Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome

Is it the same as canine dementia?

Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS in dogs) is also known as canine dementia. It is though not the same as Alzheimer disease in humans though the symptoms are in many ways similar, including disorientation and decreased social interaction.

Dog dementia can be very difficult for the human companions, just as Alzheimer is hard for other family members. Cognitive dysfunction in dogs is unfortunately incurable but with early intervention and the right management, it is possible to improve the quality of life for dogs with CDS. 

Senior dog with snow on his nose

What is canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome in dogs is believed to be caused by physical and chemical changes that affect our pet's brain function as they get older.

Simply put canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome is the result of age-related changes within the brain.

How common is canine dementia?

Advances in veterinary medicine have increased the live expectancy of our pets. And the older our dogs get, the more likely they are to get dogs dementia.

Dogs are generally considered senior when they reach 7 to 8 years of age (though this varies between breeds, size, nutrition and lifestyle).

"In one study at the University of California-Davis, 62% of 11- to 16-year-old dogs showed signs in at least one category of CDS. In a pet owner survey, nearly half of dogs age 8 and older showed at least one sign associated with CDS" (CDS In Dogs).

Symptoms and diagnosis of cognitive dysfunction in dogs

Many diseases that are common in older dogs have similar symptoms as CDS, e.g. diabetes, brain tumours, and hypothyroidism. 

Problem behaviour resulting from dogs' dementia can also be mistaken for behavioural problem. Cognitive dysfunction in dogs is therefore likely to be both under-diagnosed and under-reported.

The diagnosis of canine dementia is in a way a diagnosis of exclusion, i.e. by ruling out any other potential medical reasons for the declined cognitive function.

The most common symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome are:

Disorientation or confusion

This can be very stressful for both your dog and you. It is heart-breaking to watch your pet wander aimlessly, appearing lost and confused. Your dog may not recognize familiar people and get "lost" in a corner or behind a door. He may ask to go outside and then appear to have forgetting the reason for going outdoors. We can only imagine how difficult this must be for the owner.

Decreased social interaction

Your relationship will suffer as your dog may crave less attention and even refuse petting. He may not respond to verbal cues or even his name. Your dog may become less enthusiastic when greeting you and he may eventually stop greeting you at all when you come home.

Your dog's relationship with other humans and other pets will also change. Your previously friendly happy go lucky dog may suddenly become tense, anxious, and even aggressive.

Change in activity

You may notice increase in aimless activity, like pacing or wandering, and decrease in purposeful activity, like playing.

Change in sleep - wake cycle

Your dog is likely to sleep more overall. He may sleep less at night as there may be general confusion between day and night.

Loss of housetraining

Your dog may lose his housetraining skills. He may forget to "ask" to go outdoors so there may be accidents indoors. 

Most common clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction at baseline (A Roundtable Discussion)

Increased total amount of sleep during a 24-hour period 83.30%
Decreased attention to surrounding, disinterest, apathy 77.80%
Decreased purposeful activity 75.0% 75.00%
Loss of formerly acquired knowledge (including elimination behaviors)   72.20%
Intermittent anxiety (apprehension, panting, moaning, shivering) 61.10%

What can you do about dog dementia?

The above symptoms made you cringe, right? Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome is a serious condition and very stressful for both the pet and its owner. It is unfortunately not curable.

However, with early intervention and the right management, the quality of life for dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be improved. So.... what can you do about dog dementia?

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Just like us, our dogs need to exercise their brain as well as their body. Not using the brain enough can affect our dogs' cognitive functions and problem-solving skills.


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