Many dogs with some degree of CCD or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome go with out owners even noticing and never get diagnosed. This is often because symptoms are subtle and are gradual changes. CCD is a term that covers four different cognitive forms. It is an age-related neurobehavioral syndrome leading to a decline in cognitive function.
- Involutive depression: Occurs in later years and is similar to chronic depression in humans. Some of the symptoms are circling, wandering, and house soiling. As anxiety worsens the symptoms can worsen as well. Other symptoms of this form could be vocalizing, sleep issues, lethargy, and decreased learning.
- Dysthymia: This form includes loss of body length and size. Dogs with this form often get “stuck” behind furniture or in corners. They can’t figure out how to back up or walk backwards. Other symptoms include disruption in wake/sleep cycles, constant growling, whining or moaning, and general aggressive behavior. Dogs in this stage can easily get mad and bite without knowing.
- Hyper-aggression: Older dogs with this form can be associated with the dysfunction of structures related to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Dogs lose their ability to communicate with other dogs in this form. They also can’t receive messages sent to them and so they bite first and warn second.
- Confusional syndrome: This form involves a major decline in cognitive ability and is the closest to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. They can’t learn well in any form anymore. They forget familiar features in their lives like other pets in the home. Severe cases dogs with this form can even forget their owners.
Causes for CCD are unknown. Changes in the brain, sticky proteins and plaques around neurons interrupt nerve impulse transmission. Diagnosis can be difficult but if you’re noticing any changes listed above contact your veterinarian. Some of these symptoms can point to a serious, and possibly treatable medical condition. When standard testing shows normal then it is time to consider CCD as the cause for dementia like symptoms. There is currently no cure and with humans lifelong holistic care is key. With aging dogs each year their preventive care plans can be tailored to their changing needs. Anti-aging factors can be addressed through diets and supplements if needed.
Treatment of CCD involves management of behavior and environment, enhanced diets perhaps, and medications. Your veterinarian’s goal is to minimalize the symptoms and slow the disease process. Behavior can be properly managed through daytime activities and structured playtime for mental and physical stimulation. Bring your senior pet outside and expose them to sunlight this can help with disruptions in their sleep/wake cycles. As far as environment management it is important to dog proof the house. Making the house a bit more predictable can be helpful and adding sufficient toileting opportunities as they may not be able to “hold it” as long now that they’re aging.
When symptoms become so severe it is affecting your pets quality of life then talk to your veterinarian about end of life care.