Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS) is a quite common progressive neurodegeneration disease in older dogs that has many similarities to dementia in people. Therefore, improving our knowledge of its causes and treatments may benefit people suffering from dementia. There is no known cure but in recent years there has been a lot of research into CCDS and our knowledge of preventing and treating it has increased considerably.
The cause of CCDS is thought to be the same as dementia in people and it may be the build of beta amyloid plaques in the brain and free radical damage to the brain neurons. The result is that brain neurons cannot communicate properly with one another which leads to the classic clinical signs of CCDS. It has been reported that 68% of dogs over 15 years of age and 28% of dogs over 12 years of age show at least one clinical sign of CCDS. However, because large breeds of dogs age more quickly than smaller breeds it can affect large dogs as early as 6 years of age.
Other diseases such as endocrine diseases, epilepsy, liver disease, and musculoskeletal problems can have similar clinical signs to CCDS. Your Vet will take a full clinical history, perform a clinical examination, and do a urine analysis and a full haematology and biochemistry blood sample. There is no diagnostic test for CCDS, so the diagnosis is made on ruling out other diseases and the clinical signs.
Dogs can become disorientated leading them to stare at walls and floors and they may become stuck behind furniture.
They may become aggressive, irritable, walk-in circles, lick themselves excessively and bark a lot more.
Sleep changes such as sleeping more during the day or difficulty sleeping at night are quite common early signs of CCDS.
Dogs may urinate and defaecate in the house.
Memory loss can lead to difficulty performing tasks they once knew or learning new tricks.
Anxiety can lead to panting, moaning, or shivering.
Vision impairment is the most common clinical sign and one report showed that 98% of dogs with CCDS had vision impairment. Loss of smell is also quite common.
Dogs may no longer react to their name or their owner’s voice.
Dogs start off with one clinical sign that then progresses to other clinical signs because this is a progressive neurogenerative disease. Therefore, it is important that pet owners are aware of this disease and can quickly recognise its clinical signs. Then their Veterinary Surgeon can advise on appropriate behavioural, diet, drug, and supplement advice.
Management and treatment.
My first advice is to feed a commercial raw food diet because it has a better nutritional composition, which is so important for cognitive health, than ultra-processed tinned food and kibble. Also, kibble is high in cell damaging advanced glycation end products (AGEs). I would also feed a fibre supplement for dogs that contains prebiotics to support the gut microbiome because the Gut-Brain Axis has been proven to be so beneficial in dogs and people. One such supplement is our Holistic Doggie Fibre that you can find on our website.
The brain works like a muscle, use it and it gains strength, if you do not use it then you lose it. Therefore, for dogs with CCDS brain stimulating exercises are so important. They are also important in younger dogs in trying to prevent CCDS.
Mental stimulation and enrichment are crucial for all dogs. There are many benefits and gains to be had for providing enrichment for older dogs and of course for younger dogs. There are also consequences for not stimulating your dog’s brain. Cognitive enrichment is an activity that gets your dog’s brain whirring properly. Did you know that mental stimulation is just as crucial to a dog as physical exercise? It is actually more tiring than a dog walk. Only five minutes of mental exercise equates to an hour of physical activity. Therefore, these exercises can help your dog if they are suffering from CCDS.
Let us look at the benefits of Enrichment.
Prevent boredom, such as destructive behaviour.
Stimulate and assist in brain growth.
Improves your dog’s problem solving skills.
Builds confidence and social skills.
Allows your dog to be a dog engaging in natural and instinctive behaviours.
Allows for a more balanced and happier dog, lack of stimulation and enrichment can lead to depression.
For senior dogs keeping their brains active can also keep them younger and even live longer. Physical exercise is also important for older dogs to keep their muscles and joints moving and to manage their weight.
Enrichment for dogs with CCDS.
Chew toys for senior dogs. Chewing is a natural behaviour for dogs. It not only helps to keep them occupied but when a dog chews they release endorphins to their brains giving them a calming and a feel good factor. It is important to select chew toys for senior dogs that are not too hard because older dogs’ teeth are generally worn down.
Kongs are more than a chew toy for dogs. It is also a food stuffing puzzle for them too. For older dogs select the purple senior Kong because these are softer with more forgiving rubber, so they do not harm an older dogs teeth or gum, or jaw. Always get the next size Kong up for your dog, because they do not hold as much as you think, and you don’t want your dog getting frustrated.
Puzzles toys are the best way to provide a mental challenge for your dog. Most of these types of puzzles involve your dog working out how to get the treats from the toy. Choose puzzle toys for your senior dog that provide a challenge but are not so difficult that they get frustrated.
A snuffle mat is another wonderful way to provide for your dog’s natural foraging instinct and to provide mental stimulation and relieve boredom. A snuffle mat is made of fleece, and you can hide dry food or treats in it.
Scenting and nose games. The dogs’ sense of smell is one of their most powerful senses. It is often said that a dog’s nose rules their brain. Engage your senior dog in scenting games such as hiding treats around the home, or around your garden.
Learning. Try refreshing their obedience training or teach them a new trick or game. This is great for challenging a dog’s brain and strengthening their bond with you.
When playing games remember to keep the sessions short so that you do not physically overdo your dog.
Mental stimulation for senior old dogs ensures that your older dog gets plenty of mental stimulation and enrichment. This will keep them younger and slow down ageing and they will be happier and calmer. Remember enrichment is not just for the older dogs, start early with your puppy.
Two drugs that your Veterinary Surgeon may prescribe are Anipryl and Vivitonin. Anipryl contains Selegiline that is given to people with Parkinson’s disease. Seventy-five percent of dogs may show an improvement after a month on this drug.
Vivitonin increases blood flow to the brain, increasing its oxygen supply and removing waste products.
Supplements are essential in the treatment of CCDS. I will go through the supplements that I advise.
CBD oil can really help dogs with CCDS, but it can only be prescribed by a Vet to animals in the UK.
Omega 3 supplements for dogs, especially DHA have been shown to improve canine cognitive function and increase levels of phosphatidylserine. One such supplement is our Holistic Doggie Omega.
Phosphatidylserine is a natural phospholipid and brain nutrient with a wide ranging effect on brain function.
L-Carnitine and N-Acetyl Cysteine enhances mitochondrial function and reduces oxidative stress.
Antioxidants mop up free radicals that damage neurons and protect mitochondria from oxidative damage.
Our Holistic Neuro Care contains all these supplements except for CBD oil.
Dr Paul Boland BVSc MRCVS
JP Holistic Nutrition