Posted By: Leanne

Canine cognitive dysfunction

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is a dog's equivalent to dementia in people. While not seen in every dog, a study showed that 28% of 11-12 year olds and 68% of 15 to 16 year old dogs were affected. 

The exact cause of it is unknown, but we know that the brain degenerates and the effects can get more severe over time. Harmful proteins (beta amyloid) and poor blood flow to the brain can exacerbate the signs. Mental processes associated with learning, memory, perception and awareness can be affected, which are important for dogs to be able to process information and then decide how to act. The result is that a dog's behaviour and personality can change. 

Symptoms to look for include pacing (especially at night), soiling in the house, low energy or depression, becoming more vocal, eating more or less, staring into space, struggling to sleep, new fears and even aggression (if they are showing signs of aggression, do take steps to keep both them and others - especially children - safe). 

If you suspect your pet may be suffering from CCD the first step is a health check up. Similar clinical signs can be seen with other illnesses such as arthritis or kidney disease, whereas behaviour change can also be seen with other age related changes such as sight and hearing loss. 

Despite being irreversible, there are steps we can take to help slow progression and improve quality of life for both owners and pets.  

Environment modification: Try to avoid changes in the house that may lead to disruption. If you do need to rearrange furniture, try to do it gradually. Older dogs also tend to prefer a strict routine. Environmental cues that help a dog navigate its environment can also help (odour, tactile, audible), such as a radio continuously playing in one room or textured rugs in another. Avoid slippery surfaces using non-slip rugs so they can feel more confident underfoot. 

A safe space - a comfy bed that is easily located can provide comfort. Be aware that going to new places or environments may cause fear not previously seen, and remove the dog from that environment if needed. Walks may not be as fast as they used to be but they can still be mentally stimulating by encouraging sniffing and investigating the environment. Continuing basic training can also help to keep the brain active but it is important not to get frustrated if they struggle to understand. 

There are now specific diets and supplements that can also help our pets. These can focus on reducing the effects of toxic free radicals or looking to improve the metabolism of the brain's neurons. These are often tried first, and if not effective then neuroprotective medication can be used instead or alongside. Be aware that sometimes it can take 6-8 weeks to see the full effects. 

In the early stages pheromone therapy may also help to reduce anxiety. A dog appeasing pheromone (such as Adaptil) can be used although should not be used if there is concern over existing upper respiratory disease. These diffusers can be beneficial while you are waiting for supplements or diets to kick in. 

Although not reversible, this decline can be slowed and some mental function rehabilitated with effective treatment and management. Early intervention is the best thing to delay progression and it need not be a lifespan limiting illness. Finally, although less studies - it can also occur in cats! If you have any concerns with your pet, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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