Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is an age related disease that produces the deterioration of cognitive abilities.

This condition is often characterized by subtle changes that cannot be traced to other illnesses, such as neoplasia (cancer), general infections or organ failure. CDS is often referred to as “old dog syndrome” or “senility”, and is marked by one or more indicators, also known by the acronym DISH:

Wanders around the house with no apparent purpose 
Appears to be lost or confused in the yard or other familiar surroundings.
Becomes “stuck” in a corner or behind furniture
Does not recognize familiar people
Does not respond to verbal cues or name
Appears to forget reason for going outdoors

Is less enthusiastic or no longer greets family members
Does not seem interested in being petted or other attention
No longer remembers familiar tricks or commands

Sleep/Wake Patterns
Sleeps more than normal
Sleep pattern has changed, especially during the night
There has been a marked decrease in activity level

No longer signals to go outside
Urinates/defecates in the house
Appears to have forgotten why he wanted to go outdoors
Soils indoors immediately after being outdoors

As with Alzheimer’s Disease in humans, the cause of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is unknown. An autopsy may reveal similar lesions in the brain, causing the degenerative progression of the disease. In the aging process of dogs, as with humans, the accumulation of a nerve damaging protein, beta-amyloid, increases and causes the formation of plaques in the brain. This build up eventually causes a gradual decline of cognitive abilities and it is often sufficient to produce functional disabilities in the home and/or as a family member.

Some age-related changes, like the graying of the muzzle, are inevitable. Older dogs are also more sensitive to temperature extremes and/or may move a bit slower. Providing your pet with a comforting Dog Blanket to provide extra warmth (along with their Dog Bed) may help keep your senior pet more comfortable at night.

Pathological changes in the brains of affected animals are directly responsible for signs of CDS. Although we do not know the exact reason for individual vulnerability, genetics combined with the environment are the most likely the contributing factors.

The first step in diagnosing CDS is recognition of signs. Usually the pet owner is the first to observe these indicators.Your veterinarian should be the next contact. A thorough examination, including a complete physical and neurological study, complemented by a medical history will enable your veterinarian to diagnose the condition and determine a course of action. If appropriate, diagnostic laboratory tests, to identify or rule out, other unrelated medical conditions that may be contributing to clinical signs. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is a common, recognizable condition in senior dogs. Understanding the syndrome and the behavioral changes associated with it can help veterinarians diagnose cases of CDS and better educate pet owners to look for the signs.

Although there is no cure for CDS, dog owners can prolong the quality of their dog’s life and preserve their pet’s role in the family by decreasing the behavioral problems resulting from the syndrome. Some simple steps pet owners can take include using Dog Gates to prevent injury (i.e. stairs), using dependable Dog Leashes and fences outdoors for safety. Old dogs with CDS may wander away from home and appear lost. Making sure that your pet's Dog I.D. Tag is up to date is a must for all dogs - regardless of age. Removing clutter from the house and yard can ease a dog’s mobility. Dogs might also be restricted to areas easily cleaned if they are having difficulty with housetraining. However, it is important to remember not to socially isolate the dog.

Currently the drug deprenyl has been shown to reduce symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. This drug helps turn back the aging clock and allow dogs more quality time. Deprenyl will symptomatically reverse the clinical signs of aging in most dogs with CDS by increasing brain concentrations of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine increases cognitive awareness. If the canine aging theory is correct, CDS patients have low dopamine, and as a result, low activity and reduced cognitive performance. The introduction of increased dopamine should reverse the clinical signs of CDS in the majority of patients, at least, for a time. Drug company studies have shown that one third of canine CDS patients respond extremely well to treatment with deprenyl, another one third respond reasonably well; and one third do not respond at all. After other organic causes for reduced mental function have been ruled out, and a professional diagnosis of CDS has been confirmed, deprenyl may be a treatment choice.

It is generally thought that it is normal for elderly dogs to gradually lose energy and an interest in life. Pet owners will often tolerate the Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome for longer than is necessary, sometimes, waiting until bladder or bowel control is lost before trying to find out if something can be done. This is often the main cause of concern for owners of geriatric dogs, who seem to endure almost any amount of senile change in their pets before the indignity of incontinence finally causes them to seek help. As with any illness or change in behavior, early diagnosis and treatment is essential to ensure the best results.

References: The Pet Center, The Pet Place,,

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