Like dementia in humans, older dogs can develop a neurodegenerative condition known as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS).
According to Dr. Brian Gray Barnett, a veterinarian with the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and the Dog Aging Project research team, “One study found that 28% of 11- to 12-year-old dogs and 68% of 15- to 16-year-old dogs have CCDS. A similar study found that 22.5% of dogs over the age of 9 years show cognitive impairment.”
What are the signs of CCDS in senior dogs? Different dogs can show a variety of symptoms. Dr. Barnett says owners should familiarize themselves with the acronym DISHAL, which stands for disorientation, interactions, sleep-wake cycle changes, house soiling, activity changes, and learning difficulties/memory loss.
- Disorientation: your dog may stare into space, get trapped in corners, or not know which side of the door opens.
- Interactions: look for unusual behavior with people and other animals, such as irritability or aggression.
- Sleep-wake cycle changes: such as increased daytime sleeping or wakefulness at night.
- House soiling: dogs with CCDS may relieve themselves in the house, fail to let owners know when they need to go outside, or relieve themselves upon returning home from a walk.
- Activity changes: your dog may become less active, but she could also show signs of restlessness like pacing and circling.
- Learning difficulties/memory loss: your dog may not be able to learn new tasks or be unable to remember previously learned ones.
Because there can be such a wide range of symptoms, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian if you suspect your dog may be suffering from cognitive decline.
While there is no cure for CCDS, your vet can help you identify ways to make your dog more comfortable. Strategies include treating a contributing medical condition, maintaining a consistent routine, reducing environmental stress factors, introducing enrichment activities, changing diet, and recommending specific supplements and medications.