As our dogs and cats age, they can suffer from mental decline just like we can.  The changes occur because of mental and physical changes within the cerebrum.  They include atrophy from nerve cell death, deposits of beta amyloid proteins like Alzheimer’s patients, decreased neurotransmitter activity, myelin degeneration or increased monoamine oxidase-B activity which is an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter dopamine.  Recently studies have shown that approximately 48% of dogs over 8 years old, 62% between 11 and 16 years old and 100% of dogs over age 16 show at least one of the symptoms of cognitive disorder.

Symptoms of cognitive disorder include:

  • Increased sleeping, especially during the day
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Restlessness or anxiety
  • Altered interactions with family members
  • Loss of housetraining
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased ability to recognize familiar people or surroundings
  • Standing in the corner
  • Barking at inanimate objects
  • Decreased desire to play

Presently, there is no test for cognitive dysfunction.  A diagnosis is made by ruling out other diseases that cause the same symptoms.  Ultrasounds, routine blood tests and X-rays are used to rule out the other conditions. 

Canine cognitive disorder is a degenerative disease that will require care for the rest of your dog’s life.  Maintaining a simulating environment with a daily routine of exercise, play and training can help slow the progression of the disease.  You can also make minor changes to your home to make it safer and more comfortable for an older dog such as:

  • Night lights to help with navigation in the dark
  • Potty pads near doors in case they are unable to “hold it” until you get home or wake up
  • Orthopedic foam beds to make sleeping more comfortable.  Just make sure it has a washable cover.
  • Feeding a more natural diet
  • Supplementing with antioxidants such as Vitamin E and C, SAMe and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Herbs such as alfalfa, astragalus, Ginkgo biloba, ginseng and gotu kola can also help.

It can be difficult to estimate a life expectancy for a dog with Cognitive Disorder because it is a degenerative disease.  You will need to monitor and track your pet’s quality of life in cooperation with your veterinarian.  Most stable patients will only need twice yearly checkups unless new problems arise.   If you notice any behavior changes contact your veterinarian immediately.