Can You Prevent Dementia in Your Dog?

Posted: 05/02/2022 | BY: Erin Cain | Categories:

There are many different symptoms of dementia in humans, but what about dogs? Dementia is an ailment that affects people’s cognitive abilities. It can cause memory loss, difficulty with problem-solving, and other symptoms that make it hard to function day-to-day. The symptoms of canine dementia are similar to those found in humans, but they can sometimes be more severe. Learn about the signs of canine dementia and how to prevent it in older dogs.

An old Labrador lounges on the floor.

What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)?

Dog dementia, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), is a condition similar to Alzheimer’s disease, where the aging process affects dogs’ brains over time, causing changes in behavior. Research shows that signs of CCD are found in 50% of dogs over the age of 11. For dogs 15 years and older, there is a 68% chance of developing dementia. Sadly, that means that many of our senior dogs will encounter CCD as the dogs age.

The exact cause of dementia in dogs is unknown. Still, many veterinary professionals agree it has something to do with free radicals damaging cells and a decrease in neurotransmitters that help send signals to the brain’s receptors. Not enough blood flowing to the dog’s brain may also contribute to this condition.

CCD is a progressive disease. More than half of the dogs with at least one clinical sign will develop more symptoms within 12 months. Additionally, giant dog breeds age more quickly than other breeds due to their size, which means they risk developing CCD between 5 – 7 years old.

What Causes Some Dogs to Develop Dementia?

There has yet to be a definitive cause of dementia found in dogs. Researchers do know that small breed dogs are more susceptible to dementia than larger breed dogs.

So far there are two possible causes for the development of dementia:

Dopamine Depletion

It is thought that canine cognitive dysfunction is associated with a depletion of the neurotransmitter called dopamine. While this line of research is promising, the cause of the depletion has yet to be discovered.

Plaque Build-Up

When humans get a build-up of protein plaque in the brain, it is believed that is leads to Alzheimer’s. It is thought that this same mechanism is responsible for dementia developing in dogs.

Signs and symptoms of dog dementia

The symptoms of canine dementia are often challenging to detect. Often, dog owners brush off the signs of CCD as their dog “just getting old.” However, early detection of dog dementia is essential for your dog’s future. All dog owners should keep an eye out for these common symptoms and signs of dementia in their dogs:

  • changes in personality
  • changes in normal behavior
  • decreased desire to walk or play
  • lack of self-grooming
  • accidents inside the house
  • staring blankly at nothing
  • oversleeping or experiencing insomnia
  • acting withdrawn
  • loss of appetite
  • aggression or extreme irritability
  • disorientation or confusion
  • decreased interactions with pet parents
  • aimless wandering
  • barking for no apparent reason
  • generalized anxiety
  • restlessness or pacing
  • anxiety around loud noises and sounds
  • failure to respond to familiar commands or their name
  • avoiding attention
  • getting lost in familiar locations and spaces
  • self-isolating
  • whimpering or howling at odd times
  • different sleep patterns
  • interruption during the sleep-wake cycle

Even subtle changes in your older dog’s behavior can indicate early onset dog dementia. Call your vet for an appointment if you see some of the above symptoms or know your dog is just not herself.

An older bulldog runs up to a Kong toy.

Dog dementia diagnosis and treatment

Signs of cognitive dysfunction in aging dogs can be difficult to diagnose because they are often mistaken for other age-related diseases, such as arthritis or kidney disease. To rule out these possible causes, bring them in to the vet for an exam at least once a year.

The veterinarian will examine your pup nose-to-tail and recommend urine tests or blood work. If other causes cannot be ruled out, diagnostic imaging techniques such as X-rays could provide more information on disease conditions that have caused the change in your dog’s quality of life.

There is no way to cure or prevent dog dementia in pets, but treatments are available that can slow the progression of cognitive decline and relieve symptoms. To slow down the progression of a dog’s dementia, here are some options for improving your old dog’s life.

Prognosis for Dogs With Dementia

Sadly, dementia is a progressive disease and there is no known cure. The good news is that canine cognitive dysfunction tends to affect senior dogs rather than younger dogs. There are also numerous treatment options and prevention ideas to help your dog live a long and happy life. If your dog has been diagnosed with dementia, make a follow-up appointment with your vet to ask any questions you may have and to get the best path forward.

How can you slow down dementia in your dog?

Keep your dog moving, body and mind.

A daily walk, run, or engagement with your dog in regular play sessions increases their blood circulation. This physical activity allows more oxygen and glucose to reach the brain tissue. Additional research shows that consistent canine exercise can extend blood vessels in the brain, allowing for better circulation. Keeping the dog’s brain active and keeping the dog physically engaged are essential steps in preventing a quick progression of dementia in dogs.

Schedule time in each walk to let your dog have the opportunity to sniff as much as she wants; new smells are exciting and will keep your dog’s mind sharp. Your senior dog’s activity must stay at a moderate exercise level but maintain regular exercise daily. Overdoing it will only cause the muscles to take in more oxygen that the brain needs.

A great way to ward off canine dementia is to provide your dog with interactive toys that challenge her mind. Puzzle toys are good for stimulating and exercising the brain because they keep thinking creatively. Exercising problem-solving skills keeps a dog’s mind working in new ways, preventing mental stagnation and boredom.

Serve the right brain food.

A dog’s diet is directly linked to cognitive function. Dogs need a nutritious diet full of antioxidants, vitamins C and E, and omega fatty acids for proper brain development. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and E fight against the formation of free radicals, which can damage brain cells and hinder normal brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for promoting cognitive development and preventing memory loss. Daily supplements of Omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce plaque development and buildup in the brain.

It’s not just humans who need to eat healthy foods for their pets. Dogs also benefit from eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which provide them with essential nutrients that can help maintain mental health. Be wary of commercially produced dog food that claims to support canine mental health, as some of these foods lack the necessary ingredients due to burning off during heated processing. Talk with your veterinarian or a certified animal nutritionist to find a properly balanced diet for your old dog.

An older pug waits to go on a walk.

Try canine supplements

Some people try natural supplements as an alternative to medication for CCD. These options can be less expensive and have fewer side effects than traditional treatment, but discuss the use of supplements with your vet before giving any to your dog. Here are some supplements to consider for slowing down CCD:

There are many cognitive supplements on the market, and more are added every year as researchers discover more about which supplements may help reduce the incidence or severity of CCD. Many of these supplements can be purchased from your vet or commercial outlets.

An older black Lab sits near flowers.

Reduce anxiety and stress

Stress and anxiety are clear and concerning symptoms of CCD. There are many ways to manage anxiety and stress in dogs with dementia, including routines and medications. Some dog parents swear by alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or aromatherapy, for keeping their older dog calm. Other pup parents use music therapy daily to soothe their dog’s nerves.

Avoid situations that can cause anxiety for your senior, such as rearranging furniture, changing an established routine, or introducing strange places, people, or other animals. If you must change a pattern, do so slowly to not alarm your old pup. Remember, if your dog’s anxiety and stress seem unmanageable, take her to the vet as soon as possible.

Grow old together with a pet insurance policy.

Aging is inevitable, but you can ensure your golden oldie canine is set for life with a pet insurance policy. Reduce your anxiety for your senior dog with a health insurance plan that will have her covered through the aging process, including medications and therapies, as well as emergency treatment. Get a free pet insurance quote, and let Pet Insurance Review find the top policies available for your dog’s needs. Grow old with your dog, knowing she is in safe hands!

References:

1. Prpar Mehevic, S., Majdic, G. (2019). Canine Cognitive Dysfunction and Alzheimer’s Disease: Two Facets of the Same Disease? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6582309/

2. Nielsen, J., Hart, B., Cliff, K., Ruehl, W. (2001). Prevalence of behavioral changes in associated with age-related cognitive impairment in dogs. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11944367_Prevalence_of_behavioral_changes_associated_with_age-related_cognitive_impairment_in_dogs

3. Andersen, E. (2019). Guide to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Retrieved from https://dogdementia.com/canine-cognitive-dysfunction-guide/#How_Common_Is_Canine_Cognitive_Dysfunction

4. Vaughn, D. (2019). The deets on doggie dementia. Retrieved from https://www.dvm360.com/view/deets-doggie-dementia

5. Segal, T. (2021). Having and Caring for Pets at Home Q&A: Tips and Advice From Experts. Retrieved from https://porch.com/advice/having-and-caring-for-pets-at-home-tips-and-advice-from-the-experts

5. Ruffle Snuffle. (2021). 7 Brain Games For Dogs With Dementia. Retrieved from https://www.rufflesnuffle.co.uk/7-brain-games-for-dogs-with-cognitive-dysfunction-syndrome-cds/#wordproof

6. Pearson, H. (2019). How To Treat Dementia In A Dog Naturally. Retrieved from https://caringforaseniordog.com/dementia-in-older-dogs-a-holistic-approach-to-treatment/

 

 

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