Can Dogs Get Dementia?

Do dogs get Alzheimer’s? Memory loss is common in all animals as they age. Due to advances in veterinary care and improved owner care, dogs are living longer. With a longer life expectancy, we are also seeing an increase on dogs suffering from changes in their cognitive function. Though it effects a significant portion of the senior dog population very little attention is brought to the growing concern of doggy dementia.

CCDS: Doggy Alzheimer’s

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome or CCDS refers to changes in your dog’s behavior or cognitive ability due to dementia. The number of canine dementia cases has increased significantly over the last thirty years.

However, the awareness of CCDS, even among Vets, is limited. Many cases go undiagnosed, yet almost 60% of dogs between the ages of 15 to 16 show signs of the disease. Senior pet owners should be aware of the symptoms and know what to look out for.

The term dog dementia typically embodies four different age-related behavioral syndromes:

  • Depression
  • Loss of Spatial Awareness
  • Aggression
  • Overall Decline to Cognitive Ability

Veterinarian’s use the acronym DISHAA to help break down the telltale signs and help to diagnose CCDS.

  • Disorientation
  • Interactions
  • Sleep and Wake Cycles Altered
  • House Soiling
  • Activity Level
  • Anxiety

The amount of exercise your dog gets can (or doesn’t get) can impact it’s risk of dementia. A recent study by the Dog Aging Project found that dogs who are not active are 6.47 times more likely to be diagnosed with CCD. When all other factors are the same, including breed, age, and weight, active dogs have a lower risk of developing dog dementia. 

Disorientation (especially in familiar surroundings)

Anxious Senior Dog

Disorientation and confusion are among the more common signs of dog dementia. Symptoms of pets with CCDS, most closely align with Alzheimer’s symptoms. Disoriented dogs may go to the wrong door to go outside or even the wrong side of the door. Dogs whose cognitive abilities are slipping often stare blankly at the wall or off into space. As they become less spatially aware, they may even get stuck in a corner or behind a piece of furniture with no idea how to get themselves out.

Interactions

Dogs suffering from dementia may have noticeable changes to how they interact.  Your once social dog may avoid contact with other dogs, or even become aggressive when around other dogs or people.  Dogs with CCD have lost their ability to communicate successfully. They no longer give off signals to other pets and are unable to understand the cues given by other dogs. Pets with hyper aggression bite first and warn second. You pet may even show changes in how they react to familiar people or even family members.

Sleep and Wake Cycle Changes

Senior Dog Sleeps

As their cognitive abilities decline, your dog’s sleep patterns will change as well. They may have difficulty falling asleep at night or spend the night pacing or whining at nothing. Some dogs experience a complete reverse of their day and night schedule. Sleeping all day and roaming around the house all night.

CCDS dogs struggle to lay still or relax, your dog may wander aimlessly and be unable to lay down for long periods of time.

House Soiling

Pet Diaper Suspenders

Once house trained pets relieve themselves inside for no apparent medical reason. Your dog may forget that they were house broken or forget to ask to go out. If there are no signs of infection or other medical condition, having your dog wear diapers or a male wrap while inside can help avoid an unwanted a mess.

To help your dog, bring them outside regularly for bathroom breaks.

Activity Level

As your pet ages there are natural changes to their activity level, slowing down is normal. However, a dog with CDDS may actually become more active or slow down very suddenly. Any noticeable change in activity level is a cause for concern and may be a sign of a change in your pet’s health.

Anxiety

Senior pug needs attention

A dog suffering from doggy dementia or cognitive dysfunction may become more anxious over time. Your dog may become more fearful and concerned when away from his owner or in an unfamiliar environment. Dogs who have always been independent may start clinging to their owner or even separate themselves from family as the disease progresses.

Caring for a Pet With Memory Loss

Many symptoms of CCDS can overlap with other age-related conditions. Always speak to your Veterinarian if you notice any behavioral changes in your pet. You Vet will be able to assist you with a course of treatment and best way to care for your dog.

Here are a few simple changes you can make life easier for your senior dog:

  • Visit the Vet regularly
  • Introduce vitamins and supplements into your dog’s diet
  • Maintain your dog’s daily routine and stick to normal feeding times
  • Exercise: this can help battle depression and improve overall health
  • If your dog is becoming physically weaker or losing balance, a dog wheelchair may help them stay independent
  • Avoid rearranging furniture
  • Keep your dog’s mind active, play games to keep them stimulated

As dogs age you will notice changes in their behavior and activity level. Just because they exhibit a few symptoms, it doesn’t mean that they’re cognitively impaired. Most importantly, be aware of the signs and talk to your Veterinarian if you are concerned. Although CCDS is not curable, with small changes you can continue to give your dog the best quality of life throughout their golden years.

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