What Is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?

Maggie Marton
by Maggie Marton
As dogs get older, they’re at risk from developing Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Here’s what to watch for so you can get your pooch the help he needs.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is the canine equivalent of dementia. It’s even sometimes called “doggy Alzheimer’s.” Like Alzheimer’s, CCD is a progressive disease with no cure. However, catching it early by spotting symptoms and implementing a treatment plan can help your dog with CCD happily navigate his or her world.

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CCD, like dementia, is a degenerative brain disease. It affects aging dogs equally, though giant breeds age quicker than small breeds. It’s also an underdiagnosed problem. In a June 2010 study reported in The Veterinary Journal, researchers used a behavior survey to diagnose CCD. According to the respondents’ questionnaires, 14.2 percent would receive a CCD diagnosis, yet only 1.9 percent were diagnosed with CCD by a veterinarian. The study authors conjecture that this discrepancy represents real diagnoses. So, it’s critical that pet owners pay close attention to their pet and note any symptoms to share with their vet. After all, vets only see dogs in a clinical setting, rather than in their own homes, where behavior can be completely different.

Related: Expert Advice: Supplements and Diet For Senior Dogs

If you’re concerned about your dog, here’s what to watch for: According to Becky Lundgren, DVM, in her article Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (Senility), “Cognitive behavior issues include difficulties with spatial orientation (a sense of direction while moving around); problems with memory, learning, housetraining; and difficulty in recognizing and reacting to human family members.” There’s a full list of symptoms—plus a helpful checklist to take with you to the vet’s office—on the DogDementia.com website.

If you notice any symptoms in your aging pet, visit your vet. There isn’t a way to “cure” or even reverse the degeneration that causes CCD, but you can take steps to slow its effects on your dog.

Management strategies include a range of supplements or dietary changes. Some studies, like a 2002 report in Neurobiology of Aging, indicate that antioxidants and mitochondrial cofactors can mitigate the effects of the degeneration. Other drug treatments (like L-Deprenyl and S-adenosylmethionine) and dietary adjustments may be recommended by your veterinarian. Plus, enrichment activities that get your pup’s brain working may stave off CCD’s effects. Look for food puzzles and toys that require problem-solving to activate your dog’s mental muscles. Hint: This might even help prevent the onset of CCD when started with young pups!

Bottom line: Work with your vet to devise a treatment plan, whether that includes medication, prescription food, supplements or even just careful attention. Though it can’t be prevented, dogs with CCD can live out their days happily with management strategies and assistance from their loving family.

Maggie Marton is the definition of “crazy dog lady” and an award-winning writer based in Bloomington, Indiana. Obsessed with dogs, she writes for numerous pet-related publications and is active in animal welfare. Recently, she launched her first eBook, Authentic Blogging, to inspire others to write with their own voice. When she’s not reading about dogs, writing about dogs or walking dogs, she loves to hike and nap—both activities usually with her dogs. Maggie lives with her husband, John; Emmett, a pit mix; Lucas, a shepherd mix; Cooper, a pit mix; and Newt, the lone kitty (who, of course, runs the show). You can find her online at OhMyDogBlog.com.

Maggie Marton
Maggie Marton

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