Dog Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Senior dog in a field

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a type of disorder sometimes seen in senior dogs. A decline in the ability of the dog’s brain to function is a hallmark of CDS.

Up to 23% of dogs ages 12 to 14 years exhibit signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome, and in dogs older than 14, that number jumps to around 41%. The condition most closely related in humans is Alzheimer’s disease. Some folks refer to the condition as doggie dementia, and while the symptoms may be similar, there are some differences too.

What Is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Dogs?

As a dog ages, they may develop a sticky type of buildup on the neurons located in the frontal region of the brain. Known as amyloid plaques, this buildup causes a decline in the dog’s frontal lobe functions, including focus, learning, sensory information and memory. Over time, the plaques may spread to other regions of the brain, resulting in a dog losing its spatial awareness, becoming disoriented and, in some cases, experiencing problems with hearing and vision.

How Are Dogs Diagnosed with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome?

Elimination is the means by which veterinarians diagnose cognitive dysfunction syndrome in dogs. In the absence of clinical findings for the dog’s behaviour, which may include pain caused by osteoarthritis, loss of hearing or vision, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism and cancer, veterinarians may begin to suspect that a dog has CDS. However, some other behavioural issues may also present similarly to CDS, including poor housetraining, aggression resulting from pain and anxiety.

Once other conditions are ruled out, veterinarians may use DISHAA to assess the dog’s cognitive function. This questionnaire is called DISHAA because it is an acronym for Disorientation, Interactions, Sleep cycle, House soiling, Activity change and Anxiety increase. Dogs affected by CDS may experience disorientation, their actions with their human parents or other animals in the home may be different than before and owners may notice a change in the dog’s sleep patterns.

In addition, affected canines may begin to have more potty accidents, and they may undergo activity changes and increases in anxiety. Pets affected by cognitive dysfunction syndrome may walk aimlessly, appear to get lost when they reach a corner in a room and stare blankly at walls. Some dogs with CDS may develop anxieties and phobias, including separation anxiety, abnormal fears and destructive behavioural actions. Some may also begin to exhibit strange vocalizations, such as nighttime howling.

Some owners of dogs with CDS report that their pets’ biological clocks seem to be reversed, with the dogs sleeping during the day and restlessly roaming and aimlessly wandering throughout the night.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Treatment

The good news is that with proper treatment, aging dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be treated. In fact, most dogs with CDS are quite responsive to the treatment of the condition. Veterinarians may use a combination of medicines and dietary changes along with behavioural therapy to help your dog.

Below, learn how you can help your dog with a cognitive dysfunction syndrome diagnosis (or any senior dog, for that matter):

  • Consider your dog’s safety. CDS makes dogs feel disoriented, which can lead to falls both inside and outside the home. Look for possible perils in the areas that your dog frequents, such as stairs, for instance, and keep a watchful eye on your dog in those areas of your property or alter them to make them easier for him to manoeuvre.
  • Stick to your dog’s routine. Changes to the familiarity of their routines can induce anxiety in older dogs in general and dogs with CDS in particular. Sticking with a routine and a familiar schedule can help your dog stay calm.
  • Encourage your dog to exercise. Unless your veterinarian has given you a reason not to allow your dog to exercise, make sure your dog with CDS gets exercise. Regularly walking can help improve the dog’s physical and mental health (and yours, too!)
  • Avoid stress. If you must be away, and it’s possible for you to do so, hire a house sitter so that your dog isn’t exposed to the anxiety that crating can cause in the CDS dog. Help your dog avoid all stressors that you can, such as fireworks, for instance.
  • Let your dog be a loner. While treating your dog for CDS, you may want to think about asking visitors to avoid bringing their own dogs to your home because this can be a source of stress for your dog.
  • Avoid potty issues. Resolving potty issues when your dog has cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be difficult. Give your dog the chance to go potty often, and be sure to provide a reward for your dog’s excellent potty skills.

Like people, dogs change as they age, and developing a condition like cognitive dysfunction syndrome is par for the course. Now is your chance to give your dog the same unconditional love they’ve given you all these years, despite the setbacks that CDS can bring.

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