A chihuahua investigates the woods.

When Rugby, a senior dog with a vast repertoire of tricks started forgetting some of his learned behaviors, his owner wasn’t too worried. After all, Rugby was getting on in age, and it’s natural for anyone to have a senior moment or two.

But when Rugby couldn’t remember how to go into his own kennel, something he’d done a thousand times before, Rugby’s mom knew something unusual was going on. She took her dog to her trusted veterinarian, who diagnosed him with Canine Cognitive Disorder, sometimes known as canine dementia.

What is Canine Cognitive Disorder?

Canine Cognitive Disorder (CCD) is an age-related illness that usually strikes dogs 9 years or older. The disease is typically marked by behavior changes, and often goes underdiagnosed. This is because the changes in behavior can come on very slowly.

Common behavioral changes include:

  • Confusing the hinge side of the door for the opening side
  • Spinning or pacing
  • Staring off into space
  • Getting stuck in corners or against walls
  • Forgetting training
  • Not recognizing familiar people
  • Anxiety
  • House soiling

There are many, many more possible behaviors, and not all dogs will have the same symptoms. Eileen Anderson, who literally wrote the book on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, has a more complete list of possible symptoms on her website.

If you believe your pet may have CCD, try printing out the checklist, checking all that apply, and bringing it to your veterinarian. They will be able to help you, but the more symptoms they know about it the better.

Treatment Options

The good news is that there are many treatment options available today, and those treatments are getting more advanced all the time. The bad news is that while we can give you an overview of what vets have at hand, there’s no way of knowing what’s right for your pet without consulting a veterinarian.

CCD has a wide range of symptoms, and treatment is very personal to your dog. One supplement or medication may work very well for one pet, but not at all for another. Eileen Anderson’s book, Remember Me? Goes over many of these treatment options in detail, but you should see your vet to see what works for your dog.

Another reason to see the vet is that many dogs with CCD symptoms have a different medical condition that presents with the same problems. It’s important to get your dog diagnosed properly before assuming it is, in fact, Canine Cognitive Disfunction.

Below is an overview of available treatment options for CCD at this time:

Selegiline

Selegiline is currently the only prescription drug available to treat CCD. It can interact with other medications, so it is best to discuss this drug with your veterinarian. Selegiline is well researched, but doesn’t help all dogs. Research indicates that it helps about 78% of dogs with disorientation, 73.5% of dogs with house soiling, and 62% with changing activity levels.

If you think this might be a good choice for your pet, it’s important to bring it up with your regular healthcare provider for your dog and ask specifically about interactions if your pet is on other medications.

Supplements

There are an abundance of supplements out there to help with CCD. Once again, you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian about what supplements are best, because dogs can vary wildly in their symptoms and needs.

Below are some common supplements used to help keep sharp minds in older dogs, and any research available connected to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.

Fish Oil

Just like with humans, Omega-3 Fatty Acids have a protective effect on your dog’s brain. Fish oil is a great source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. A very nice double-blind study checking the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction found that most dogs responded well after 30 days of omega-3 fatty acids added to their diet.

The test excluded dogs with other conditions such as renal disease, so once again it is best to discuss any supplements you add to your dog’s diet with your vet first.

B Vitamins

A deficiency in B Vitamins, such as B6 and B12 can reduce cognition. There aren’t many studies looking at B vitamins exclusively in dogs, but they have been used in cognition blends developed by scientists. These are also commonly added to foods developed to enhance brain function in dogs.

Purina Bright Minds

Purina is one of the only dog food brands to have dog food specifically developed to help with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. The food contains omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, plus antioxidants, B vitamins and arginine.

Preventing or Slowing Onset

While there are viable treatments for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, preventing CCD may be the best option of all. Just like with older people, there are ways to help keep your dog’s mind sharp.

Aside from adding supplements for brain health before there are signs of a problem, environmental enrichment is a wonderful way to help your pet.

Environmental enrichment includes anything out of the ordinary for your pet that makes their lives better. This might be puzzle toys, training, actively playing with your pet, or deconstruction toys. We have an awesome list of enrichment ideas here. We also have a few other ideas here, and here.

Enriching your dog’s life can also help slow down the progression of your pet’s disease should they have already developed it. Best of all, even in the rare case it doesn’t help, enriching your dog causes no harm and makes your pet happier.

Conclusion

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is becoming increasingly common due to our pet’s longer lifespans. With more dogs achieving double digits and older, more dogs are developing cognition problems. Keeping a watchful eye on your pet and visiting the vet when you see concerning symptoms can help with early detection and treatment.

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By Andrea

Andrea is a dedicated dog mom of three chihuahuas. She has over a decade of experience as a dog groomer, chihuahua owner, and more recently as a dog trainer. She loves all things canine, particularly chihuahuas.

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