Dementia in Dogs

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction common in aging pets

By Dr. Lisa McFaddin

I frequently hear clients say his or her dog is just getting older, and that is why they have started peeing or pooping in the house, seem confused, get grumpy easily, or have lost their hearing. Maybe your dog is not just getting old, maybe there is something more going on.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is the dog equivalent to dementia in humans. CCD affects at least 14 percent of senior dogs, but less than 2 percent of dogs with CCD are officially diagnosed by their veterinarians.

Numerous studies have shown there are significant similarities between CCD and human Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Both CCD and AD are progressive incurable degenerative diseases of the brain, known as neurodegenerative disorders, and are caused in-part by the accumulation of excessive amounts of a protein called β-amyloid in the brain tissue and its blood vessels.

The most common signs seen in dogs with CCD follow the acronym “DISHA” which stands for Disorientation in familiar environments, Interaction changes with people and other animals, Sleep-wake cycle disturbances, House-soiling, and Activity level decline. CCD is a diagnosis of exclusion; other causes for the signs must be eliminated before a dog can be said to have CCD. Multiple diseases mimic the signs commonly associated with CCD. The chart below outlines the common signs seen with each letter in DISHA and other diseases that could cause those signs.

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To diagnose CCD, your veterinarian will likely discuss the most common signs seen with CCD to see if they fit your dog’s symptoms, run baseline blood work (checking red and whites cell counts, chemistries, and thyroid level), and run a urinalysis. Your veterinarian may also recommend chest or abdomen x-rays, an abdominal ultrasound, blood pressure, or special eye tests to rule-out other common diseases.

Once your pet has been diagnosed with CCD, a plan will be discussed to delay progression. Remember, this is a progressive degenerative disease and, unfortunately, your pet will continue to worsen. The goal of treatment is to provide excellent quality of life for as long as possible. Diet, medication, nutritional supplements, and possibly holistic options and the categories generally used to treat CCD. The table below provides further information for each category.

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While CCD is a frustrating and potentially devastating condition for your pet, there are numerous options to manage signs and improve quality of life. Monitoring your dog for the common signs associated with CCD is crucial for early detection. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the earlier treatment can be started, and the bigger the impact on disease progression.

Lisa Pinn McFaddin, DVM, is a graduate of Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Blacksburg, Virginia. She has completed several courses for post-graduate credentials in various aspects of veterinary integrative medicine: certification for veterinary acupuncture (CVA) through The Chi Institute, Reddick, Florida; certification for Chinese Veterinary Food Therapy (CVFT), post-doctorate in Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapy (CVSMT) through The Healing Oasis, Sturtevant, Wisconsin; certification through the College of Animal Chiropractors (CCOAC); and a post-doctorate in Chinese Veterinary Herbal Medicine (Graduate Diploma CVHM) through the College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies (Australia). Dr. McFaddin is a full-time veterinarian and the medical director at Independent Hill Veterinary Clinic in Manassas, Virginia.


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