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Canine Dementia or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Canine Dementia or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

We all wish that our dogs could live forever and be fit happy and healthy until the end of their days. Sadly, however, dogs are susceptible to physical and cognitive degeneration in the same way as humans. Just as there is no magic potion for humans to reverse the effects of ageing, there is none for dogs. It is worth being aware of the symptoms of CDS (Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome) so that you can spot the signs early on and consult your vet for information and advice on how to make your elderly dog’s life as easy as possible during these late stages of life.

There are no proven methods to prevent brain ageing, but it is thought that activities that keep the brain alert and active for as long as possible can slow down the degeneration of the brain’s nerve processes. These include

  • Regular play sessions and varied, interactive games.
  • Regular exercise
  • Simple challenges such as ‘Find the treat’ and treat-release toys or puzzles.
  • Feed a well-balanced diet rich in essential nutrients.

Research shows that despite your best efforts, it is not unusual for 50% of dogs over 11 years of age to show signs of CDS, and this increases to 68% of dogs aged over 15.

How do you recognize that your dog may be starting to show signs of age and a general decline in brain function?

  • Slower to respond
  • Blank look in the eyes and maybe doesn’t recognise your voice or his name.
  • Continuously circling
  • Getting lost in the house, or repeatedly getting stuck in a certain place.
  • Toileting in the house where previously house trained
  • Making noises that are inappropriate or out of character, such as: whining, panting or barking for no apparent reason.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Anxiety, restlessness or irritability that is out of character
  • Inability to follow familiar routes
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • Loss of appetite.

If you start to notice some of these changes in behaviour in your dog, it is worth keeping a note of them and making an appointment to see your vet. Your vet will want to know your dog’s history, will need details of the behaviours that are causing you concern, and will also try to ascertain whether any specific incident has contributed to the changes in behaviour. Some of the symptoms of CDS can be similar to other conditions of old age, so your vet may want to run blood and urine tests, and maybe an ultrasound and x-ray. Such tests will help to monitor the function and health of the dog’s organs such as the heart, liver and kidney, and will also help to eliminate the possibility of other conditions that could be causing the behaviour changes.

Once diagnosed, your dog will need lifelong support and monitoring. Regular routines and a healthy living environment can help to make your dog’s life more comfortable. Some regular stimulation that is unlikely to raise anxiety levels is also a good idea. Your vet may also recommend changes to your dog’s diet to include specific nutrients or other dietary supplements that are considered helpful in improving dogs’ cognitive function.

Your vet may want to monitor and evaluate your dog regularly, as long as the condition remains stable but will probably request that you advise of any changes. By keeping a record of the signs and symptoms your dog is presenting, you will be able to see whether symptoms are remaining stable or worsening.

As an owner, you may feel helpless in the face of this disease, which is similar to Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. You can do lots to help to make your elderly dog’s life a little easier and more comfortable by making some simple changes to establish security and a familiar routine. These include:

  • Keep your dog’s food and water bowls and any other essential items in the same place and where your dog can access them easily.
  • When leaving your dog alone, limit his access to all areas of the house. Keeping him in a smaller space such as the kitchen or utility room at the back of the house will prevent him becoming lost in the house and will allow him to rest peacefully without disturbances from the street.
  • Be conscientious about your routine so that you reduce any potential for confusion.
  • Be ready to take your dog outside more regularly with a view to preventing accidents inside the home.
  • You should never scold your dog for accidents inside the house, simply clear them up. Such accidents from a dog who has been house-trained in the past may make him anxious, so you don’t want to add to their distress.
  • Ensure that exercise is regular even though this will be limited to the extent of your dog’s physical capabilities.

It’s very distressing, but you may need to face the fact that your dog is displaying signs of dementia and respond accordingly. Don’t go into denial as this won’t help either of you. Be patient and tolerant of your elderly dog’s cognitive degeneration and give your dog your time and lots of reassurance. Take lots of photographs, enjoy and remember the happy times you still have together.





Bark Busters therapists have trained more than 1 Million dogs worldwide and are renowned authorities in addressing dog behaviour with all-natural, dog-friendly methods. The Bark Busters training is the only service of its kind that offers International guaranteed lifetime support. With hundreds of trainers around the world, Bark Busters continues its mission to enhance the human/canine relationship and to reduce the possibility of maltreatment, abandonment and euthanasia. Contact your local Bark Busters dog trainer to see how they can help.

This article is the copyright of Bark Busters® and is intended for information purposes only. Dog owners should fully research any problems that they may have with their dogs.


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