Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome


Thanks to advances in health care and nutrition, our beloved family pets are living longer and longer. Senior pets are becoming the norm rather than the exception, and with the happy increase in the number of furry senior citizens, there has been a shift in health concerns for both veterinarians and pet parents alike.

One area of great concern for veterinarian and dog parent alike is the decline in a senior dog’s cognitive abilities or brain function. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, or CDS for short, is the term vets use to describe a degenerative brain disorder in senior dogs. Often, when pet parents are talking to their veterinarian, they will share that their senior citizen is uncharacteristically disobedient or soiling in the house. Other tell-tale signs of CDS include generalized anxiety (pacing or panting), confusion, decreased grooming habits, a changed appetite, acting depressed and forgetting regular habits. Signs of CDS are typically irreversible and progressive, but with effective treatment and management, the signs can be slowed and some can even be reversed. It is important to know that many of the signs of CDS can be confused with other diseases, such as hypothyroidism, arthritis or even dental disease, so if your senior dog is acting differently, schedule a full checkup with your local veterinarian.

One of the first questions pet parents usually ask when their veterinarian mentions the possibility of CDS is, “Is it like Alzheimer’s?” The answer is “Sorta.” CDS shares many similarities to symptoms of Alzheimer’s in humans, including similar microscopic changes and oxidative damage to brain cells that correspond to the severity of the disease. In fact, the two diseases are so similar that many of the treatments that are used in Alzheimer’s were first developed in dogs.

So if your dog has been diagnosed with CDS, what can you do? What about if you want to be proactive and take steps now to decrease the likelihood that CDS will mar your best friend’s golden years? In this video, Dr. Sarah goes over recent advances in treatment and prevention of canine cognitive syndrome.


Cotman, C. W. et al. 2002. Brain Aging in the Canine: a Diet Enriched in Antioxidants Reduces Cognitive Dysfunction. Neurobiology of Aging 23: 809–818

Borra’s, D., Ferrer I., and Pumarola, M. 1999. Age-related Changes in the Brain of the Dog. Vet Pathol 36:202–211.

Dimakopoulos, A. C. and Mayer, R.J. 2001. Aspects of Neurodegeneration in the Canine Brain. Waltham International Symposium: Pet Nutrition Coming of Age.

Lansberg, G. 2005. Therapeutic Agents for the Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Senior Dogs. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry 29: 471-479.

Milgram, N.W. et al. 2002 Landmark Discrimination Learning in the Dog: Effects of Age, and Antioxidant Fortified Food, and Cognitive Strategy. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 26: 679–695.

Fahnestock M, Marchese M, Head E, Pop V, Michalski B, Milgram WN, Cotman CW. BDNF increases with behavioral enrichment and an antioxidant diet in the aged dog. Neurobiol Aging. 2010 May 4.

Comments (5) -

  • Linda Ferrullo

    2/27/2011 3:58:31 PM |

    Thank you for addressing CDS in your pet talk. I have a senior citizen dog that has been diagnosed with this. He will be 17 years old this year but we have been battling this for over a year now. It started out with accidents in the house and has graduated to sadly, that he does not know us anymore and is confused. He has been on the medicine that you mentioned- Anipryl for a several months and it does help, without it he would be afraid of us and with the medicine we can touch and hold him without him fearing us. This is a dog that was labeled one of the smartest dogs for his breed in the obedience rings, having earned the coveted Obedience Trial Championship and showed for more than 5 years in the obedience rings and Rally rings. It is so sad to see him this way and it is torture for us to not have him know that we love him. Just like in people, dogs do gets this terrible disease and the faster owners become aware and act on any changes their older dog may show, the better it can be.

  • Lewis Turner

    3/1/2011 2:18:44 PM |

    As a former English teacher, many of my colleagues thought of education as a war against ignorance and good information filled their arsenal of weapons. I felt the comparison a bit extreme, but after having worked the retail end of the pet industry for over three decades, I do understand the importance of education in the workplace.

    To merely hand a customer a bag of food and insist they feed it performs an injustice to the pet owner. We, as Pet Professionals, owe it to our customers to provide the best possible information.

    I suggested to our staff that they focus on servicing the pet to the best of their ability and that often required explaining to their companions why you're making a specific suggesting. Don't think of the process as selling.  Think of it as informing. I often found that the comment, "My goal is to provide you with the best possible information, in order for you to make an informed decision"
    removed the notion of selling as the motivation. When presented with conviction, rarely would a customer not oblige.

    This video, and so many of the others, created for our benefit, provides the much needed ammunition to combat the misleading advertising pet lovers are exposed to on a daily basis.

  • Pet Care Services

    9/18/2011 6:25:04 PM |

    What a great site and interesting posts, I will post a link on my blogroll and bookmark this site. Thanks! Cheers!
    Oscar Mighty

  • jasa penerjemah tersumpah

    8/5/2013 10:40:50 PM |

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  • sue b.

    1/31/2019 2:24:44 PM |

    I have a miniature schnauzer dog I rescued a few years ago, we do not know exact age, but vet thinks 12years. A few months ago she started vaguely  having some personality changes, of late she is showingmany symptoms of  cognitive disorder syndrome, almost a Text book Case. It is so sad to see her like this.

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