None of us are getting any younger and although some of us age more gracefully than others we can all hope to live healthier for longer than our parents and grandparents did. This is thanks to a better diet, environment and advances in medicine. Dogs also are living longer, healthier lives, for similar reasons and with increase in age we see an increased incidence of diseases associated with age. With humans we see Alzheimer ’s disease, in dogs the analogous condition is call Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS). The condition affects the brain of the dog, specifically those areas involved in memory, learning and comprehension.
Dogs developing CCDS often lose learnt behaviours, such as toilet training. A dog that has always taken himself out the doggy door to do his business may start toileting inside. You may also notice your dog is unable to interact with you like they used to and seem withdrawn or depressed. Disorientation can also occur as well as compulsive behaviours such as barking for no apparent reason, staring into space, pacing or getting ‘stuck’ in the corner of a room. A change in appetite or personality may occur as well as altered sleeping patterns.
The signs will usually start and progress gradually and are easy to dismiss as ‘just getting old.’ As they become more severe they significantly reduce their quality of life and affect your relationship with your beloved old pet.
The exact cause of CCDS is unknown. There are both physical and chemical changes in the brain that occur with age. The physical changes may include changes in blood flow and plaque formation. Chemical changes may be associated with changes in neurotransmitters, especially dopamine.
Because we don’t know the exact cause, diagnosis, prevention and treatment becomes harder.
We make a diagnosis of CCDS based on symptoms, a comprehensive physical examination and blood tests. What we are really looking for are other diseases or conditions that may be the cause of the signs your pet is showing. The diagnosis is made by excluding other possible causes of the symptoms.
Once a diagnosis has been reached there are treatments that can help. The underlying brain deterioration is often progressive, but through management we aim to slow down the rate of progression and limit the impact of the signs on quality of life. Two medications are registered for use in Dogs to treat CCDS. One alters the level of dopamine in the brain and the other improves blood flow to the brain. Diet can also play an important part in management of the condition. Diets high in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and anti-oxidant have been shown to benefit many dogs. Hills make a prescription diet, called B/D (Brain Diet) that is formulated to have high levels of these compounds and we recommend it be tried for animals that we suspect may be developing the condition.
Not all old dogs develop CCDS but many have deteriorating vision or hearing loss that affects their ability to interact with the world around them. At home, things that you can do to help your dog cope with aging include;
· Developing routines and keep to them. Do this for feeding, play and exercise
· Keep things the same. Don’t move furniture or play items around
· Keep up with exercise but don’t overdo it.
· Keep in mind that your dog’s mind ‘aint what it used to be’. Go slow and make allowance. Make the most of the time you have
Most cases will progress, but as a team we can hopefully make the autumn of your dog’s life golden.