Is your aging dog showing signs of senility? It could be Canine Cognitive Disorder/Dysfunction, a medical condition resulting in the deterioration of brain function.

Several studies indicate some cognitive decline is very common in dogs as they age, from as young as seven years old. It’s virtually guaranteed in dogs over the age of 16. It often goes undiagnosed, as pet parents don’t notice the subtle changes in their dog at first.

“The changes occur as a result of physical and chemical changes within the cerebrum of the dog, including deposition of beta amyloid protein (similar to Alzheimer’s patients), atrophy from nerve cell death, myelin degeneration, intraneuronal lipofuscin accumulation, decreased neurotransmitter activity, or increased activity of monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B, an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter dopamine),” says Dr. Shawn Messonnier.

Signs of Canine Cognitive Disorder

You may notice the following changes in your dog:

  • Disorientation
  • Sleeping more often
  • Changes in how they interact with people
  • Don’t appear to recognize familiar people or places
  • ‘Accidents’ in the house when he was previously house trained
  • Less able to learn
  • Hearing loss
  • Separation anxiety
  • Restless
  • Irritable
  • Destructive behavior
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Barking for no reason

If you see several of these signs, it’s time to take your best friend to a veterinarian. Your vet will rule out other causes of mental deterioration before diagnosing Canine Cognitive Disorder.

“Signs can be divided into four categories,” writes Diane Frank, DVM, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montreal.

  1. Loss of recognition and cognition
  2. Loss of house training
  3. Disorientation
  4. Nocturnal activity (changes in the sleep-wake cycle)

Scientists have developed a canine dementia rating scale (CADES) based on changes in dogs’ behaviour, allowing them to identify various stages of cognitive impairment: mild, moderate and severe.

Others prefer to follow the acronym, DISHA.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction DISHA Chart

Natural Support for Dogs With Cognitive Dysfunction

Please consult with a veterinarian before giving supplements to your dog, or making changes in their diet. Some supplements may aggravate existing conditions or interact with medication.

The following supplements are often used to improve cognitive dysfunction, along with a natural diet.

  • Soy Phatidylcholine (Lecithin/Choline) is commonly prescribed by Veterinarians, often as Cholodin (a dietary supplement that helps various conditions in senior dogs).
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B15 (Dimethylglycine or DMG)
  • Astragalus
  • Alfalfa
  • Oatstraw
  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)
  • Horsetail
  • Peppermint
  • Plant enzymes

Clinical trials involving natural supplements for the treatment of canine cognitive dysfunction are limited, and most require further study. They’ve shown promising results so far, and the anecdotal evidence is strong for some.

One such study, Nutritional Supplementation in Cases of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, found “a significant difference between the treated and the placebo groups in relation to improvement in their scores for disorientation, changes in interaction and house soiling behaviour… These results support the clinical practice of nutritional supplementation as a valuable component of the therapeutic approach in cases of canine cognitive dysfunction.”

Another study concludes there are three treatment pathways, one of which is an antioxidant diet and nutraceutical supplements to reduce the progression of the illness, along with environmental enrichment and stimulation to keep the brain active.

Watching our pets deteriorate with age can be heartbreaking, but you’ll both be happier if you can use natural methods to help them cope and improve. Love and attention can be the most effective tools in delaying progression, and it will comfort your confused dog as he tries to make sense of his mental decline.

Alejandro Seisdedos Benzal and Alba Galán Rodríguez. Recent developments in Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. Pet Behavior Science, Volume 1, 2016.
Messonnier, Shawn DVM. Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats: Your A-Z Guide to Over 200 Conditions, Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements. 2001.
Aladar Madari, et al. Assessment of severity and progression of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome using the CAnine DEmentia Scale (CADES). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 171, October, 2015.
Sarah Elizabeth Heath, et al. Nutritional supplementation in cases of canine cognitive dysfunction—A clinical trial. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 105, Issue 4, July, 2007.

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