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What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome?

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Physical aging is a natural part of your dog’s life. In their golden years though, some dogs may experience mental aging and/or be diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD or CDS for Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome). This has been compared to dementia or becoming senile in humans.

The professionals at Pet Health Network discuss the disease’s onset as ”caused by chemical and physical changes that affect the brain function of older dogs.” However, the cause of CCD is still being researched.

HOW TO SPOT IT: What does Canine Cognitive Dysfunction look like for a dog?

Dr. Marty Becker of Vetstreet.com suggests using the acronym DISH to determine if your dog is showing signs of cognitive decline. This stands for apparent Disorientation, changes in Interactions with others, and changes in Sleep and/or Housetraining.

Dogs may:

  • start falling down
  • get lost in corners or previously familiar spaces
  • have a change in personality
  • change their sleep-wake patterns
  • forget previous housetraining

Anxiety is especially common in cases of CCD.

THINGS TO CONSIDER: What else could this be besides cognitive decline in my dog? 

Cognitive decline in dogs is ultimately a diagnosis of exclusion and it’s important to check for other conditions that can mask or mirror CCD. “The diagnosis of CDS is made by considering the age of the pet, confirming the presence of symptoms consistent with the syndrome, and by eliminating other medical conditions as causes for the cognitive changes,” notes Petfinder.com’s article Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Pets.

Tests that a vet may perform may include:

  • a thorough look at your dog’s liver, pancreas, kidneys and blood sugar levels
  • testing to make sure there isn’t a tick infection
  • looking for dehydration or electrolyte imbalance
  • urine testing

Since the list of other potential conditions is long, be sure to discuss and define what a positive result to a specific test may mean with your veterinarian. If finances are a concern, you can ask your veterinarian to prioritize tests for things that are more easily treatable or curable over tests for things that would be treated the same as CCD.

Anxious dog lying down

FIRST STEPS TO TAKE: How can I help my dog with CCD?

Exercise mind and body.

Creating consistency in your dog’s life can help alleviate symptoms or make the disease progress more slowly. Try scheduling regular exercise to help. Dr. Becker of Vetstreet suggests, “Maintain a routine so your dog eats or goes for walks at the same times every day. Create a new, interactive routine by giving him a treat at specific times of the day so he learns to anticipate it.”

There are some ideas for games you can play with your dog over at Fear Free Happy Homes.

Discuss a change in diet with your veterinarian.

President of The Grey Muzzle Organization, Denise Fleck, tells Fear Free Happy Homes, that pet parents and their veterinarians could, “consider foods rich in antioxidants as they are shown to boost learning and spatial attention. Consider these brain foods to dish up to your dog: blueberries, raspberries, carrots, spinach, and kale.”

Petfinder experts recommend making food and water easy to get to and to set-up alternatives to the outdoors inside your house for your dog. They also have a good list of foods you can use to help treat a dog with CCD.

Give medicine time to kick in.

If your vet prescribes medication, Dr. Becker urges you to, “Give medication time to work.” Medicines often take about 6 weeks to kick in, so don’t give up before they’ve had time.

Enjoy your time together.

“Your dog can have good quality of life with CDS, but it is a progressive disease,” says Dr. Becker. Keep communication open with your vet so you know when it may be time. Until then, enjoy each other’s companionship. 

HOW TO GET HELP: Questions to ask veterinary and behavior professionals

Only a veterinarian can diagnosis CCD, so it’s important to schedule a visit if you’re seeing these signs. If you have a diagnosis already, consider asking your vet:

  1. How can we help my dog enjoy life as long as possible?
  2. Is my dog in pain?
  3. My dog started [insert behavior]. How can I make him more comfortable?
  4. I become scared when I see my dog [insert behavior]. Are they okay? What should I do?


Management of Dogs and Cats with Cognitive Dysfunction from Dr. Lynne Seibert, DVM, at Today’s Veterinary Practice

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine