forgetaboutit: cognitive dysfunction syndrome in dogs

Posted by Dr. Jules Benson on Dec 28 2010


So it’s normal for us to be a little forgetful as we get older, right? While Fido isn’t going to forget where he put your car keys, he may start to have problems remembering to tell you he needs to go out to the bathroom! Just a normal part of getting old, right? Yes and no.



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Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is an increasingly recognized (and potentially treatable) condition in our aging canines. Studies suggest that almost one third of dogs over the age of 11, and all dogs over 16, suffer from a degree of CDS. This can affect your pet’s memory, learning, housetraining, the ability to judge spaces/distances and may change how they react to human family members. Current thinking suggests the changes in the brains of dogs with CDS are similar to those in humans with Alzheimer’s Syndrome. Also, dogs with CDS can suffer from a reduction in dopamine levels.



The most common signs that pet parents see in CDS patients include disorientation, confusion, staring into space, disturbed sleep patterns, getting stuck in corners, restlessness, barking, separation anxiety and even obsessive licking. Treatment focuses on preventing dopamine depletion (by using a drug called L-deprenyl), slowing damage to brain cells by free-radicals (by feeding specialty diets high in anti-oxidants) and environmental enrichment (by having them do crosswords…. just kidding!). Drug treatment can be expensive, so having pet insurance that will cover your pets well into their older years is important.

Joking aside, keeping your pet mentally stimulated can really help slow mental degeneration. So, if you feel that your pooch is mentally past his prime, talk to your vet about activities and treatment options.

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