A friend and I were chatting over lunch the other day and she mentioned that one of her dogs had canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Having seen an article on this subject in a recent dog magazine, I made a mental note to look it up and let my readers learn about the latest developments for this “old age” condition.
What is canine cognitive dysfunction? It is the deterioration of the brain cells brought on by old age, according to Anna O’Brien, DVM in her lengthy article “Mental Mystery” in the August issue of Dog Fancy magazine.
“The abnormal changes in the [canine] brain … are almost exactly the same as those that occur in human brains with Alzheimer’s disease.” The changes are caused by the brain shrinking.
The major symptoms listed by O’Brien are:
- Disorientation, like the dog getting lost in the house or walking into a corner which it is unable to move away from. (Blindness can also cause this reaction.)
- Unable to recognize the owner such as when he/she comes home.
- Change in sleep cycle like sleeping during the day and roaming at night.
- House soiling, (though sometimes a change of diet changes this into a physical condition that can be remedied)
- A change in activity, such as increased restlessness and exhibiting anxiety.
An individual dog may show only one of these symptoms, and it is up to the owner to be aware and alert in order to have the dog examined early when something can be done for the condition.
Early detection means early initiation of treatment, which is the best way to slow the progression of any condition, according to O’Brien.
“CDS is a progressive condition and has no cure, but various treatments can slow its development” says O’Brien, quoting Niwako Ogata, BVSc, Ph.D., assistant professor of animal behavior at Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, Ind. “Treatment involves three key aspects: environmental enrichment, dietary management and medication.”
Environmental enrichment involves mild exercise, playtime and socialization. Toys that make the dog work to get the treats hidden in them provide stimulation. Providing different smells and textures can be part of enrichment. I used these items in my kindergarten puppy classes by placing sponges with rabbit, squirrel and deer scents on them along the path the pups would walk.
For textures, I provided grass, gravel, a wooden bridge, crushed ice in a trough, tile, linoleum and plain top-soil for those pups living in apartments.
Nutrition is important and the advice is to look into prescription diets available for the older dog. This is because free radicals are frequently produced as the dog ages, which affect the brain.
The best way to combat free radicals is by using a diet that provides antioxidants. It is possible that the dog will need supplements, but your veterinarian will know best and will prescribe any medication needed.