Does your older dog act senile? Does he forget where he is or not respond to his name, but you know he isn’t deaf? Does he wander around aimlessly or get lost in the house easily? Is he having more accidents, even after he goes out to the bathroom and he will even go in front of you?
Your dog may be suffering from cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), or “old dog syndrome,” a condition similar to Alzheimer’s in humans.
After ruling out other medical conditions–such as cancer, infection, organ failure or the side effects of drugs–a vet may be able to diagnose the syndrome from the dog’s behavioral changes and obvious deterioration of cognitive functioning. About 50% of dogs over 10 years old will show one or more symptoms of CDS. (webmd.com/dogs)
Although disorientation is one of the main symptoms, dogs with CDS may also show disturbed sleep patterns – sleeping more during the day and less at night. Some dogs also show compulsive behaviors like “circling, tremors, stiffness and weakness.” (webmd)
Your dog may also ask to be petted constantly or walk away from contact. He may be less enthusiastic towards his family when they greet him and he no longer greets them on his own.
According to the renowned vet, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, dogs are as individual as humans, with some showing early signs of senility while others don’t. As CD progresses, your dog may be unable to recognize his humans, appear confused, show increased thirst and excessive panting, and have difficulty eating or become disinterested in food.
Research suggests that pathological changes in the brain are directly responsible. Most significantly, changes may be due to deposits of beta-amyloid, which forms plaque in the brain. There may be some environmental or hereditary contributions, but, as an owner, you are probably more interested in the cure rather than the cause.
As you watch your dog become senile, it is heartbreaking. We have had dogs in the past that I now suspect had this deteriorating condition, but no vet ever offered help or diagnosed the condition beyond “old age.”
Our black poodle, Renee, was 13 when she began to act very confused and got “lost” when searching for the back door. She had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and experienced seizures. She seemed deaf and blind, and she didn’t respond appropriately to us anymore. After the last seizure, we had her put to sleep. Could she have had undiagnosed CDS and been helped?
We also had an old dachshund, Babie, that began to act senile, like she didn’t recognize us and she lost her taste for food-a sure sign that something was terribly wrong. Although the vet treated her for different symptoms, he never mentioned the possibility of CDS. When she wouldn’t move, even to go to her food bowl, we had her put down at age 13.
Our apricot poodle shook all the time and lost a lot of weight, but the vet never found a cause. Lucky started urinating in front of us — on furniture and any available table leg — even though he had just gone to the bathroom outdoors. He seemed to have lost interest in us, in the other dogs, and in life in general. After many expensive, negative tests, we found ourselves at wit’s end and had him put to sleep when he was nine years old. Learning about this possible diagnosis, with new available resources for help, makes me very sad to realize that Lucky might have been able to be helped. But that was years ago and most vets did not recognize the condition as treatable.
Eventually a dog with CDS will become incapacitated, but early intervention may help prevent further deterioration and might even reverse some symptoms.
According to Dr. Dodman, there was no treatment for CDS until the discovery of deprenyl (Anipryl) – also known as a drug called selegiline for humans with Parkinson’s disease– that can buy quality time for an older dog. Deprenyl, given once daily in pill form, will help reverse the signs of aging; it increases the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which “connects thoughts with action,” and increases cognitive awareness.
Theoretically, dogs with CDS are low in dopamine and many respond quite well to treatment. About one third respond extremely well; another third do reasonably well; and the final third do not seem to be helped. Possibly, another problem is going on with them. (petplace.com)
Further, a dog on deprenyl should show cognitive and behavioral improvement and the medication seems to increase the expected life span of dogs over 10 years old.
Dodman says many owners think some aging behaviors, like the loss of bowel or bladder control, are normal. Owners may simply accept them rather than take the dog to a vet for a diagnosis. Although there are no known tests for CDS, discussing the symptoms may help a vet to make a diagnosis and begin treatment. Sometimes, an MRI can be done if a brain tumor is suspected, but if that is ruled out, the behavior is more likely due to this syndrome.
Dr. Dodman also recommends another form of treatment or possible prevention of CDS in the form of food. Hill’s Petfood now has a prescription diet called “Hill’s BD (brain diet).” The food includes antioxidants that slow the progression of CD, probably due to inhibiting the damage done by the “free radicals” in the dogs’ brains. The food may also reverse CD symptoms for some affected dogs.
WebMD.com/dogs suggest that some older dogs may also be helped with acupuncture and Chinese herbs.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, “Cognitive Dysfunction in Elderly Dogs.” Http://www.petplace.com/dogs/cognitive-dysfunction-in-elderly-dogs/page1.aspx. Retrieved 6-11-10.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, “Is Your Dog Senile?” Reference to Science Diet. Http://www.petplace.com/dogs/is-your-dog-senile/page1.aspx.
WebMD Veterinary Reference from Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, 2007. “Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Dogs.” Retrieved 6-11-10 from Http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/cognitive-dysfunction-syndrome-dogs.