In everyday terms, people usually refer to cognitive disorder in dogs as doggie Alzheimer's or dementia. Despite all the jokes that they may make about senior dogs regressing and becoming absent-minded, canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a real medical condition.
Many dogs that act old aren't really old at all. Rather, they could be suffering from kidney, thyroid, or adrenal gland disease, or osteoarthritis or periodontal disease. Once these conditions are diagnosed, treatment can help alleviate symptoms. Once the pain and infection subsides, the dog can feel a bit of his former youthful self return.
For most owners, CDS is usually a very difficult condition to live with. Seeing the shell of your formerly spry and loving dog spend hours sleeping or ignoring you when you come home is disheartening. On the one hand you can't help feel sad, but on the other, your beloved dog may have developed some new habits that can be extremely annoying, such as messing in the house or barking at inanimate objects.
What causes CDS?
Medical researchers don't know the reason why some dogs age more gracefully than others, but they do know that physical and chemical changes in the brain are responsible for CDS. Extracellular protein buildup within the senior canine brain is very similar to what people with Alzheimer's disease may experience.
While some dogs may begin developing this disorder as young as five years of age, others may be ten or eleven years or older depending on breed. In giant and large breeds, odd changes in behaviors can begin occurring at age five, while the onset of symptoms in small and toy breeds may not appear until the dog is twelve or thirteen years of age.
There are several signs of CDS, and not every dog will have every symptom:
Barking or howling for no reason
Bathroom accidents in the house
Not recognizing familiar people or surroundings
Standing in a corner
Ways to Help
Although your dog has lived a long and full life, don't assume that a few problem behaviors automatically mean that it's time to say goodbye. You can take some measures to help him and preserve your sanity as well.
Try taking your dog outside for more frequent bathroom breaks and accept the fact that you'll just be cleaning up more messes in the house on a daily basis. Keep cleanup supplies where they are easily and quickly accessible. Now's probably not a good time to take an extended vacation with your dog or leave her behind with a house sitter or at a boarding facility. Your dog is accustomed to you and your routine and a new person or surroundings will disorient her even more.
There are effective medications for CDS, but like all drugs, these can have side effects. The natural approach uses antioxidants, L-carnitine, ginkgo, and Cholodin. Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and E; beta -carotene; and the minerals manganese, selenium, and zinc help slow down the aging process by protecting the body from free radical damage. Ginkgo biloba increases circulation to the brain and improves brain function.
If you're unsure whether or not your dog has CDS, your veterinarian can perform laboratory tests to rule out other diseases, such as kidney, thyroid, or adrenal gland disease that exhibit the same symptoms. Unfortunately, there is no single diagnostic test available that can diagnose CDS.
Coenzyme Q10, grape seed extract, bilberry, and cysteine may also be helpful, but ask your veterinarian which antioxidants he recommends and how much to give your dog. Studies reveal that choline supplements may prevent cognitive disorder and restore mental alertness.