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Canine Cognitive Disfunction

May 15, 2011 11:56AM ● By By Gene Giggleman, DVM

In dogs, as in people, the medical implications of true aging are progressive and irreversible. Dogs reaching the final third of their lifespan undergo a variety of physical and metabolic changes that may cause them discomfort or change their behavior.

The acuity of the senses: sight, hearing, taste and smell, are reduced. Metabolism slows, the immune system weakens and tissues become dehydrated. Muscle and bone mass decline, and arthritis may affect the joints. There is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and endocrine, renal and hepatic disorders. The brain undergoes a series of changes that result in cognitive decline, as well. It is generally believed (and studies have shown) that a dog’s cognitive ability tends to decline with age.

Cognitive dysfunction in dogs affects spatial orientation, housetraining and recognizing and reacting to human family members. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is the age-related deterioration of cognitive abilities characterized by behavioral changes in dogs that cannot be wholly attributed to general medical conditions such as neoplasia, infection or organ failure.

More simply, CDS is caused by physical and chemical changes that affect the brain function in older dogs. CDS often is referred to simply as old dog syndrome or senility, and is manifested by one or more of the following four signs, in the absence of any physical cause:

Disorientation—wanders aimlessly; appears lost or confused in house or yard; gets stuck in corners or under/behind furniture; stares into space or walls; has difficulty finding the door; stands at hinge side of door; does not recognize familiar people; does not respond to verbal cues or names; appears to forget reason for going outdoors.

Interaction—seeks attention less often; less likely to stand for petting; walks away while being petted; less enthusiasm upon greeting; no longer greets family members.

Activity—sleeps more during the day; sleeps less during the night; decrease in purposeful activity; increase in wandering or pacing; barks at night for no reason.

Housetraining—urinates indoors; has accidents indoors soon after being outside; does not ask to go outside.

In a pet owner study, nearly half of all dogs aged 8 years and older showed at least one sign of CDS. Because older dogs may also develop other multiple health problems, diagnosis of CDS can only be reached after other medical conditions that have behavioral components have been ruled out. A thorough history, physical and neurological exam and laboratory tests are necessary to make a diagnosis of CDS.

There are drugs used to treat this condition; the one approved is Anipryl. Unfortunately there is no cure, and most dogs get progressively worse with time. I have adjusted these dogs, and in some cases it helps. I have also used cold laser with maybe a little success. The most important thing is to give the dog space, and do not make drastic changes in the routine or environment. I supplement these dogs with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and antioxidants such as CoQ10 and Vitamin E. I also make sure they are on a good diet and have proper levels of probiotics in their diet.

Dr. Gene Giggleman is dean of academic affairs for Parker University and a practicing veterinarian with more than 24 years experience. He is co-developer of the Parker University animal chiropractic program and has adjusted animals for 15 years. He is certified in animal chiropractic by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.

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