When my best friend’s dog, Archie, was diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, I promised Clare I would find out all I could about the syndrome. I turned to Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, for assistance — mostly because she has written extensively on the topic (see the “Related Reading” section, below) but also because she’s a really nice and helpful person.
I posed the questions; Dr. Tobiassen Crosby provided the answers.
What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is a fancy way of saying senior dementia or age-related senility. In general, the hallmark of this condition is confusion and disorientation. There are many other diseases that can cause similar signs (hypothyroidism, diabetes, brain tumors), so it is important to rule out other potential medical reasons for altered mental capacity first.
Is it similar to human Alzheimer’s in the way it destroys the brain or, despite similar symptoms, is it a very different disease in dogs?
Yes, there are similarities in that scientists have seen amyloid (a type of protein) plaques in the brain in senior dogs. They have found that these protein deposits affect some areas of cognition in dogs as in humans, but not all areas and types of learning.
For more information, please see “Beta-amyloid accumulation correlates with cognitive dysfunction in the aged canine” at PubMed.gov.
What are the symptoms of CCD?
Confusion and disorientation in a variety of circumstances including:
- Altered relationships with household humans and pets, as well as visitors to the home. The formerly friendly dog may become aggressive, tense, anxious, or vice versa.
- Getting “lost” in a corner or behind a door; after asking to go outside, seeming lost upon getting there.
- Losing housetraining skills.
- Vocalizing (barking, whining) inappropriately or excessively.
- Panting and restlessness, especially at night.
- General confusion between day and night.
At what age does it usually occur — and are certain breeds more disposed to it?
The age of “senior” varies with the breed: younger for large breeds and older for small breeds. There are also individual and breed differences. For example, seven is considered senior for a Great Dane, and twelve to fifteen is senior for a miniature poodle.
Pfizer, makers of Anipryl (selegiline HCl) for CCD, cites these statistics on their web site (note: CCD is sometimes called CDS, for Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome):
In one study at the University of California-Davis, 62% of 11- to 16-year-old dogs showed signs in at least one category of CDS.[1,2] In a pet owner survey, nearly half of dogs age 8 and older showed at least one sign associated with CDS.
I do not know of any breed predispositions to CCD.
How does a vet test for CCD? Does the test determine how advanced the condition is?
There isn’t a test for CCD. The most common method is via owner observations, including a history of what is happening in the home. It should be stressed that a geriatric physical exam plus bloodwork, urinalysis and possibly radiographs need to be performed prior to diagnosing CCD. As mentioned above, there are several medical conditions that mimic the CCD signs, and they must be addressed prior to treating for CCD.
Here is an owner checklist for CCD.
Once a CCD diagnosis and treatment plan have been established, the veterinarian can monitor progress with this behavior form.
What are the treatments, if any — alternative as well as prescription? How effective have they been?
Opinions are mixed on treatments, both standard Rx and alternative. Individual differences/responses to therapy also come into play. The first and best-known medication is Anipryl. Here is a recent comment on my About.com blog about this drug:
I started my 14-year-old Bichon on Anipryl last week after reading and identifying his symptoms (and having the vet verify) early stages of dementia. The effects were almost immediate!!! Nights were the worst because he would pace and pace and pace, but at 9PM the night of his first 1/2 pill, he was sleeping soundly and peacefully!!! I am so thankful for Anipryl and pray that you all have the same success we did.
You can see all comments on this post here.
New evidence, similar to findings in humans, suggests that antioxidants in the diet may promote cognitive health and slow the process of decline. Nutritional support products for pets include Senilife by Ceva and b/d Diet by Hill’s pet foods.
Are there ways to prevent the onset of CCD?
Keeping pets active, physically and mentally (fight boredom with training exercises and interactive toys) and at a good weight throughout their life helps prevent CCD and promotes overall health. Also, practicing preventative health — visit with your veterinarian at the first signs of behavioral or medical changes.
1. Neilson JC, Hart BL, Ruehl WW: Cited in Hart BL, Hart LA: Selecting, raising and caring for dogs to avoid problem aggression. JAVMA, 210(8):1129-1134; 1997.
2. Ruehl WW, Hart BL: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. In Psychopharmacology of Animal Behavior Disorders (Dodman NH, Schuster L, eds.). Boston: Blackwell Scientific, 1998; pp. 283-304.
3. Proprietary market research, 1998. Pet owner sample size: 255. Data on file, Pfizer Animal Health.