But there’s no reason to despair if your best furry friend is showing signs of canine cognitive decline, or CCD, said veterinarian Dr. Dana Varble, chief veterinarian for the North American veterinary community.
“Too often pet owners think their dogs are ‘slowing down’ and don’t realize there are things they can do to lessen, slow down or even avoid cognitive decline as dogs age,” Varble said.
“Studies show that mental activity and exercise are important for a dog’s mental well-being, just as they are for humans. Stimulating the brain is important and this can be done easily with food puzzles for example “, she said.
Food puzzles are toys that owners hide treats in, and it’s up to the dog to push, shake, or pop the treats out. Such activities help keep dogs’ and cats’ brains engaged, experts say.
Additionally, “nutritional supplements have been shown to improve signs and slow the decline of CCD. There are also special foods for aging dogs,” Varble said.
Age and activity levels are key
Based on age alone, a dog’s chance of developing CCD increased by 68% for each year after a decade of life. But when other factors were taken into account, such as the dog’s breed, existing health conditions, neutering and physical activity, the risk dropped to 52% per additional year of life.
Inactive dogs of the same breed, health, age and neutering status were nearly seven times more likely to contract canine dementia than comparable active dogs. Whether inactivity leads to dementia or vice versa is unclear, the study authors said.
Additionally, dogs with a history of neurological, ocular or auditory disorders had a higher risk of cognitive decline, according to the study.
There was also good news: the study found virtually no cognitive decline in dogs under 10 years old.
What to look for
Veterinarians have been studying the signs and symptoms of canine dementia for years, trying to better understand and help the animals in their care. Here’s what to look for, according to experts:
Disorientation: Dogs with cognitive issues may begin to have trouble moving around the house or wandering around as if lost. They may get stuck behind furniture and not know how to get out or stare aimlessly at the floor, walls, or into space. They may not even recognize family members.
Changes in sleep cycles: Dementia can cause dogs to confuse day and night, and your pet may wake up during the night and start pacing the house, barking or whining. Nighttime insomnia can lead to excessive sleep during the day.
Home training: Some dogs forget years of house training and start relieving themselves indoors, which can make them feel anxious. They may forget to alert you when they need to go outside, or even forget to relieve themselves outside and soil the house when they return.
Changes in social behavior: Interactions with you and other people in their lives may change. A dog can become very clingy, fearful or needy. Or the dog may become antisocial, withdrawing from interactions and spending time alone.
Changes in physical activity: A dog suffering from cognitive decline may lose interest in favorite toys, other dogs and people or start walking aimlessly without being able to calm down.
Take your dog to the vet if you see any of these signs, and the sooner the better, Varble suggested. “Early intervention can prolong and improve the quality of life of our pets,” she said.
The vet can also put your dog on a brain-healthy diet and encourage more physical activity, socialization, and brain stimulation through food puzzles, teaching new tricks, and encouraging sniffles and sniffles on walks.