Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome CCDS
In Your Dog
"Doggie dementia" "Doggie Alzheimer's"
Ron Hines DVM PhD
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What Is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome ?
As we age, we slow down. So do our pets. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS) is a fancy term for the decline of old age. It was once called senility. In people, it is now called Alzheimer’s Disease. It is due to destructive changes in the brain that occur over time.
How Will It Affect My Pet ?
By the time CCDS affects your pet, it will already have some gray hairs on its muzzle. It will also have milky white cataracts in its eyes and its vision will not be as good as it once was. It will be sleeping more, and it probably won't get up as fast when someone knocks on the door.
Most owners tell me they have a problem with their pet when it begins to loose its house training habits or no longer recognizes family members. But some owner just complain that their pet is pacing about aimlessly, confused, distant, or no longer able to find its way around the house or yard. Other times, owners come because their pet has developed obsessive licking, barking, restlessness, separation anxiety or drooling and panting. They tell me that the problems came on slowly, steadily and seem to be getting worse very gradually. These pets also find it harder to deal with new situations. They often wander aimlessly or in circles.
The pet may have also become more timid or aggressive than it once was. In advanced cases the pets may seem to get lost in the house or yard and become trapped in corners or small spaces.
But all these pets do continue to eat well and enjoy their treats.
When Might I See These Problems ?
By the time dogs are eleven years old, a third of them have some of these signs. By the time they are sixteen years old, some of these signs are present in almost all dogs. Breeds of dogs do develop CCDS at the same rare. On the whole, toy breeds seem to develop age-related decline the slowest while the large and giant breeds develop them much sooner.
What Are The Changes That Account For CCDS ?
As in humans, the root of this problem is in the brain. Dogs with CDS have the same amyloid protein deposits in their brain cells that humans with Alzheimer's disease do. It also appears that dogs with this problem also have the same depletion of the chemical, dopamine, that occurs in humans with this disease. This chemical is one of a group called neurotransmitters that allow individual brain cells to communicate with one another.
How Can This Disease Be Diagnosed In My Pet ?
your dog shows these signs, it should be examined by a veterinarian.
This is not because we have a cure for CCDS. It is because there
are other diseases , with different treatments, that can have similar
symptoms and we need to rule them out. We sometimes see similar
signs when a pet's liver is failing (hepatic encephalopathy) or
with pancreatic tumors (hypoglycemia), kidney failure, or a sluggish
thyroid gland. Blindness can cause similar signs as well. When none
of these other conditions can account for your pet's personality
changes, we diagnose CCDS.
What Treatments Can We Offer ?
A drug originally developed for human Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease called selegiline hydrochloride (L-deprenyl) and marketed for dogs under the trade name Anipryl has proved helpful in treating some cases of this disease. L-deprenyl prolongs the activity of your pet's remaining dopamine. Some dog owner report near miraculous positive changes in their pets personality while on Anipryl while others note very few positive effects. Selegiline enhances the amount of chemicals within the brain that act as messengers between individual nerve cells. Selegiline is also available in generic form.
It appears that dogs given this drug for the rest of their lives do live longer. It can also temporarily reverse some of the changes of CCDS. It can take up to sixty days to see an improvement so you must have patience.
In England, a medication called nicergoline is being used to treat age-related behavioral disorders in dogs. It appears to work by enhancing blood circulation in the brain.
Other medications that might have future benefits are adrafanil, modafinil and propentofylline. which are used to enhance brain activity in humans.
A recent study confirmed that levels of cholinesterases, important chemicals involved in brain and nerve function, decline in dogs as they age. The study also found that giving either of the two most popular medications designed to help humans with Alzheimer's disease appeared to help dogs as well [ rivastigmine (Exelon patch) and Donepezil (Aricept) ] . You can read that study here. Like any cholinesterase inhibiting drug, giving the wrong dose or using a drug delivery system designed and approved for one species in another species can be quite dangerous.
Many veterinarians also treat this condition with a supplement of omega-3 fatty acids that scavenge free radicals because free radical compounds seem elevated in the brains of CCDS pets. Mixed tocopherols, vitamin C, beta-carotene, carotenoids, flavenoids and mitochondrial cofactors have all be used with varying success
Anything that encourages activity, curiosity and thinking in your pet will help. Environmental enrichment with things such as another pet, playing with toys daily and exposure to new learning situations improves the over-all behavior of dogs with CCDS.