Dog Dementia: Also Known as Doggie Alzheimer's Disease

Updated on November 12, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob's been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock, and wildlife for a period spanning three decades.

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Canine Cognitive Dysfunction May Be Similar To Alzheimer's

The good news is our dogs are living longer these days, thanks to advances in veterinary medicine and improvements in diets and feeding habits.

The bad news is pet owners, and veterinarians for that matter, are now faced with “the next level” in pet care: senior citizen care for dogs.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s pretty new to a generation that has had dogs all their lives and now must deal with the issues associated with having a dog live longer than they’re accustomed to. Vet schools are regularly adjusting curricula as new research unfolds.

It wasn’t too long ago that our dogs’ life expectancy was a couple of years shorter; they got old, got lame, and crossed the Rainbow Bridge. It was pretty much all we knew.

It was during the 1990’s that researchers identified plaques, or lesions, in the brains of some senior dogs that were similar to those found in the brains of humans afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease. Veterinarians took a whole new look at the aging dog.

With the lengthening life span of dogs, veterinarians were seeing symptoms associated with that time added to an old dog’s life.

New protocols are continually developing regarding the care of the older dog. Among them, the recommendation of twice yearly check-ups for doggy senior citizens.

Our physicians may not see dramatic changes in us when we’ve aged a year, but for an older dog, that one year is the equivalent of perhaps five years, depending upon the size of the dog.

Changes happen fast to dogs, and semi-annual vet visits can help us see trouble before it starts.

The veterinary term for “doggie dementia” or “doggie Alzheimer’s” is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), a disease manifested by changes in the brain and its chemistry.

These physical changes alter the way your dog remembers things and learns new things.

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Are They Symptoms Of CCD Or Of The Dog's Aging Process?

Familiar faces and places may become strangers and uncharted territory, your dog may stand and stare at nothing in particular, may forget how to get to the kitchen door to be let out for a walk, may not respond to routine commands, and even his name.

Dogs with CCD may forget house training, their sleep patterns may be disrupted, and they may show a lack of interest in food, treats, play and even being with family members.

And all this is in addition to the regular health issues of older dogs.

That’s what makes it somewhat difficult to diagnose. Is his disinterest in play CCD, or is it because his old joints ache? Is his reluctance to eat CCD, or is it because periodontal disease causes pain upon eating.

Is his incontinence CCD or does he have a urinary tract problem? When he doesn’t follow commands is it CCD or is his hearing failing?

If you think your dog may have CCD, it would be a good idea to make a special appointment with your vet to explore that possibility.

With a detailed history and some lab work, your vet will be able to rule out certain causes of symptoms and arrive at a diagnosis of CCD.

There is no cure for the condition, although there is a prescription drug that may offer some relief.

Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that transmits nerve impulses within that organ, and the drug Anipryl has increased the amount of dopamine in the brains of some dogs.

On the down side, it’s fairly expensive, has side effects, and doesn’t work for every dog.

It’s nice having our dogs around for a year or two longer than we would have a generation or so ago, but it’s not without its challenges.

Having a dog with CCD robs the owners as well as the dog. We often lose the unconditional love and companionship that we treasure so highly.

© 2012 Bob Bamberg

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    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Karry, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Your cocker spaniel seems to have been exhibiting signs of CCD, and isn't it heartbraking to watch them go through that? I don't know what the time frame is, but CCD really only came to the forefront in the past 15-20 years or so.

      I think most vets nowadays are up on it, and that's sure to help senior dogs age more gracefully, as your Lab seems to be doing. I hope things continue to go well. I appreciate your visit and hope to hear from you again. Regards, Bob.

    • Karry Campbell profile image

      Karry Campbell 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hey Bob! As a life-long dog owner, I enjoyed your hub. I had a cocker spaniel that had what I suspected was CCD. He was very old and would wander around the house aimlessly at night at the end of his life. Sometimes he just just stare into space too. The vet I took him to didn't seem to know too much about it. I have a 13-year-old lab now, and he's still going strong. The vet he goes to really knows his stuff, and I think that's why he's aging so well. Thanks for the info!

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      It sounds like an interesting life you lead, nsmiss, and you're right, it's not a lifestyle conducive to pets. Perhaps the day will come when travel is no longer a big part of your life and you'll be able to have that dog. It will be a new adventure of a different sort. Thanks for stopping by, nice chatting with you. Regards, Bob

    • profile image

      novascotiamiss 

      6 years ago

      Bob, we would love to have a dog but find it a great responsibility. As we are travelling a lot (mostly overseas) unfortunately pets don't fit into our lifestyle. So we'll have to give that a miss.

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      You're right on every count, novascotiamiss. I've had to make that "ultimate decision," as have a number of people I know, and it's really tough to say goodbye. Most pet owners are "head over heels" in love with their pets, knowing that they'll be with us a relatively short time, and yet the grief is very real. It was nice hearing from you, thanks for stopping by and voting. I wonder if there's a pet in your future?

      Regards, Bob

    • novascotiamiss profile image

      Novascotiamiss 

      6 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Bob, this is a very interesting article. I am not a pet owner myself but what you're saying makes absolute sense. Most of our friends are getting older and their pets age with them and I've seen some pretty sad examples lately. It's hard to say goodbye to a beloved pet but when you see all the suffering it's an act of love to actually put an end to it, rather then prolong it.

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