What is canine cognitive dysfunction?
Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is very similar to Alzheimers in humans. Alzheimers involves the build up of tangled protein plaques in the brain which damage brain cells and affect speech, memory and problem-solving.
In canine cognitive dysfunction, the brain undergoes similar changes. Brain cells can shrink and become damaged and tiny bleeds disrupt oxygen supply to the brain. Thinking, recognition, memory and learned behaviours such as house training can all decline.
Just like with human Alzheimers, canine cognitive dysfunction is a progressive disease and cannot be cured, but it can be managed to ensure a good quality of life.
What are the signs of canine cognitive dysfunction?
As pets age, owners tend to notice changes in behaviour. Many people feel that these are normal signs of aging and do not think that a vet visit is necessary. Often it is only when these problems can no longer be tolerated that the pet is taken to the vet to be put to sleep.
Signs of CCD
House training problems
Disorientation and confusion
Staring into space or at walls
Getting stuck in corners
Getting trapped behind furniture
Getting lost in familiar places
Losing balance and falling
Sleep disturbances – waking up at the wrong time, pacing at night
Barking for no reason
Increased anxiety and fear
Obsessive behaviours such as licking
Ignoring people e.g no longer responding to own name
As many of these signs can be caused by other diseases, it is best to have your pet checked over by a vet if you notice changes like these. For example, urinating in the house could be a sign of a urine infection or bladder cancer, and reluctance to exercise could indicate arthritis.
Once other causes have been ruled out, treatments can be started to reduce the impact of CCD on your pet's life.
Can it be treated?
There are several different treatments available to help manage canine cognitive disorder including medications, dietary changes, nutritional supplements and environmental changes.
Just like with any medication, animals may respond differently – one dog might show a great improvement after starting treatment, while another may not respond at all. It can take a few weeks for the medications to start having an effect.
Anipryl - contains the same drug that is given to humans with Parkinson's disease. It increases chemical messengers in the brain and reducing harmful "free-radicals". Over 75% of dogs with CCD will show an improvement after one month of this medication.
Vivitonin - improves blood flow to the brain, enabling increased oxygen supply and increased removal of waste products. It has been shown to improve dullness, lethargy and general demeanor of older dogs and increases their willingness to exercise.
Diet & Nutritional Supplements
SAMe - an amino acid that is effective at improving signs of CCD. SAMe is produced naturally in the body and is involved in chemical reactions throughout the body.
Unlike many natural supplements, SAMe has no known side effects or reactions with other medications. It also helps support liver function and is often used in patients with liver disease.
Senilife and Aktivait– these contain nutrients which help improve nerve cell communication, protect nerve cells from toxic substances and improve blood flow to the brain. Aktivait is also available for cats with cognitive dysfunction.
Changes at home can help improve your dog's life and make things easier for them day to day:
Keep your dog fit and at the correct weight by providing an appropriate diet such as Hills B/D
Take your dog for multiple short walks each day rather than one long walk
Play with your dog! Practice recall or play with toys.
Help your dog to relearn toilet training, giving plenty of opportunities to go outside, especially after sleeping, eating or playing.
If your dog's hearing is failing but their vision is still good, teach signals instead of verbal commands.
Practice simple tasks that your dog learned as a puppy such as sit and stay.
Avoid changing or rearranging the furniture and eliminate clutter to create wide pathways for your dog.
Try to stick to a routine each day for feeding and walking.
What is the prognosis?
This depends on how well an individual responds to treatment. If a dog does not respond well, it's condition will continue to deteriorate leading it to have a poor quality of life, but with the right care, older pets with cognitive disorders can live happy lives.
Speaking to your vet to discuss your dog is the best way to get a diagnosis and make a plan for your pet's treatment.
by Amber Lockyer BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS (The Vet, Liverpool)
References and Resources
Bottiglieri, T. S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) and cognitive dysfunction in dogs. Accessed January 2017. Available at: http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/s-adenosylmethionine-same-and-cognitive-dysfunction-dogs-sponsored-virbac-animal-health
Frank, D. Cognitive Dysfunction in Dogs. Accessed January 2017. Available at: http://www.ivis.org/proceedings/Hills/brain/frank.pdf?LA=1
Long Beach Animal Hospital. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. Accessed January 2017. Available at: http://www.lbah.com/word/canine/cognitive-dysfunction-syndrome-cds/
Lundgren, B. Canine cognitive dysfunction. Accessed January 2017. Available at: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?A=2549
Réme, C. A., Dramard, V., Hofmans, J., Halsberghe, C. and Mombiela, D. V. Effect of S-adenosylmethionine tablets on the reduction of age-related mental decline in dogs: a double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Accessed January 2017. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18597245
Seksel, K. Now why did I come here? Canine cognitive dysfunction. Accessed January 2017. Available at: http://www.ava.com.au/sites/default/files/AVA_website/pdfs/NSW_Division/VETS%20%2B%20NURSES%20COMBINED%20-%20Kersti%20Seksel%20-%20Canine%20Cognitive%20Dysfunction.pdf
Aktivait – VetPlus
Anipyrl (selegiline) – Zoetis
Hills Brain Aging Diet
Senilife – Ceva Animal Health