Canine Cognitive Dysfunction-“Old Age Disease”

Dr. Jennifer Allio

Many pet doINDEXSMALL_bassettg owners notice changes as their furry friend ages, but they don’t really know why this happens or what to do about it.  Hopefully this article will help with questions you may have about your dog’s behaviors.

Canine cognitive dysfunction is what veterinarians are calling an older dog that is otherwise healthy but has shown dramatic changes in behavior with age.  In the same way that we become forgetful as we get older, our pets can experience similar changes in their brain functions.  Examples include; changes in sleep patterns, disorientation, changes in social interactions, house soiling, activity changes, or anxiety.  There is a mnemonic for this disorder that may be helpful (DISH-A).

D – Disorientation.  Your dog may begin to wander around the house in a daze.

I – Interaction.  Your dog no longer wants to be around you, or the opposite, becomes clingy.

S – Sleep/wake.  Your dog begins to sleep longer during the day and not much at night.

H – House soiling.  An otherwise potty-trained dog that begins having accidents.

A – Activity.  A decrease in activity or sudden hyperactivity.

The ability for pets to learn significantly decreases at the ages of 6 to 8 years old.  This does not mean you have to cast your beloved dog out because he is having a hard time sleeping at night.  There is help available.  One of the first things you may want to do is watch your dog at home for any of these changes and make a list of what you see and when you see it, so you can talk to your veterinarian about it.  Your veterinarian may want to run a blood panel to begin ruling out other causes as this disease is typically diagnosed by knowing symptoms, doing a physical exam, and ruling out other disease processes.  Once you and your veterinarian have determined that your pet has canine cognitive dysfunction there are many things you can both do to help your pup live longer and better.

Things you can do at home to help:

  • Provide environmental enrichment. Dog puzzle toys are excellent ways to help your dog’s brain stay active and they can be used with food to entice your pup to learn to play again.  If you use these, be sure to remove all other food sources as a hungry dog will work for food.


o  (Food Maze Video)

  • Provide adequate, controlled exercise. Short leash walks may be all your pup needs to stay active.  A 15 minute walk twice a day can be beneficial to your dog’s brain health and total body health.

  • Work on some basic training to keep it fresh in your dog’s mind. Multiple short sessions of sit, down, or stay can keep minds active.  It only takes 2-3 minutes at a time.
  • Keep your dog safe by confining him or her while you are not home. A safe place with no stairs to fall down or cords to chew on with a soft bed can be helpful when you are not able to be with your pet.  Leave fresh water available if you will be gone for over 3 hours.


Things your veterinarian may do:

  • May run a blood panel or other tests to rule out other potential problems (kidney disease, arthritis, cancer, etc).
  • May prescribe a new diet that is rich in antioxidants, fatty acids, and proteins that help the brain function better. Two current prescription diets include Hill’s b/d and Purina Neurocare.
  • Your veterinarian may prescribe medications to aid in your dog’s cognitive function as well as help him or her sleep better if this is a concern.

As you can see, there are many things that can be done to help your pet stay active and healthy for as long as possible.  Hopefully this article is encouraging to our owners of senior dogs as well as helpful.  As always, continue to work with your veterinarian to provide your pet the best care.


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