Does Your Dog Appear Lost In Familiar Surroundings? It Could Have Cognitive Dysfunction
Tue, April 20, 2021

Does Your Dog Appear Lost In Familiar Surroundings? It Could Have Cognitive Dysfunction



Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS) impairs your dog’s cognitive behaviors as it ages, said Joel Kaye, DVM, of MSPCA (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), a non-profit organization that protects animals and prevents cruelty. It cannot be wholly linked with sensory or motor impairment and other health conditions.

Diagnosing cognitive dysfunction may be challenging since it can also occur with other medical complications, explained Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM. CCDS has some similarities with Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Both affect glucose metabolism, cause amyloid plaques, and free oxygen radical damage.


Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome In Dogs (2019)

Fernanda Dagmar Martins Krug and colleagues of journal portal Research Gate obtained responses from 178 questionnaires, with 84.26% coming from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, 6.74% from Santa Catarina, 4.5% from Parana, and 4.5% from Sao Paulo. 22.4% of adult/mature dogs had more than 50 points in the observational questionnaire and were revealed to have exhibited CCDS signs (canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome).

The prevalence of CCDS among canines was between 14% and 35% in the elderly. However, the disease is underdiagnosed, according to Hannah E. Salvin and colleagues of Pub Med, a free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature in the US. Dogs aged 10 years or more showed signs of CCDS (31.4%) than those aged less than nine years (14.1%). Both males (21.2%) and females (23.2%) showed signs of CCDS. Dogs with defined breeds (25.2%) were more likely to show signs of CCDS than mixed breeds (17.9%).

Canines living with other animals were more likely to show signs of CCDS (24.4%) than those who don’t (5.6%). Regarding behavior, 30.6% of dogs that exhibited signs of CCDS were fearful, anxious, and aggressive, whereas 17% were calm. On the other hand, 69.4% of dogs with no signs of CCDS showed fearful, anxious, and aggressive behavior, whereas 83% were calm.

The survey also illuminated the significant behavioral changes in canines with CCDS compared to those without CCDS. The most frequent parameters among dogs with CCDS were sleeping more during the day (85%), weeping when left home alone (70%), and the need for constant contact (62.5%). Other behavioral changes that occurred in over half of dogs with CCDS were failure to respond when called (57.5%), barking more than usual (57.5%), altered appetite and water (57.5%), fighting or avoiding contact with other animals (55%), vacant eyes (52.8%), and losing self-control in stress situations (52.5%).




What Are the Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction?

Does your dog appear “confused,” disoriented, or lost in familiar surroundings? Does it wander around the house aimlessly or “forget” to back out from the corner? Another red flag of cognitive dysfunction is when your dog starts to have “accidents” even if you housetrained it throughout its lifetime, noted Purina, a pet food company.

Your dog may not greet you when you arrive at home, bring you balls to play fetch with, or care about being petted. Some dogs with CCDS may be more clingy while others may feel irritable. Sleep-wake cycle changes may also occur when your dog has CCDS.  For example, your pooch may sleep more during the day, becomes more active at night, or have irregular sleep-wake cycles. Your dog might also become more anxious and agitated, expressing these feelings through vocalization. New fears or phobias may emerge, making your dog more clingy and more dependent.  



How Is CCDS Treated?

Have your pet undergo a full exam, a general lab test, and a neurologic exam to rule out other causes of cognitive decline. Symptoms of cognitive decline overlap with other neurological and metabolic complications, so your veterinarian will have to eliminate medical problems before the above-mentioned symptoms can be associated with CCDS. Behavior changes due to CCDS are responsive to treatment. Treatment plans may include dietary changes, medications, and behavioral therapy. In North America, selegiline is a licensed drug that can help treat cognitive decline in dogs. Categorized as a monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) inhibitor, the drug’s function may enhance neurotransmitter function like noradrenaline and dopamine to minimize free radical damage in the brain. Selegiline can also act as a neuroprotective drug.

Having your dog undergo a therapeutic prescription diet can manage senior behavior problems. The diet is formulated to protect your dog against and possibly reverse damage from toxic free radicals. It is enhanced with antioxidants, vitamin E, selenium, vitamin C, fruits, and vegetables. Moreover, this prescription diet is supplemented with essential fatty acids in the form of fish oils and carnitine and lipoic acid to help the mitochondria function more efficiently. Letting your dog consume a therapeutic prescription diet improves its learning ability and memory, as well as the aforementioned clinical signs of CCDS. A diet supplemented with botanic oils containing medium-chain triglycerides can improve cognitive dysfunction. This particular diet produces ketone bodies, which will serve as the brain’s alternative energy source.

There are other natural supplements that have not t been proven to be effective. However, dietary supplements with either S-adenosylmethionine or a combination of resveratrol, vitamin E, B6, gingko biloba, and phosphatidylserine can improve symptoms and may slow the progress of CCDS. Products derived from jellyfish protein are also useful. For treating changes in sleep-wake cycles, drugs and natural therapeutics may be effective but possible side effects should be considered carefully before administering them.



How Do I Help My Pet Live A Healthier Life?

Finding the right diet for your dog’s age and health is helpful, but you also have to maintain its weight to enhance its quality of life. Environmental enrichment in the form of physical exercise, play sessions, new toys, and new training help maintain your pet’s brain health. Physical activities may need to be modified to accommodate your dog’s physical and behavioral needs. To illustrate, exercises may be limited to short walks or opportunities to sniff around your local community. Stick to a routine as senior dogs and dogs with CCDS don’t like changes to their daily schedule. Avoid exposing your dog to stressful situations such as putting it in a kennel. Watch out for risks in your house and garden such as steps where your dog can fall.


Your veterinarian will rule out potential physical and medical causes before attributing the symptoms to CCDS. If your dog is diagnosed with CCDS, environmental enrichment is recommended to help maintain your pet’s neurological health.