Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

By Jenna Stregowski, RVT

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  • Acting withdrawn; interacting less with familiar people and other pets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.

Symptoms of Feline Cognitive Dysfunction:

Just like their canine counterparts, CDS or Feline Dementia is equally as common in senior cats as it is in senior dogs.  Many of the symptoms are the same as well.  The most common symptoms of senility seen in cats is inappropriate vocalization, howling and occasional episodes of disorientation.  Such cats should have a safe quiet space where they can find everything easily and feel in control.  Some suggest applying synthetic feline  appeasement pheromones to the cat’s blanket or bed to help calm nervous or stressed animals.  As always, these symptoms can indicate a medical problem, so a visit to the veterinarian is vital to get the correct diagnosis.

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 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. Ask your veterinarian for information about the appropriate dosing for your dog prior to administering any supplement. 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 veterinarian’s opinion first.  We are now carrying a full line of recommended supplements and diets at CVC for your pet.

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, and provide plenty of TLC.
  • If you start noticing any behavior that is worrisome, give us a call or schedule an appointment at anytime.

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.


CVC Under Construction

The new year has been an exciting time here at CVC.  In early December we made the exciting change to digital radiology.  For those of you        unfamiliar with the field, this means that we replaced our old analogue equipment with a new Idexx DR 1417 machine that provides our doctors with superior quality images at the touch of a button.  This equipment allows our doctors to view and manipulate high quality digital radiographs in a matter of seconds and allows us to provide the highest quality of care we can for your pets.

Following the installation of the radiology equipment, we decided to continue with our improvements by tearing out our old radiology darkroom and enlarging our inpatient treatment area.  These renovations began the first of the year and are currently underway.  Our hopes are that the improvements to the inpatient treatment room will provide extra needed comfort and access to our hospitalized patients.  We plan on opening up the floor space to provide easier access for the technicians as they work, and to create a “cat-ward” in a separate room, where hospitalized kitties may rest without the stress of barking dogs.

In addition to the clinical changes, we have also made some major improvements over the last few months to the front reception area.  We have completely opened up our front reception counter by taking out a wall and have put in brand new counter tops all around.  We hope that our clients are enjoying the new open feel as much as we are.  We appreciate everyone’s understanding while our clinic is under construction and urge you to stay tuned to our blog and facebook pages for updates on the progress.