Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or An Older State of Mind



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Canine Cognitive Dysfunction


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“Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is simply another state of mind for the elderly dog. We have a choice to become part of their world or remain as an outsider until their very end. No different than with Alzheimer patients.” By Nancy L. Young-Houser

The more we are around the old dogs on our rescue farm, the more we see similar characteristics between human dementia and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Image: Nancy Houser

The more we are around the old dogs on our rescue farm, the more we see similar characteristics between human dementia and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. To tell the truth, there is not a whole lot of difference. The health care field is one I have been involved with throughout most of my life – dementia and Alzheimer’s were my specialties. The very first job I had was at a care-home in Lexington, Nebraska, when I was 16-years old.

We had an old pulley elevator that we pulled on an old thick chain beside the elevator door, allowing us to haul things from one floor to another. The old brick building was three stories high. Difficult at best with all the laundry and meals cooked in the basement that housed the laundry room and kitchen. I still can see the dark old walnut walls and the rooms with the entire resident’s furniture in them they valued.

I remember walking a tall elderly woman down the hall, holding onto her hand. She had been diagnosed with dementia and would see in her mind imaginary holes in front of her, leaping across them unsuspectingly as we meandered up and down the halls. Every time, she nearly tore my arm off when she would leap over them. It did not help I was close to five foot and she was six-feet one-inch in height.

Here at the farm, we have elderly dogs who exhibit this same sort of behavior. This behavior is referred to as “canine cognitive dysfunction” or more simply put-“dog dementia”, “old dog syndrome”, or “dog senility”.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction of today

Similar to people, dog dementia or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is becoming more recognized and prevalent in today’s times as our animals are living much longer, due to better nutrition and advancements in vet medicine. Their owners are also living longer than before, with the woman living longer than the man. Statistics show that the female partner takes care of the pet more often than the male, becoming more emotionally attached to it.

Many house pets are more stagnant than they used to be, with less danger in their lives than when in the wild. Hunting, tracking and finding critters were what many dogs were bred for, not to sit in front of the television all day while the master is gone – only to sit there all evening because master is tired from work!

Symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

  • Disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Personality change

When our elderly dogs develop Canine Cognitive Dysfunction symptoms, we work here on the farm with each one accordingly. When Popcorn forgot she was outside, we would simply go get her when she did not come in with the rest of the girls. Carrying her, of course.

When Barbie-our elderly miniature American Eskimo-forgets she was already outside and wants to go outside again, we let her. And when Buttons wants to go outside by herself without the other dogs, as she suddenly can become, we go out with her so alleviate the fear with company and reassuring words. The next day, she will run out with the girls, not remembering she was fearful the day before. Every day is a challenge in itself in the minds of our dogs, requiring an inner awareness that needs to be almost acute at times.

Over the years, we have learned to work with each one of them and their individual quirks. We have 29 dogs, with most over the age of nine, and many with health conditions. How we treat each one of them depends on their personality, their health condition, and their own personal needs. The majority of our dogs arrived with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction as they were over ten years of age.

There is no right and wrong with dog cognitive dementia, just keeping them safe and loved is step number one. We cannot become angry at something beyond their control. Anger requires taking a hard look at ourselves and finding where our anger comes from, as were pretty sure we had it also. LOL!!

Is it because we have memories of a loved one or another old pet with dementia, or is it fear because we see it inside of ourself? Can it be frustration? Is it exhaustion? Many reasons are at the root of our emotions … but the old dog standing in front of you is never it.

Foods to alleviate Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Elderly dogs that are becoming senile or are have Canine Cognitive Dysfunction are usually placed on a diet by the family vet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Also, a drug called Anipryl, or selegiline, can be prescribed. This medicine will change for the better the dog’s attentiveness and sleep-wake cycle within 30 days. It also –alters the dog’s concentration of brain chemicals, while altering their behavior.

In October of 2003, a study was done through the University of Toronto where old dogs were placed on a diet rich in antioxidants-Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and beta-carotene. The study showed they performed better on a variety of cognitive tests and who were diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction than dogs that were not on the diet.

“Although we found that not all cognitive functions respond to antioxidant treatment, our data suggests that antioxidants play an important role in preventing or slowing age-related cognitive impairments,” said Dr. Dwight Tapp.

Another study in the University combined several therapies with the antioxidant diet for elderly dogs: one group was fed a regular diet with regular experiences; the second group was fed a regular diet while being treated with enriched experiences; and the third group was fed an enriched diet while being treated with enriched experiences.

Group three did the best in producing “statistically-significant” benefits in their ability to learn things as compared to elderly dogs on a regular diet and regular experiences. This proves that elderly dogs that lose their ability to learn new things and acquire new information, suffering from short-term and long-term memory lapses, and can be taught new tricks with proper diet care to decrease the possibilities of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.


For individuals who cannot bear to see their elderly pet’s age in front of them, medicine is an option to allow more quality time. We see senility as a natural aging process, respecting that we will all pass to a much better place at one time or another. I had Pete, a local Wyoming vet, ask me, “Nancy, what is more important to you-quality time for the dog or quantity time for you?”

This has become our philosophy as we continue on our journey with these elderly dogs. Every time an old dog passes over, we remember that the dog’s quality of life is much more important than the length of time we have had with them. They were loved, well fed, able to run and play, have their own food and water bowls, and their own soft blankets. For many of these rescue dogs, these are things they spent most of their life without. They also live a happier live and are accepted as having Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, not punished for it.

WayCoolDog posts originally appeared on WayCoolDogs and are re-posted with the permission of Nancy Houser of WayCoolDogs © 2009 – 2015