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CCD - Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

A cause of unsocial or disruptive behaviour in dogs

With better nutrition and more advanced veterinary care, our dogs are generally healthier and living longer.

Coupled with the fact that many households regard companion dogs as part of the family, most dogs are enjoying healthy, meaningful lives interacting with the human household.
As a dog gets older, some changes are inevitable -- a few more gray hairs, slower gait, perhaps more finicky or more reluctant to have the routine changed.

Some changes, however, are written off as 'normal for old age' when they may be signs of something known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. This is a series of geriatric behavioral problems, not explained by other medical conditions.

For instance, have you noticed any of these typical 'old age' behaviors:

General confusion - indecision when taking familiar routes or carrying our familiar routines?
Confusion with familiar activities - Staring uncertainly at a ball it would normally chase or forgetting routines?
Inappropriate barking - in the middle of the night or without any apparent cause?
Disrupted sleep pattern - sleeping all day, awake all night?
Disorientation - not recognising people or places?
Personality changes - a friendly or outgoing pet becoming timid or aggressive?
Incontinence - loss of house training, forgetting to toilet outside and doing it indoors instead?

What is CCD?

CCD is a pathological change in the dogs brain that slows mental functioning.
It normally occurs in older dogs but can be brought on in dogs of any age as a result of a major trauma caused by an accident or acute internal brain malfunction. Generally speaking the cause of CCD is idiopathic because the initial signs are so subtle they go unnoticed. In some instances is could be hereditory.

The signs are loss of memory, damage to motor neurons causing problems with movement and co-ordination and loss of ability to remember how to perform normal everyday task and training. Long term memory is disrupted.
This is a result of an increase of a protein, beta-amyloid, in the brain creating protein deposits known as plaques.
Nerve cells are killed off and the resulting space filled by cerebrospinal fluid.

Cognition is the mental ability to acquire knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and our senses.
As we age our cognitive ability to function normally decreases. It's the same with dogs.
This is a perfectly normal part of aging but in some cases there is a greater degeneration of our mental capacity than average.  In humans we call this senility or dementia and in dogs this condition is called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.

It can be a gradual creeping senility or a sudden and acute loss of cognitive abilities.
It can progress to a certain stage and get no worse or it could degenerate into dementia.

Cognitive dysfunction is a reduction in the mental ability of an individual beyond what is expected for that age.
Like senility or dementia, the dog will begin to loose its ability to function normally, but faster than would be normal for a dog of its age. As a dog gets older the chances of the condition developing increases.

Initially the symptoms may be very subtle and could easily be overlooked if they develop slowly and the dogs behaviour changes very gradually. Small changes in something we see everyday often go unnoticed.

Sometimes this condition starts as the result of a mini stroke. It may happen at night and go unnoticed other than signs of disorientation because the dog recovers before anyone gets up.
It could start as a vestibular condition, manifesting itself as a loss of balance and unsteady gait with the dog holding its head on one side and trembling involuntarily.

Remedial action

Treating CCD requires mental and behavioural support along with drugs and nutritional supplements.
Selegiline Hydrochloride is the only licensed drug available for treatment of CCD. It can be prescribed in many countries including the UK and USA where it is available in branded and generic products.

If you suspect your dog may be suffering from CCD or in the early onset stage of the condition, the first thing you should do is to take it to the vet for a health check to rule out any physical or medical problems that may be causing the behavior.
If your pet has a clean bill of health, you may want to speak to your veterinarian about a medication containing the drug Selegiline. This drug has been proven to help animals with cognitive dysfunction.

A number of products are available on veterinary prescription for Selegiline hydrochloride (also known as L-deprenyl).
It is used in humans for treatment of Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, and Cushing's Disease.
In the USA the drug is approved by the FDA for use in dogs for treatment of Pituitary Dependent Hypoadrenocorticism (PDH) also known as Cushing's Disease and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.

For cognitive dysfunction, some owners have reported near-miraculous changes in their geriatric dog's behavior after starting on Selegiline others have not seen such dramatic changes.

Possible side effects of this drug include (but aren't limited to): vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactive/restless, anorexia, staggering, seizure, lethargy.

New evidence, similar to findings in humans, suggests that antioxidants in the diet may promote cognitive health and slow the process of decline.

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