Our cognitive function slows down as we age, and the same happens to canine brains. Some dogs age without having much decline in their behavior, while others develop more problems.
Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is also known as dog dementia. It’s a condition that mostly affects older dogs, and it’s similar to Alzheimer’s in people. Keep reading to learn how to identify symptoms and find out what causes them so that you can keep your dog’s brain healthy as long as possible.
Symptoms Of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Research by R Fast et al at University of Copenhagen found that anywhere from 14% to 60% of dogs over 8 years old suffer from canine cognitive dysfunction (1). There are a few signs of CCD to look for if you’re worried your dog may be suffering from cognitive impairment.
Does your dog often seem confused about where she is? If she seems nervous and is looking around as if trying to figure out where she is, she may be disoriented. You may notice your dog has difficulty using stairs and doors or gets lost in familiar places, or stuck in corners.
On its own, anxiety is not an indicator of CCD. Dogs can be anxious for a variety of reasons and may act out in different ways, including barking, whining, and chewing more than normal. If your dog is often anxious and also has other symptoms listed here, she may have CCD.
Sleep Pattern Changes
You may notice changes in your dog’s normal sleep cycle. Not sleeping when she normally sleeps or sleeping for shorter periods could be a symptom of CCD. Sleeping during the day and restlessness during the night can be common dogs with CCD.
Changes In Activity Level
It’s normal for dogs to have a reduced activity level as they age. But if you notice a very big change in energy level, keep an eye out for other symptoms as well. If your dog isn’t willing to play or isn’t interested in going outside or on a walk, this can be a sign of CCD.
Having Accidents In The House
If your housetrained dog is starting to have accidents indoors, it may be a sign of CCD. She may have “forgotten” her training or just be confused about where she’s peeing or pooping.
Interacting Differently Than Usual
Dogs with CCD may become less social or change how they interact with you, other pets, and their environment.
So what causes cognitive dysfunction in dogs?
Causes Of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
As dogs age, there are certain changes that happen in the brain that lead to behaviors associated with CCD.
Oxidative stress is thought to play a big role in the degeneration of brain tissue. This happens when dangerous free radicals damage your dog’s cells. Free radicals develop as part of your dog’s normal metabolic processes, but if they’re uncontrolled, they can be harmful.
Lack of essential nutrients may also contribute to CCD. Your dog needs enough of certain vitamins including Vitamins A, C, D, and E as well as essential fatty acids to keep her brain membranes healthy.
Stress is another factor that can lead to cognitive decline. When your dog has chronic stress, it affects her hormones and immune system. This in turn can lead to inflammation, including digestive upset.
Finally, many holistic veterinarians believe that exposure to electromagnetic radiation (from wi-fi, cellphones, and other electronics) can impair cognition. This was evidenced by 2018 research in rats by Gupta et al at Banaras Hindu University in India (2). So it’s a good idea to turn off wireless routers, cellphones, and other electronic devices whenever you’re not using them, especially at night or when you leave your dog alone in the house.
If you catch the symptoms of CCD early enough, you can intervene to slow the cognitive decline.
Natural Ways to Prevent and Treat Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Drugs prescribed for cognitive issues often come with side effects and need to be taken continuously or else the symptoms return. Before you resort to pharmaceuticals to help your dog’s cognitive issues, make sure you try a natural approach.
1. Stimulate Your Dog’s Mind
Make sure to introduce your dog to new games, toys, and puzzles. Offering mental stimulation by keeping your dog curious, interested, and trying to figure new things out may help stimulate cognitive functions. It certainly won’t hurt!
2. Add Probiotics And Prebiotics To Your Dog’s Diet
There is a relationship between the good bacteria in the gut and the brain and it’s the reason the gut is called the second brain. As shown by research at several Mexican and US universities by Romo-Araiza et al, there is an important substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that’s needed for cognitive functions (3, 4). Prebiotics and probiotics can help provide a healthy balance of friendly bacteria in the gut, which modulates inflammation and may activate the release of BDNF.
3. Feed Your Dog Enough Vitamins And Antioxidants
Feeding a raw whole food diet is the best option to ensure your dog gets all the essential nutrients. Include foods that are high in antioxidants in your dog’s diet to keep her brain safe from free radicals. Foods that specifically support brain health include …
- Blueberries: blueberries are high in antioxidants and 2011 research by Krikorian et al at University of Cincinnati found they improve memory in people (5). Another study by Miller et al, at Tufts University and University of New Mexico, showed that blueberries improved cognition in older adults (6).
- Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is also neuroprotective, and is thought to help brain cells grow and thrive. Several studies show that Lion’s Mane can prevent or slow cognitive decline, including 2015 research by Mendell Friedman at the US Department of Agriculture’s Western Regional Research Center that showed this mushroom improved anxiety, cognitive function, and depression (7, 8)
- Brain (organ meat): holistic vets recommend feeding the organ you need to support in your dog. Feeding fresh brain supplies your dog with the essential omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA that support brain health.
- Vitamin D may be particularly important in cognitive declines of aging. Several studies, including a review by Dickens et al at University of Exeter, show that low vitamin D levels are associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s (9). Consider adding a Vitamin D3 supplement to your dog’s diet.
There are many other natural supplements that may help your dog with cognitive issues, including CBD oil, omega-3 fatty acids, melatonin, palmitoylethanolamide (PEA).
The good news is that research shows that CCD does not affect longevity. That means your dog is not likely to have a shorter lifespan if she develops CCD. However, it does mean her quality of life will be reduced … and that can mean yours too! So, for both of your sakes, make sure you do your best to protect her brain health throughout her lifespan.
1. Fast, R. et al. An observational study with long-term follow-up of canine cognitive dysfunction: clinical characteristics, survival, and risk factors. J Vet Intern Med. 2013; 27:822-829
2. Gupta, S.K. et al. Electromagnetic radiation 2450 MHz exposure causes cognition deficit with mitochondrial dysfunction and activation of intrinsic pathway of apoptosis in rats. J Biosci. 2018; 43(2):263-276
3. Romo-Araiza, A. et al. Probiotics and prebiotics as a therapeutic strategy to improve memory in a model of middle-aged rats. Front. Aging Neurosci. 2018.
4. Romo-Araiza, A. and Ibarra, A. Prebiotics and probiotics as potential therapy for cognitive impairment. Medical Hypotheses. 202; 134.
5. Krikorian R, Shidler MD, Nash TA, et al. Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. J Agric Food Chem. 2010;58(7):3996-4000.
6. Miller MG, Hamilton DA, Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B. Dietary blueberry improves cognition among older adults in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Eur J Nutr. 2018 Apr;57(3):1169-1180.
7. Friedman M. Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-Promoting Properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Bioactive Compounds. J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Aug 19;63(32):7108-23.
8. Mori K et al. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2009 Mar;23(3):367-72.
9. Soni M, Kos K, Lang IA, Jones K, Melzer D, Llewellyn DJ. Vitamin D and cognitive function. Scand J Clin Lab Invest Suppl. 2012;243:79-82.