When you adopted or purchased your now beloved companion animal, in most cases, the farthest thing from your mind was a condition called CCD (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction), also known as dog dementia or even dog Alzheimer’s. As Grandmother’s behavior may shift as the years pass, so may those of your devoted four-legged Rover. While aging is inevitable, if we are aware of the early signs of CCD, many associated upsets can be managed easily, or even avoided. Awareness is the key.
In this blog, I hope to offer you a specific list of the early warning signs of CCD.
Be aware of your breed’s relative age.
We have all heard that a dog’s years can be figured by multiplying their age by 7. Experts these days tell us that is not accurate. Large/giant dogs age much earlier than smaller breeds. Specific health issues encountered along the life experience can seriously impact longevity.
For example, according to petMD, Great Danes are generally considered to be a senior by roughly 5-6 years old, whereas a little Chihuahua may only become a senior at 10-11 years.
DISHA is a widely accepted acronym used to recognize changes that can be associated with dog dementia (CCD).
D – Is your dog Disoriented?
Confusion and disorientation may happen in normally familiar surroundings.
- When Rover is in the backyard does he go to the wrong door or wrong side of the door to come in?
- Does he wander behind a couch and seem lost or not know how to get out?
- Have you found your pet in a different room, staring at the wall at bedtime?
- Can Rover find his dog bowl for food? Or water?
I – How are your dog’s Interactions with people and other animals?
Changes in your dog’s internal wellness, mental or physical, can affect the way he interacts with others.
- Is your previously happy and sociable pup acting cranky and irritable?
- Has he, out of the blue, growled at other animals or children? Perhaps even lashed out and snapped.
- Have you noticed your dog withdrawing from family and ignoring favorite play and cuddle times?
- Does she bark when the postman comes to the door like she used to?
- Is her favorite treat as exciting as it used to be?
S – Have Sleep/wake cycles changed?
Dogs tend to be very habitual with their sleep patterns. As in humans with dementia, this is one of the more specific symptoms related to CCD.
- Does Rover now pace through the night when once he was a sound sleeper?
- Is he is now doing things at night that he used to do during the day, and vice-versa, like being up and active all night, and sleeping all day long?
H – Is your house-broken dog now House-soiling?
A housetrained dog is a welcomed one almost anywhere. House-soiling is one of the most common symptoms of cognitive dysfunction, and one of the primary situations responsible for pet parents relinquishing up dog ownership.
- Is your previously house-trained dog all of a sudden making mistakes? And mistakes. And mistakes.
There are many other reasons that house-soiling mistakes are made, MANY OF THEM CAN BE RELATED TO HEALTH ISSUES – talk to your vet ASAP!
A – Has your dog’s willingness to engage in Activity diminished?
Dogs with cognitive dysfunction are often less interested in exploration and discovery.
- Is Sweetie as excited to see you when you come home as she used to be? (big clue!)
- Does her favorite toy still excite her when you want to play?
- Is “fetch” still her happy time?
- Does she jump up when you mention a “walk”?
Are Rover’s symptoms really dog dementia?
It’s critical to differentiate between physical and mental issues, “normal” aging and physiological dysfunction. Please don’t assume that your dog is “just getting older” should you notice symptoms we’ve mentioned above because there are many disease processes that create similar issues.
- Arthritis – joint pain can cause snappy, irritable Interactions. Pain can also create Activity level changes like lack of interest in movement and sometimes, a desire to isolate and sleep.
- Kidney issues – can create House-soiling, possibly appetite changes and Activity changes
- Hearing and/or Sight loss – can certainly be Disorienting
- Diabetes – can result in Disorientation
- Cancer – can manifest in many different ways
Veterinarians recommend a check-up twice yearly, and this becomes much more important as your dog ages.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the physiological changes that can affect the mental state of your pet. Again, we can’t overstate the importance of regular check-ups with your vet.
Notice dog dementia changes early!
For everyone’s sake, be aware and notice changes early. Some symptoms may come on slowly, so when you meet with your vet, it will be good to report any changes after you consider the DISHA questions we offered above. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late for the situation to improve.
Note: there isn’t necessarily a progression to the symptoms of CCD. They can appear seemingly overnight in some situations.
Vets and natural health care practitioners offer varied treatment protocols for CCD, depending on your dog’s specific situation.
Once physical issues are ruled out, a good beginning treatment plan combines dietary change along with efforts to enhance your dog’s environment.
A commonly suggested dietary change is a shift from kibble to a less processed food. A good choice might be a food that is pre-prepared and refrigerated in the dog food aisle. We discussed food differences and options in our recent book, Natural Pet Care for Dogs.
Stimulation through consistent walks and visits with other dogs, added playtime with loved humans, even doggie treat toys all support both physical and mental well-being.
Supplements can be protective and helpful.
Pesticides(1) and metals(2) create a toxic burden on the body and have been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. From a practical perspective, daily detoxification and support of your dog’s organs and tissues throughout his life is a great idea. Additionally, research has suggested that probiotics have been found to be both preventative and therapeutic in cases of Alzheimer’s Disease.(3)
The upsets that can occur with Canine Cognitive Decline are managed more easily when you notice the signs in the early stage. In some circumstances, you may even experience a reversal of the condition. Awareness of the process can create a new chapter of loving compassion for the entire family.