As is true with people, when our pets age, their minds may wander. Changes in your dog’s brain can affect their memory and comprehension. This may manifest itself as unusual behavioral changes, such as not responding to their name, seeming lost in their own home, or a sense of general confusion. These brain changes are broadly known as dementia and senility and are currently seen in a growing number of dogs. The medical term for this condition is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome and it’s possible it could be effecting a dog in your life. Understanding what CDS is, what causes it, and what you can do to help are the first steps in coping with this canine condition.
What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)?
Originally, the term Cognitive Dysfunction was introduced to describe geriatric behavioral changes in dogs not solely attributed to a general medical issue such as organ failure or infection. Now, it’s a newly recognized disease similar to Alzheimer’s Disease in humans and mainly affects learning, comprehension, and memory in canines. A dog with CDS will experience aging and changes in the brain that affect awareness, memory, learned behaviors, and thinking, and while at first symptoms may appear mild, they actually worsen over time. According to PetMD.com, 50% of dogs over the age of 11 experience clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome and by the age of 15, 68% of dogs exhibit at least one sign.
What Causes CDS?
Currently, the exact cause of CDS is unknown, however several genetic factors may predispose an animal to develop the condition. Most likely, the brain function is impacted by the physical and chemical changes that occur during the aging process. In the brain, CDS is associated with the depletion of certain neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Research conducted on the aging canine brain reveals that several pathogenic processes (bacterium, viruses, or other microorganisms that can cause disease) are responsible for many of the symptoms associated with CDS. More specifically, a protein called B-amyloid may be left behind in the white and gray matter of the brain resulting in plaques (localized areas on brain tissue damage) that cause cell death and brain shrinkage. These types of plaque buildups are present in humans who have Alzheimer’s Disease, and similar patterns are seen in pets with CDS. Oxygen levels in the brains of senile dogs are also seen to decrease.
Some symptoms typical of CDS may be due to age-related physical changes and not because of cognitive dysfunction. Medical conditions such as organ failure, infection, cancer, or drug side effects may be the sole reason for behavioral changes or could be making the problem worse. Therefore, medical issues should be tested for and eliminated before senile symptoms are connected with CDS.
Signs of CDS
If your dog is exhibiting these symptoms he may have CDS, however these symptoms may be caused by other underlying medical conditions. We recommend you see a veterinarian to rule out any other health issues that could be at play.
- Not responding to his name or commands he once knew.
- Interacting less with family and other well known pets.
- Loss of enthusiasm regarding games, toys, or food that previously caused excitement.
- Getting stuck in small corners or spaces.
- Acting dazed or staring out into space.
- Lack of self-grooming.
- General confusion or disorientation.
- Restlessness or sleeplessness at night.
- Wandering and/or pacing
- Forgetting housetraining and having accidents in areas he never has before.
- Loss of appetite.
- Slow to learn new tasks.
What You Can Do
There may be medicinal options available for CDS in your dog; these options should be discussed with your veterinarian. In the meantime, there are steps you can take in your home to make your dog’s surroundings and environment more comfortable. By incorporating more care and an engaging lifestyle, you may be able to increase your dog’s brain activity and limit further CDC progression. Research suggests that mental stimulation with interactive toys, a diet rich in antioxidants, and routine moderate physical activity may help maintain your aging dog’s mental health. Be sure to keep your dog’s environment familiar and friendly with these tips:
- Develop a daily routine for feeding, water, and walking.
- Know your dog’s limits when introducing new toys, people, and other pets.
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, but don’t overdo it.
- Avoid rearranging furniture or moving your dog’s belongings.
- Go slowly with your dog and always be patient.
- Keep commands short, simple, and compassionate.
As your dog ages, be mindful of his behavioral changes and how he interacts with his environment. If he exhibits any symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, we recommend you see your veterinarian to obtain a proper diagnosis. Above all, your dog will need attention, love, and care through this difficult aging process. By educating yourself on CDS, you’ve taken the first step in helping your dog age gracefully. To learn more about what you can do for your aging dog, download our free eBook today by clicking below.