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Canine Cognitive Dysfunction 

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), otherwise known as canine cognitive decline or 'dog dementia', refers to the progressive decline of the mental ability of dogs as they age.


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What is Dog Dementia?

CCD is a s a progressive, neurobehavioral syndrome with similarities to Alzheimer's Disease (AD) in people. Until recently, owner awareness surrounding this disease has been relatively small in comparison to the number of dogs affected by it, and has previously been written off as 'just getting old.' We now know that this is not the case. 

It is no surprise then that the most common risk factor for developing dog dementia is age. With improvements in veterinary care, nutrition and hygiene, dogs are living longer lives. Although we are still learning more about dog dementia, with a large amount of research currently going on in this space, some potential risk factors and possible preventative strategies have already been identified. For example, Katina1 et el (2017)  flagged nutrition as a risk factor  

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The etiology of CCD is multifactorial and includes but is not limited to (1) a reduction in neurons, (2) increased free radicals/oxidative stress, (3) glucose hypometabolism, (4) meningeal calcification, (5) vascular accidents resulting in decreased oxygenation to some parts of the brain, (6) shrinking of the front and temporal lobes and (7) an increased in ventricle size.

Similar to humans, dogs also develop perivascular amyloid plaques and infiltrate that affect the absorption of substances across the blood-brain barriers.

Dog Dementia Etiology
Dog Dementia Prevalence

It is no surprise that we are seeing a rise in disease associated with neurological decline, as advances in husbandry and veterinary care have allowed our pets to live longer. Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) affects approximately 30% of dogs > 11 years old and nearly all dogs > 13.5 years old. Clinically it is characterized by a decline in memory, learning, activity, perception, social interaction, and awareness.

The prevalence of CCD increases with age. For example, one study reported an increase from none to mild in 71% of dogs and from moderate to server in 50% of dogs over 12 months. Figure 1 summarises the number of DISHAA signs seen in the general canine population compared to age.

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Dog Dementia

Dog Dementia


Figure 1: A comparison of a number of clinical signs seen with dog dementia compared to age.

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Initial signs of CCD can be subtle and go undiagnosed. Going through a validated questionnaire can aid in early detection and allow owners and vets to implement treatment before clinical signs progress.

There are two main questionnaires used for diagnosis of CCD. 
The first one is the Canine Dementia Scale, or CADES, and is suggested for use by the American Animal Health Association.     You can access a version of the questionnaire we created here.

The second, being the Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Rating Scale, or CCDR, was developed by Dr. Sarah Toole and Dr. Rosalynn Wen from Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute.  A version of this can be accessed below.  Both are designed to aid in assessing the individual dog’s risk of having CCD. It is important to note that this questionnaire is not diagnostic alone, and other underlying diseases must be ruled out.

Dog Dementia Diagnosis
options for Dogs with Dementia

There is no cure for CCD, but there are ways to help your dog manage their symptoms and live a fuller life. This may include diet, mental and physical lifestyle enrichment, treating other underlying diseases and pharmaceuticals.


Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) trihigh in decanoic acid (C10) and are beneficial for dogs with dementia. They are a type of fat that is

easily absorbed by the body and can help to improve brain function by maximising mitochondrial function, improving synaptic maintenance and repair and reducing oxidative stress. The benefits of both octanoic (c8) and decanoic (C10) acid are outlined in Figure 1 below. You can find medium-chain fatty acid decanoic-enriched oils for your dog at your local vet or online. Medium-chain fatty acid oils that are higher in decanoic acid are better for dogs with CCD than standard medium-chain fatty acid oils due to the additional benefits. 

Medium-chain triglycerides - what's new in canine neurological disease and neuro-dietetics

Figure 1: The benefits of Octanoic (C8) and Decanoic (C10) acid.


Pentoxifylline is a drug that is used to treat a variety of diseases in dogs, including CCD. It is thought to work by improving blood flow and reducing inflammation. Some studies have shown that pentoxifylline can help improve cognitive function in dogs with CCD, but more research is needed. Pentoxifylline is a prescription medication and should only be given to your dog under the guidance of a veterinarian.


SAMe is a compound that is found in all cells in the body. It is made up of adenosine (a nucleoside) and methionine (an amino acid). SAMe is important for a number of bodily functions, including cell growth, DNA synthesis, and metabolism. There is evidence that SAMe may be effective in treating canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). A 2012 study found that SAMe was able to improve symptoms of CCD in dogs. If you're interested in trying SAMe for your dog, it's important to talk to your veterinarian first. They can help you determine if SAMe is right for your dog and what the best dose would be. You can also find SAMe supplements for dogs online.


Selegiline is a drug that is used to treat Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease in humans. It is also sometimes used to treat CCD in dogs. Selegiline works by inhibiting the breakdown of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in movement and coordination. This can help to improve the symptoms of CCD

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle otherwise known as silymarin is a plant that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of health problems. It is thought to be beneficial for dogs with CCD due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Some studies have shown that milk thistle can help improve brain function in dogs with dementia.

Mental and physical enrichment

This can include things like:

  1. Providing them with toys that stimulate their mind, such as puzzle toys

  2. Taking them on walks or runs to provide them with physical exercise

  3. Giving them plenty of opportunities to socialize with other dogs and people

  4. Training them on a regular basis

  5.  Have a consistent routine

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