‘Dog Dementia’: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

'Dog Dementia': Canine Cognitive Dysfunction | Animed Direct

As some dogs get older, their brain function declines. This can lead to behavioural changes and confusion, not unlike dementia in people. This blog discusses what ‘dog dementia’ can look like in our pups, the signs to watch out for, and how to treat the condition. While it’s not a condition that can be reversed or cured, there are medications and special diets available that can help to effectively manage the condition.

Can Dogs Get Dementia?

Yes, dogs can get dementia. The medical term for dog dementia is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. It’s commonly referred to as dog dementia because the symptoms are similar to those displayed by people with dementia.

What is Dog Dementia?

It’s a collection of behavioural changes seen in older dogs. The condition usually develops slowly, with the first signs of dog dementia typically appearing from around 10 years of age. Dog dementia gets progressively worse as dogs get older. Roughly 15% of dogs aged 14 or older will have signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.

What Causes Dog Dementia?

Cognitive dysfunction in dogs is thought to be caused by the build-up of certain proteins in the brain. These proteins form plaques, reducing blood flow in the brain and making it more difficult for nerves to send messages. This has a negative effect on brain function and results in dogs having difficulty processing and responding to information.

Signs of Dementia in Dogs

Many of the symptoms of dog dementia are perceived as normal for older dogs, and are often referred to as ‘senile behaviour’. However if you notice any of these signs, it’s important to visit your vet – if they do have dog dementia, the sooner you start treatment, the better. The most common signs of dementia in dogs are behavioural changes and vision impairment. These include:

  • Disoriented or confused behaviour
  • Forgetting commands
  • Waking in the night
  • Loss of toilet training
  • Changes in activity levels
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in how they interact with people, other pets and the environment
  • Staring into space
  • Barking more
  • New fears
  • Personality changes such as aggression
  • Reduced sense of smell
  • Vision impairment

Not all dogs will show all of these symptoms. Occasionally, some dogs with dementia may experience tremors, swaying or frequent falls. This is due to the decline of parts of the brain controlling muscle and nerve function, however these symptoms are uncommon.

Dog Dementia and Eyesight

This particular symptom occurs in over 90% of dogs with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. However, their eyesight will decline slowly, so dogs tend to learn to cope well, relying more on their hearing.

How Do You Know if Your Dog Has Dementia?

If you spot any of the signs listed above, visit the vet. Unfortunately, there is no test for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, but your vet will be able to make a diagnosis by asking you questions about the changes you have noticed, and taking the dog’s age into account.

Other medical conditions, which can be tested for, can cause similar symptoms to dog dementia. It’s therefore best for your dog to undergo a full health check to rule out any other problems. This might involve things like blood tests, urine analysis or trial treatments.

Treatment for Canine Dementia

The earlier you start treatment the better, as dog dementia is a progressive disease. Treatment involves slowing down the progression, or reducing the effects of it. Unfortunately dog dementia cannot be cured.

There are two widely available forms of medication commonly used to treat dog dementia. Both are long term treatments. Medications for dog dementia can work either by altering the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain, or by increasing blood flow to the brain, heart and muscles. Some dogs might be prescribed just one of the two, and others may do well on both – your vet will be able to advise what will be best for your dog.

Supplements to Support Dogs with Dementia

As well as treatment prescribed by your vet, there are veterinary diets and supplements that can support dogs with dementia. Products containing antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and L-carnitine can help brain function and potentially slow disease progression.

Hill’s BD Ageing and Alertness Care is one such supplemented diet that has been clinically proven to help fortify the brain, and protect against the effects of age-related decline in older dogs. This kibble can help dogs sleep better, reduce accidents in the house, and improve social interaction with other dogs.

Other veterinary diets and supplements that may help manage dementia in dogs include Purina Pro Plan NC Neurocare and Broadreach Senior Care 7+ for Dogs and Cats. Speak to your vet to help you decide which might be best for your dog.

What Else Can Be Done to Support Dogs with Dementia?

Stimulation

Like people with dementia, dogs with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction can benefit from environmental enrichment – it can both delay the onset of the disease and slow its progression.

Regular play and exercise are the best ways to provide this for your dog. Games that involve hiding treats for your dog to find, and toys that dispense food when interacted with are great ways to keep your dog’s mind active.

Maintaining Familiarity Around the Home

Dogs with dementia can be easily confused by changes to their environment. Reducing your dog’s exposure to visitors and keeping things like the furniture layout consistent can help to lessen the impact of dementia and reduce confusion.

Increased Toilet Breaks

If your dog is struggling to remember their toilet training, offer them more opportunities to go outside. This could help to reduce accidents in the house.

Lighting

Some dogs with dementia will experience sleep disturbance. Making sure they are exposed to plenty of natural light during the day and reducing any artificial lighting at night can help to keep their sleep cycles more stable.

Wrapping Up

Dog dementia is unfortunately irreversible and the resulting behaviours can be distressing for dog owners. However, if spotted early and treatment is started, it can take several years for dogs to fully decline, and symptoms can often be effectively managed. Medication, veterinary diets and mental stimulation can all help to ensure that your dog maintains a good quality of life. Your vet will be able to discuss your dog’s individual needs with you, so that you can make informed decisions, understand how the condition is likely to progress, and manage the condition well.

Biography of Animed vet, Karin Volker, MRCVS
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