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Like people, dogs are susceptible to the negative effects of
aging on the mind and body. Canine cognitive dysfunction or "doggie
dementia" is a disorder similar to dementia in people.
"Signs for canine cognitive dysfunction include problems with
learning, housetraining, awareness of surroundings, and problems
with the wake/sleep cycle," said Dr. Joseph Mankin, clinical
assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. "Dogs may also appear confused,
have increased episodes of restlessness, and may have less interest
in playing or appear irritable."
Mankin says that cognitive dysfunction cases increase with age.
About a third of dogs show one or more signs at the age of 11 and
most dogs show signs of the dysfunction at the age of 16.
At this time, there is no breed predisposition. The only common
indicating factor for dogs is the age.
If you feel your dog is showing signs of mind degeneration,
visit with your veterinarian to learn more about possible diagnosis
and treatment plans.
"The syndrome is diagnosed based on the patient's clinical signs
and activity/behavioral changes at home," said Mankin. "There is
not a specific test to diagnose the problem, although changes on
advanced imaging of the brain can give some indication."
"Treatment of cognitive dysfunction includes certain
medications, environmental changes, and changes in diet," explained
Mankin. "With this syndrome, there may be an association with the
lack of dopamine and there are medications that can increase
dopamine activity that can help with a patient's clinical
Diets high in antioxidants can also be beneficial for your pet's
treatment plan. Hills has a line of diet options.
Mankin recommends implementing increased activity among your dog
to help slow the degenerative process.
"Environmental enrichment in the form of playing with toys,
interacting with other dogs, and learning new tricks can be
effective in lessening the signs of cognitive dysfunction," added
There are also no proven preventative measures that an owner can
take. The best recommendations are to keep your dog healthy by
giving it a balanced diet and continuing its exercise. Canine
cognitive dysfunction is a function of the brain aging, and
unfortunately most of the time it is inevitable.
It is important to remember that not all dogs will display all
the signs of this dysfunction. That is why it is important to take
your dog to your veterinarian if it displays any behavioral
changes. Your veterinarian can look for common disorders that might
explain what is going on with your pet.
"If your pet is starting to become confused, having accidents in
the house, or displaying any behavioral changes, an appointment
with your regular veterinarian would be indicated," said Mankin.
"There are several other disease processes that can start with
similar clinical signs, so an exam and performing routine blood
work is the first step in diagnosing the condition and ruling out
other common causes."
If initial test results do not explain the cause for your pet's
abnormal behavior, or if the results suggest additional information
is required, the next step may be to see a specialist like Mankin.
Your veterinarian can refer you to a veterinary neurologist whom
can help determine what the problem is.
The natural aging process can be as painless as possible for
your dog if you continue routine checkups with your veterinarian,
and continue to be aware of your dog's habits.
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