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Canine Dementia (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction)

Canine dementia (Canine cognitive dysfunction) is similar to Alzheimer's disease in people. It occurs in older dogs and is a progressive disease. This page looks at the possible causes, symptoms, and treatment of dog dementia.

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Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), commonly known as canine dementia, or "old dog syndrome", is a rather common progressive disease in aging dogs. About 50% of dogs over 10 years of age show some signs of dementia. As they age, dogs with CCD show increasing signs of senile behavior.

Somewhat similar to Alzheimer's disease in people, dog dementia is characterized by the dog's brain undergoing a series of changes resulting in a decline in the mental faculties associated with thinking, recognition, memory, and learned behavior.

Symptoms of Canine Dementia

Aging dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome usually show some or all of the following signs and symptoms:
  • Disorientation: One of the hallmark symptoms of CCD is disorientation. The dog may seem lost even in familiar environments (e.g. in his own yard), or he may not be able to get around furniture or corners. He may also have difficulty with doors, e.g. when trying to get out of a room, he may go to the closet door instead of the room door.

    In addition, he may not be able to recognize familiar faces, sometimes not even family members, and may not respond to his own name.
  • Disturbed Sleep Patterns: Dogs with canine dementia usually sleep more, usually during the daytime, and less during night time.
  • Change in Activity Patterns: Aging dogs with dementia may also show a change in their activity patterns. In particular, they tend to lose interest in even their favorite activities such as playing and walking. Instead, they tend to just pace and wander aimlessly. Some dogs may even develop compulsive behaviors such as circling, head shaking, and tremors.
  • Housetraining Problems: Dogs with cognitive dysfunction are prone to have "accidents" in the house even though they have been properly housetrained. They may not signal to their owners to let them know that they need to go outside to relieve themselves.
  • Other Behavioral Changes: Dogs with dementia also show some behavioral changes. For example, some dogs may be more "clingy" to their owners, showing a need of human contact 24 hours a day. On the other hand, other dogs may want less attention - they may walk away when being petted and may not even greet their family members.
Please note, however, that not all dogs showing some or all of the above symptoms have CDD. Some of these signs and symptoms may also be caused by some other underlying medical condition (e.g. cancer, organ failure, or side effects of drugs, etc.). If your aging dog shows any of the above signs, therefore, it is important to take him for a medical check-up to rule out any medical problems before treating him for canine dementia.

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Causes of Canine Dementia

Research has found several possible reasons that involve changes in the brain of an aging dog that may cause CCD.

It has been found that in dogs with canine dementia, a protein (B-amyloid) is deposited in the white and gray matter of the brain. The deposited protein forms plaques in the brain, causing some brain cells to die and the brain to shrink.

It has also been found that oxygen levels in the brains of older dogs are decreased.

In addition, there appears to be changes in various neurotransmitter chemicals, including serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

Ultimately, one or more of the above changes in the brain may interfere with proper nerve transmission, resulting in behavioral changes in the aging dog.

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Treatment of Canine Dementia

Conventional treatment of dog dementia is the use of the drug Anipryl (selegiline) which is a MAOI medication (monoamine oxidase inhibitor medication). It increases the dopamine in the brain and is a medication that is FDA approved for use in dogs to treat CCD (and Cushing's disease). It has been proved to be effective in improving the quality of life for some older dogs. However, the effects of this drug may not be seen for up to two months, so be patient.

Side effects commonly seen with Anipryl include gastrointestinal upets (e.g. vomiting), appetite loss, and lethargy.

In conjunction with conventional medication, it is also beneficial to give additional antioxidant supplements to older dogs.

Certain herbs (e.g. ginkgo, oat, the Ayurvedic herb Bacopa, etc.) have also been found to be helpful to support memory and learning. A natural supplement that can be helpful to dogs with dementia is Memoractiv by Thorne Research for Cats and Dogs. It contains ginkgo, Bacopa leaf, and Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) which also helps support cognitive health.

Finally, acupuncture treatment has been proved to be helpful in slowing down the progression of the canine dementia.




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