7 Facts About Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Dinky is a 14 year old Rat Terrier who has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, or as it is also known, Canine Senile Dementia.

She’s funny, opinionated, independent, feisty, and down right cute. Unfortunately, because of her disease, which is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people, Dinky also has anger issues, has lost of all of her normal inhibitions that would protect her from harm, and her training skills have disappeared. Her owner, Melissa Duffy of Carlsbad, Calif. says, “Dinky is, emotionally, a toddler. She has mood swings and overreactions, and mild things will sometimes set her off. I’ve learned to carry dog treats in my pocket because when she sees a treat, her mood will change and she’ll be ecstatic.”

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is not new to dogs although more is known about it now than in the past. To diagnose CCD, a veterinarian will want to do a complete physical exam, then will ask you a number of questions about your dog’s health, habits, and the behavioral changes you’ve seen. Some aging issues, such as incontinence, can be a sign of CCD or several other diseases. Unfortunately, if your dog is diagnosed with CCD, there is no cure. There are a few medications available now which may slow the progression of the disease, but deciding if one might be appropriate for your dog will be up to you and your veterinarian as they might interfere with other medications or have side effects. Duffy did find that Dinky was allergic to one of the medications but was able to take another which did seem to help her for a while.

Since dogs with CCD cannot be cured and the disease eventually progresses, management skills are necessary. Don’t expect your old dog to react or behave as he did in his younger years. Instead, react to your dog’s behavior on that day, hour, or minute. Keep in mind, too, that every dog is different just as every human Alzheimer’s patient is unique. Some dogs will have fewer or more symptoms than others. Duffy was willing to share some of her management techniques with us, although you will have to adapt them, or come up with new ones, depending on your dog.

Keep Track of Symptoms

Keeping track of your dog’s symptoms will help you monitor the progression of the disease. Plus, taking that journal with you to share with your dog’s veterinarian will be a huge help to him as well.

As you establish this journal, on paper or on a computer, don’t just say, “Sweetie got stuck behind the bedroom door and couldn’t come out.” Add also the date, time, whether Sweetie had eaten dinner or not, gone for a walk, was in a good mood and seemed happy, or had been grumpy and angry. Add more information than you think might be needed because it’s hard to tell exactly what information will be important.

At each veterinary appointment, take the journal with you.

©istockphoto/lculig

©istockphoto/lculig

Getting Lost at Home

One prevalent symptom of CCD, one that causes many dog owners to finally bring their dog to the veterinarian, is that of the dog getting lost in his own home. The dog may find himself in a room and not remember how to get out of the room or find his way to another room. Other dogs will find themselves in a corner of two walls, or behind a door, and forget how to turn around.

Duffy said that she put a bell on Dinky’s collar so she can, by the ringing of the bell, keep track of Dinky’s whereabouts in the house. If there’s agitated ringing in one spot, Duffy knows that Dinky has gotten herself stuck and Duffy will go looking for her.

CCD experts recommend that any furniture rearranging (or replacement) be put off for a while as that can really upset CCD dogs. In addition, don’t hesitate to use a leash more than you normally might (even in the house) as a leash will allow you to guide the confused dog, especially if he’s stuck behind furniture or he’s forgotten how to use stairs.

Training Disappears

Don’t be angry when your dog’s obedience training skills disappear. He’s not being defiant, bad or defying your authority. Instead, he probably doesn’t remember that it’s not acceptable to raid the kitchen trash can, and instead reacted to the impulse of smelling food in it. Forgetting obedience commands is common as is a loss of house training skills.

Duffy says she doesn’t trust Dinky to ignore trash cans any longer so she puts them out of Dinky’s reach. Since Dinky doesn’t always come when she’s called anymore, she’s closely supervised when she’s in places where that might be a problem.

As the disease progresses, it’s fairly common for the dog to stop responding to obedience commands entirely, and some dogs will even stop responding to their name. Again, don’t get angry; instead, rely more on your tone of voice (a happy voice draws the dog closer to you). Use toys and treats as lures to gain cooperation and the leash to guide and/or manage the dog’s actions.

Emotions May Swing Up and Down

Just as Alzheimer’s patients may have wild mood swings, so may your CCD dog. Some dogs go through periods where they stand or lie down trembling, as if afraid. Many dogs appear withdrawn and as the disease progresses, are unwilling or unable to interact with people, play with toys or even go for a walk.

Anger is, unfortunately, also common. Duffy says Dinky will occasionally fall into a rage, often over reacting to things that shouldn’t cause her to be so angry. When Dinky is so angry, Duffy says if she can, she’ll simply walk away, count to 3, and then return to Dinky, who is then happy to see her. If they are in a position where walking away isn’t possible, Duffy will redirect Dinky’s attention (and emotions) with a treat.

Dinky is, thankfully, very small. Her anger outbursts are manageable. A larger breed dog, however, might be hard to control during an angry outburst. If your larger dog is showing increased episodes of anger, and especially if you’re feeling afraid of your dog, talk to your veterinarian before someone gets hurt.

©istockphoto/LORIANNI

©istockphoto/LORIANNI

Needs for Affection Change

When this disease first begins, many dogs become more clingy than normal. They may sense a change, or perhaps there’s some fear; we don’t know. When questioned, however, many dog owners remember a period of time when the dog wanted to be with the owner all the time, touching, being petted, or simply being close.

During the course of the disease, these moments of affection may be demanded, but don’t be surprised by moments of independence or withdrawal. When your dog doesn’t want affection, don’t force it. At the same time, if at all possible, keep the dog engaged and a part of the family. Hand feed him and do fun things with him for as long as he’s able.

When Your Dog Forgets The Important Things

As the disease progresses, many dogs withdraw from life. The dog forgets how to play or loses interest in playing. The toys, treats, and human and canine friends that once gave him joy no longer do.

Unfortunately, many dogs reach a point where they no longer recognize their owners. Dinky, thankfully, recognizes Duffy most of the time but has moments when she doesn’t. Duffy says, “If she doesn’t recognize me, I only move towards her if I have to. Otherwise backing off calms her. If pressed, she will make bad decisions.”  Those bad decisions might include running away, dashing out in the street, challenging other dogs, and more; all of which Dinky has done since the onset of this disease.

Lastly, towards the end of this disease, some dogs forget how to lap up water and swallow it, forget to eat and how to eat, and where to find food and water.

Duffy says, “I am continually weighing Dinky’s quality of life and happiness. I suppose most of that boils down to keeping her safe, helping her out, adjusting the routine as needed, trying to make myself clear when I want her to do something, using the leash to help her and responding to what she’s doing.”

Talk to Your Veterinarian

Your veterinarian is your dog’s best friend, other than you, during the progression of this disease so keep the lines of communication open. Not only is there medication that might help, especially in the early stages of the disease, but your vet can help you make that final decision later, when the disease has progressed.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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