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As our pets age they can start exhibiting many new behaviours: sleeping more, changes in eating habits, or simply “acting different” can all be signs that there is something more serious going on. It is your job as a pet parent, along with our veterinary team to determine whether those symptoms are just part of getting older or if they perhaps mean something more significant. Often they are part of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.

What is it?

In dogs, Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is when the brain undergoes a series of chemical and physical changes that result in a decline in mental faculties associated with thinking, recognition, memory, and learned behaviour. CDS is a progressive disease that gets worse and can be compared to Alzheimer’s disease in people. In a pet owner survey, nearly half of dogs age 8 and older showed at least one sign of CDS.

What does it look like?

CDS can show itself in many ways. We have included a checklist for you to use to document changes in your dog. If your dog is exhibiting any of the following signs or symptoms, or if they are getting worse, call to book an appointment to discuss these changes with the veterinarian.

  • Wanders aimlessly
  • Appears lost or confused in familiar surroundings
  • Gets “stuck” in corners, or under/behind furniture
  • Stares into space or at walls
  • Has difficulty finding the door; stands at the hinge side of the door; stands at wrong door to go outside
  • Does not recognize familiar people
  • Reduced responsiveness or apparent deafness
  • Appears to forget reason for going outdoors
  • Solicits attention less often
  • Is less likely to stand or lie for petting (walks away)
  • No longer greets family members or is less enthusiastic about it
  • Excessive barking
  • Sleeps more (overall) in a 24 hour day
  • Sleeps less during the night
  • Shows decrease in purposeful activity in a 24 hour day
  • Shows increase in aimless activity (wanders, paces) in a 24 hour day
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Goes to the bathroom indoors soon after being outside
  • Signals less often to go outside (if they previously asked to go outside)


What can we do about it?

While there is no cure for this disease, there are many treatment options that can help slow its progression. Our team can assess your dog and prescribe medications, supplements, and special diets. Scheduled once (or even twice) yearly wellness exams for your senior pet are a great time to discuss any changes with the veterinarian and monitor progress and changes.

At home there are many things you can do to help your best friend. It has been shown that increasing physical activity (in moderation), adding mental stimulation with interactive toys, and a diet rich in antioxidants can help reverse the effects of CDS. Other ways you can help are:

  • Try not to change or rearrange furniture
  • Eliminate clutter and keep wide pathways
  • Purchase or build a ramp for stairways or onto furniture
  • Know your dog’s limits when introducing new people, places, or objects
  • Develop a routine feeding, watering, and walking schedule
  • Keep commands short, simple, and compassionate
  • Encourage gentle and involved, short play sessions

The most important part to keep in mind when you have a dog with CDS, is to remain patient and provide loving environment for them to grow old in.