Canine Cognitive Disorder

Columbo, in happier days. Poor Columbo happens to be in the 33% of dogs who did not respond to selegeline for treatment of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.

Dogs are increasingly being diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Disorder, also called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD or CD).

Dogs are living longer than ever before, thanks to the elevated status of these pets in family structure, improved knowledge of medical care for pets and increased utilization of veterinary care by the pet-owning public.

As with people, when dogs age, life takes its toll on every organ system: joints, muscles, eyes, ears, kidneys, liver and central nervous system (CNS)(brain and spinal cord).

Canine Cognitive Disorder is caused by amyloid plaque in the brain, similar, but not identical, to changes seen in the human brain of Alzheimer’s Disease patients. The extent of plaque seen on MRI or Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan is proportional to the degree of dysfunction. Just as with human Alzheimer’s patients, dogs are more likely to develop Cognitive Disorder if their ancestors did. For people and dogs, the genetic link is clear.

Signs of CCD include:

  • restlessness, often accompanied by random walking from place to place with no purpose. Overall activity in a 24-hour time period is usually reduced. Behavior is sometimes described as “agitated.”
  • increased time asleep, but often with sleep occurring during daylight, or times when the pet previously had been active. Nighttime activity that keeps owners awake is a common sign of CCD.
  • barking, especially if there is nothing to bark at.
  • loss of “house training.” Dog who previously would never soil the house may fail to go outside, or even signal to the owner that they need to go outside.
  • confusion. Forgetting commands, forgetting which doors go outside or which side of a door opens.
  • failing to recognize people with whom the pet is familiar, even family members.
  • disorientation. Some dogs will stand and “stare into space” for long periods.  They may also stand with the head pressed against a wall.
  • panting. Many physical and metabolic conditions can cause panting, so complete physical and laboratory evaluation of the aging patient are important.
  • increased water intake and output. Aging patients experiencing renal failure or diabetes may show these same signs. Routine laboratory testing reveals if these conditions are part of your aging dog’s problems.

Some of the above problems can be caused by aging’s effect on other systems, such as deafness and blindness. Your pet’s doctor’s careful examination will evaluate hearing and vision.

The course of Canine Cognitive Disorder is progressive. Most dogs deteriorate and eventually cease to have normal lives.


There is hope.

The drug selegeline (Anipryl®, Pfizer Animal Health, now Zoetis) helps approximately 66% of dogs with Cognitive Dysfunction. Half of those helped are dramatically improved, according to their owners. The other half consists of patients helped enough that the owners are pleased and will continue the medication, although they do not have the dramatic improvement hoped for. The other 33% experience little or no improvement. Researchers do not know what factors make some dogs respond differently from others.

An important facet of treatment for those who respond: they live longer.

A change of diet helps many patients, too. Hill’s Pet Nutrition Prescription Diet b/d contains nutrients and ingredients that can help the aging brain work better.

Just as humans might not be as mentally sharp as they age, dogs normally experience some loss of “brightness,” too. However, the behavior of the Canine Cognitive Dysfunction dog is not only different, for the majority it is treatable.  Do not write your dog’s problems off. Have his veterinarian evaluate him for CCD.

See you next week, Dr. Randolph.


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  1. Our dog Tino who lived to over 14 years definitely exhibited many of these symptoms. We didn’t use any medication for him as we were unaware of it. He was also blind and had pretty bad arthritis which made some of these symptoms even more pronounced. I’m glad they are living longer, but it’s sad to see them in this condition.

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