All of us, dogs included, go through certain changes as we age. But there is a difference between your dog naturally getting older and your dog displaying signs of canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), otherwise known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome or simply dog dementia.

Dog dementia is, all things considered, similar to dementia or Alzheimer's disease in humans. It isn’t sudden. Rather, you'll see gradual changes over time as your dog ages. In some cases, the changes may be so slight you don't even notice them.

The exact cause of cognitive decline in older dogs isn't known. The breakdown of neurons in the brain could be the root cause, resulting in the depletion of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Another theory is that certain proteins build up in the brain, sort of like plaque on teeth, and disrupt nerves from sending electrical signals to each other.

CCD is relatively common in senior dogs, so there is a good chance you'll see at least some signs once your dog reaches older age. Luckily, when you know what to look for, you can take steps to get your dog treatment and help them to maintain a good quality of life. And it turns out that there might even be some ways to prevent canine cognitive decline ahead of time or at least make it less severe. 

Let's take a closer look at the signs of dog dementia, how this condition can be treated and managed, and what you can do to try and prevent, or at least slow, the cognitive decline. 

What Are the Signs of Cognitive Decline in Dogs?

Dog lying on a person's lap

Symptoms of dementia in dogs include:

  • Disorientation: Your dog might wander around like they're lost or they've forgotten where they're going. You might catch your dog staring into space. 
  • Behavioral changes: A dog with dementia might start to demonstrate changes in behavior and social interactions. For example, they might not recognize known family members, forget their daily walking path, or lack an appetite.
  • Changes in activity levels: Dogs suffering from canine dementia might display a lack of interest in exercise, or you may notice increased restlessness. It's easy to chalk these changes up to your dog simply getting older, but they may also be due to cognitive decline.
  • House soiling: Your dog's memory loss can start affecting their ability to remember their house training. The result is more house soiling. ​​​​
  • Disruptions in the sleep-wake cycle: You might notice your dog's sleep patterns changing as the canine dementia progresses. They might pace around the house in the middle of the night, whining or even barking in some cases, and they may sleep more during the day. 

Many of the signs of CCD in dogs can mimic symptoms of other health problems and diseases. (The list includes UTIs, arthritis, deafness, diabetes, Cushing's disease, and even cancerous tumors, among many others.) That's why your veterinarian may need to rule out other disorders before diagnosing cognitive decline.

How Is Dog Dementia Treated?

Dog dementia; woman hugging her dog

Unfortunately, there is no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction. But you can help manage and control the symptoms so your elderly dog can live a happy, healthy life with CCD. Options include:

Medication

Drugs like selegiline and anipryl can help to manage the clinical signs of CCD in dogs. Ask your vet about these medication options. Anti-anxiety drugs may also be helpful.

That's because many dogs with CCD also develop anxiety. Your dog might become anxious because they're restless at night or because they keep eliminating in the house when they know they're not supposed to.

Want to help your dog experience less anxiety? Native Pet's Calming Chicken Chews may be able to help. Our chews can help with generalized anxiety, sleep, and muscle relaxation to help your dog feel better.

Nutritional Supplements

In some dogs with CCD, supplements can help to maintain the cognitive function your dog still has. Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamin E, and melatonin are a few examples. In addition to improving brain function, these supplements are good for your dog's overall health. 

Looking for a great omega-3 product for your dog? Try Native Pet's all-natural omega oil. It's made with salmon and pollock oil, both high in omega-3 fatty acids, for improved heart function, joint health, skin and coat benefits, and brain health.

Lifestyle Management

Keeping your dog's routine as steady as possible is a good way to manage cognitive impairment in older or geriatric dogs. Have them go on walks, eat meals, and play at the same time every day. Pet parents should make sure their dogs get plenty of exercise every day, too. (If you don’t have the time to walk your dog every day, consider a dog-walking service.) Finally, make sure your dog receives plenty of cuddle time so that they feel comforted and know you’re there to support them.

Avoid rearranging your furniture or making other changes to your dog's physical environment, as this can confuse them even more. And never punish your dog or get angry when they're displaying signs of cognitive decline, like restlessness in the middle of the night or house soiling. This will only confuse and scare your pet, further contributing to anxiety. 

Can Dementia in Dogs Be Prevented?

 

A senior Beagle dog

There is no guarantee that you can prevent dog dementia. It may affect a dog despite a dog owner's very best efforts. But there are a few things you can do to keep your dog's brain health in good shape throughout their life, making it less likely that cognitive dysfunction will develop. 

First, make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. Daily walks and play sessions are a must. When your dog is working out, so is their brain. You can also provide extra mental stimulation by teaching your dog tricks and playing games with them, like puzzle games or hide-and-seek

Puzzle games force your dog’s brain to work out a problem, like moving a certain item to get to a treat, so they exercise the brain while providing your dog with plenty of fun at the same time. And hide-and-seek can help your dog’s spatial awareness as they hunt through the house for you and your family members.

Dietary enrichment is another good practice because proper nutrition benefits every part of your dog’s body, including the brain. In addition to feeding your pet a healthy dog food, consider adding nutritional supplements to meals to boost your dog's nutritional intake even more. (Always check with your vet before adding a supplement to your dog's diet.) Consider Native Pet's bone broth topper, which is chock-full of protein, fiber, healthy fat, and other essential nutrients.

How to Gracefully Handle Dog Dementia

Dog dementia: a happy senior golden retriever

Thinking about your dog getting older and possibly developing canine cognitive dysfunction — doggie dementia — is completely heartbreaking. But it's important to realize that it is by no means a death sentence. Plenty of dogs live with CCD just fine. It simply takes the proper management steps and the help of your veterinary professional. 

If you see common symptoms of dementia like disorientation, sleep-wake cycle changes, behavioral changes, and house soiling, let your vet know. If your dog is diagnosed with CCD, you can manage their symptoms with medication, dietary supplementation, and lifestyle changes.

When you work with your veterinarian to manage your dog's cognitive dysfunction properly, your beloved pet can live happily and healthily for many years to come.

Want to keep reading about your dog's health and wellness needs? Visit the Native Pet blog to find more articles.


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