet. Though this is true of any chronic condition, it is critical when attempting to offer your pup longevity in their CCD. Your vet can help to offer suggestions to improve their quality of life, suggest medical support if any symptoms can be managed medically, as well as help you better understand when it may be time to euthanize your dog with dementia.

Final Thoughts

Canine cognitive dysfunction is a common condition that has the ability to complicate your dog’s life.

Dog dementia requires extra care on our part, but can always be managed with a bit of understanding going forward.

Be sure to review the information we discussed above, and you can best help your senior canine friend through their cognitive decline.

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