Can dogs have dementia? Could my dog be going senile? YES
Many dog owners are unaware of it, canine cognitive dysfunction, or CCD (also known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome), affects a significant portion of the senior dog population. The advances in veterinary medicine and improved owner care that have helped dogs live longer have also increased the incidence of CCD, but as many as 85 percent of cases may go undiagnosed.
What Is Dog Dementia?
Dog Dementia or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), an umbrella term for four separate cognitive forms, is an age-related neurobehavioral syndrome in dogs leading to a decline in cognitive function that can be devastating to the human/canine relationship. The forms are as follows:
Depression occurring in the dog’s later years, like chronic depression in humans. Several factors may be involved, but untreated anxieties seem to play a key role. Because some of the symptoms of canine dementia— circling, wandering and house soiling—often result in the dog’s confinement, anxiety can increase, which, in turn, worsens the symptoms. Other symptoms of this form of CCD include lethargy, sleep disorders, decreased learning and vocalizing.
This often involves loss of awareness of body length and size. Dogs with dysthymia often get stuck, behind furniture, in a corner. All they must do is walk backwards, but they do not know that. Other signs include disrupted sleep-wake cycles; constant growling, whining or moaning; and aggressive behaviour. If you interrupt a dog while he is in a dysthymic state, he can get mad and bite. Causes of this form are thought to include hyperadrenocorticism (such as Cushing’s disease) and long-term steroid therapy.
In old dogs, hyper-aggression is associated with the dysfunction of structures related to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Cortical tumours may also be involved. Dogs with this form of CCD lose their ability to communicate with other animals. They neither give appeasing signals to other pets in the house nor understand when others send them. They bite first and warn second.
This involves a profound decline in cognitive ability. It is the closest thing to Alzheimer’s in humans. They just do not seem to learn well in any form anymore. They forget familiar features of their lives, including other pets and people. When it is more advanced, they forget who their owners are.
As with human dementia, the causes of dementia in dogs are not well known, but accumulations of sticky proteins called beta-amyloid plaques around neurons and the breakdown of neurons resulting in so-called neurofibrillary tangles are the leading culprits. As in humans, both phenomena affect the brain by interrupting nerve impulse transmission.
Signs of Dementia in Dogs
- Pacing back and forth or in circles (often turning consistently in one direction)
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Staring into space or walls
- Walking into corners or other tight spaces and staying there
- Appearing lost or confused
- Waiting at the “hinge” side of the door to go out
- Failing to get out of the way when someone opens a door
- Failing to remember routines, or starting them and getting only partway through
IF you have any concerns about your elderly dog please seek advise from us sooner rather than later. There are things we can do to help!