Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Dogs
Cognitive dysfunction syndrome is a condition related to the aging of a dog's brain, which ultimately leads to changes in awareness, deficits in learning and memory, and decreased responsiveness to stimuli. Although the initial symptoms of the disorder are mild, they gradually worsen over time, also known as “cognitive decline.” In fact, clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome are found in 50 percent of dogs over the age of 11, and by the age of 15, 68 percent of dogs display at least one sign.
Symptoms and Types
- Extreme irritability
- Decreased desire to play
- Excessive licking
- Seeming disregard for previously learned training or house rules
- Slow to learn new tasks
- Inability to follow familiar routes
- Lack of self-grooming
- Fecal and urinary incontinence
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Changes in sleep cycle (i.e, night waking, sleeping during the day)
Although the exact cause of cognitive dysfunction syndrome is currently unknown, genetic factors may predispose an animal to develop the condition.
You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health to your veterinarian, including the onset and nature of the symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated the unusual behaviors or complications. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination to evaluate the overall health status and cognitive functions of the dog. Routine blood tests, ultrasounds, and X-rays are also employed to rule out other diseases that may lead to behavioral changes associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
Dogs with this cognitive dysfunction syndrome require life-long therapy and support. However, your help can make a world of difference when it comes to improving your dog's cognitive functions. For example, although it will not “cure” your dog, maintaining a healthy and stimulating environment will help in slowing the progression of “cognitive decline.” This typically involves imposing a daily routine of exercise, play, and training.
In addition to medication and behavioral therapy, your veterinarian may suggest employing a special, balanced diet to improve the dog's cognitive function; i.e., memory, learning ability, etc. This diet is also typically supplemented with antioxidants, vitamin E and C, selenium, flavonoids, beta carotene, carotenoids, Omega-3, and carnitine -- all considered excellent for improving the dog's cognitive functions.
Living and Management
Your veterinarian will evaluate your dog periodically to monitor its response to therapy and the progression of symptoms. However, if you notice any behavioral changes in the dog, notify him or her immediately. For stable patients, twice yearly checkups are sufficient enough, unless new problems arise.