Is My Dog Simply Aging or Is It More?

Learn more about Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) in Dogs
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Senior Dog

Recognize Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Your Dog

No matter how much we love our pets, the reality is they get older just like us. For many pup parents, it can be emotionally difficult to cope with the reality that the dog that brings so much joy to our lives isn't the same youthful puppy we brought home all those years ago. The fact is that we are likely to outlive our pets.

Dogs are susceptible to physical and cognitive degeneration like humans. There is no way to stop it, making it important more pet parents to familiarize themselves with the signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). By educating yourself on the symptoms of CDS and knowing what to look for, you can identify it early and consult your vet for information on how to help your dog in their late stage of life.

While we cannot stop the brain from aging, there are activities you can engage in with your dog to keep their brain alert, active, and slow down the degeneration of the brain’s nerve process.

These include:

  • Regular play sessions and varied interactive games
  • Regular exercise
  • Simple challenges like ‘hide and seek' or 'find the treat' and brain stimulating toys or puzzles
  • Feeding a well-balanced diet rich in essential nutrients

Despite our best efforts, research has shown that 50% of dogs over 11 years old will show signs of CDS, with that number increasing to nearly 70% of dogs over 15 years old.

Signs and Symptoms of CDS

  • Slower to respond
  • Blank look in the eyes; maybe doesn’t recognize your voice or their name
  • Continuously circling
  • Getting lost in the house, or repeatedly getting stuck in a certain place
  • Toileting in the house where previously house-trained
  • Making noises that are inappropriate or out of character, including whining, panting, or barking for no apparent reason
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Out of character anxiety, restlessness, or irritability
  • Inability to follow familiar routes
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • Loss of appetite

If you begin to notice symptoms of CDS, start keeping notes for your vet that you can share at an upcoming appointment. By being able to provide your vet with more specific details of your dog’s condition, your doctor will be better informed and better able to help you and your canine companion.

Because the symptoms of CDS are similar to other conditions of old age, your vet may run additional blood and urine tests, and possibly conduct an ultrasound and/or x-ray. Your vet will combine the results from these tests and the notes you’ve shared about your dog’s recent behavior to make an informed diagnosis.

Once your dog has been diagnosed with CDS, they will need life-long support and monitoring. By providing consistent routines and a healthy living environment, you can help make your pup more comfortable in your home. While regular stimulation will be helpful, it’s important that it does not produce any anxiety for your pup. Your vet may also recommend changes to your dog’s diet to include foods with specific nutrients, or dietary supplements that can be helpful to improving cognitive function.

Continue to keep a record of your dog’s symptoms to notice a change in their condition and alert your vet about their status. Regular vet visits are important to monitor and evaluate your dog’s health and make changes as needed.

Helping Your Dog Live a Comfortable Life with CDS

It's natural to feel lost and helpless after diagnosis, as you only want the best for your furry friend. But there is so much you can do to make their life happy and comfortable during this time of change! By establishing security and routines in your home, you can help your dog feel safe and comfortable. Some steps you can take include:

  • Keep your dog’s food and water bowls and any other essential items in the same, easily accessible place.
  • Limit your dog’s access when leaving them alone. Consider keeping your pup in a smaller space such as the kitchen or utility room. This space restriction will prevent them from becoming lost in the house and will allow them time and space to rest peacefully.
  • Be conscientious about your routine so that you reduce any potential for confusion.
  • Be ready to take your dog outside more regularly to prevent accidents inside the home.
  • Never scold your dog for accidents inside the house – simply clean them up. Accidents from a dog who has previously been house-trained in the past may make your pup anxious, so don’t add to their distress.
  • Ensure regular exercise, even if limited by your dog’s physical capabilities.
  • Remember that short training exercises and brain stimulation are as important as physical exercise and can help delay additional symptoms.

This will be a time of change for the whole household. It can be stressful at times, but by recognizing the signs of CDS and facing reality head on, you can respond with compassion and patience to keep your pup safe and happy as they age. While it may feel different, find joy in the time you have together and love them with all your heart!

If you are struggling with dog behavior issues with your senior dog, please contact your local trainer. Any Breed. Any Age. Any Issue. Bark Busters is here to help!

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