What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is like Alzheimer’s disease for dogs. It’s a progressive condition that can affect memory, mobility, and perception.

Jun 24, 2024bySara Payne

what is canine gognitive dysfunction

Dogs can get an illness that’s like Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), sometimes referred to as “dog dementia,” affects a dog’s memory, perception, and ability to learn.

If you have a senior dog, it’s important to know about this condition. You can learn everything you need to know here.

CCD Affects Dogs’ Memory, Perception, and Abilities

senior retriever
Image credit: Pixabay

After nine years old, dogs may develop symptoms of CCD. It’s a disease that progresses slowly. Unfortunately, many dog owners do not notice this condition until it has significantly impaired their pets.

CCD happens when neurons (brain cells responsible for communicating messages throughout the body) begin to have a build-up of a protein known as beta-amyloid. These proteins stick to neurons, causing them to stop functioning properly or die. When the brain loses these vital cells, it begins to lose the ability to process information. Communication between the brain and the body begins to deteriorate, too.

This deterioration can cause a dog to lose their mental and physical abilities. Certain breeds are more likely to experience this debilitating disease than others. Dogs in the toy, terrier, and non-sporting groups are three times more likely to be diagnosed with CCD than other breed groups. Coincidentally, many dogs in these groups live the longest.

Age alone isn’t the only risk factor for CCD, but the risk of having this disease increases by 52% for each additional year past 10 years old.

Symptoms of CCD and How to Spot Them

old lab
Image credit: Pixabay

By recognizing the signs of CCD, you can ensure your dog remains comfortable, even as they start to lose their memory. Your dog may have CCD if they:

  • Pace in circles
  • Wander aimlessly
  • Get stuck behind furniture or on the wrong sides of doors
  • Appear lost in their own yard
  • Don’t recognize family or other dogs
  • Don’t respond as well to names or verbal commands
  • Appear less enthusiastic about life
  • Does not seek out pets, belly rubs, or play as much
  • Bark excessively at nothing
  • Manifest symptoms of extreme separation anxiety

Your dog won’t necessarily have all of the symptoms of dog dementia. What’s more, many of these symptoms can be similar to other illnesses that elderly dogs experience, such as impaired vision and hearing or kidney disease. A vet can best assess these symptoms and rule out other diseases with tests to ensure your senior dog gets the best care.

Some Dogs with CCD Experience “Sundowning”

jack russell lying down
Image credit: Pixabay

Sundowning is a term associated with CCD. This term describes a set of symptoms that elderly dogs experience due to their dementia. They may have difficulty resting at night, which can lead to a disrupted sleep pattern. By late afternoon into the night, the dog becomes disoriented and may become anxious, confused, and aggressive. They may also pace or wander.

Scientists aren’t sure why sundowning occurs at this time, but the behavior changes can be hard to manage. If the dog is showing aggression, you or your children may be in danger of being bitten.

Unfortunately, CCD is a progressive disease, which means it continues to worsen. Eventually, these symptoms may begin to affect your older dog’s quality of life. As heartbreaking as it may be, putting a dog to sleep may be the most humane option. Most dogs with CCD are euthanized within 18 to 24 months of the initial diagnosis.

This decision can be extremely difficult. It is best to discuss this option with your vet and family to decide on the best course of action.

No Cure for CCD, But There Are Options

senior goldendoodle
Image credit: Pixabay

There is no cure for dog dementia. However, vets may prescribe Selegiline, a medication that helps to block the reabsorption of beneficial nerve transmitters. This allows your dog to have more dopamine and serotonin in their brain, which improves their brain activity. Your dog may also get antidepressants to help with any anxiety they may develop.

Additionally, your vet may offer supplements that aid brain function. To encourage better memory and learning, your vet may also suggest buying interactive toys, going for different types of walks, and teaching your dog easy tricks.

A strict routine also helps a senior dog with dementia. Declining mental abilities can leave your dog with a lot of anxiety. A routine helps to ease some of that discomfort. You will also want to make sure that the yard is secure and that your elderly dog is supervised at all times. As their minds decline, they can accidentally injure themselves or get lost.

Other Conditions Senior Dogs Can Experience

sleepy senior dog
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

CCD is just one of many conditions that dogs may experience as they age. Some other ailments include:

  • Certain types of cancer. Some cancers, such as bone cancer, affect older dogs. While some of these conditions are treatable, it’s important to consider your dog’s quality of life before making any major decisions, such as starting chemotherapy.
  • Just like people, dogs’ joints can stiffen and ache as they age. There are many over-the-counter supplements that can improve your dog’s mobility and relieve their pain.
  • Dogs’ bodies process calories differently past a certain point. Your veterinarian may suggest a different dog food brand or certain exercises to prevent (or manage) obesity in your dog.

Dogs with CCD Deserve Love

profile senior lab
Image credit: Pixabay

To summarize, CCD (or dog dementia) is a disease that affects your dog’s behavior and mental abilities. There is no cure for CCD, and the disease is progressive. It can be incredibly difficult to watch your senior dog suffer from this disease. A vet can best assess the condition and give you an action plan. No matter what, your elderly dog will appreciate your attention, love, and care in their final years.

Sara Payne
bySara Payne

Sara is a mother of two and a high school English teacher who rediscovered her love of writing during the pandemic. She has 5 rescue cats: Neville and Luna, who are white cats with black and grey spots, and Ginny, Blue, and Fairy, who are calicos. Besides taking care of humans and fur babies, Sara enjoys gardening, crafting, and spending time in nature.