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Can dogs have dementia?

Can dogs have dementia?

The answer is unfortunately, yes. Also known as Canine Cognitive Decline (CCD) and referred to more commonly as dementia, this age related condition is similar to what is seen in humans as they age. There are many signs that can be seen in your dog and are important to take note of. The top three signs are:

  1. vision impairment
  2. decline in hearing
  3. decreased sense of smell  

However, there are several other signs that might not be as obvious and are important to watch out for. 

Disorientation - This could include walking to the wrong side of the door, unexplained staring at inanimate objects (i.e. walls, blanket, and getting trapped behind furniture). They may seem more confused. 

Unexplained interactions - There may be a change in behaviour with family members (including other pets) such as aggression, irritability, less social than in previous years. 

House Soiling - They are no longer signaling to go outside or they may start eliminating after they already have been outside.

Activity Change - Overall less playful than they used to be. They may start pacing and wandering around without purpose. They may pick up a once loved toy, then release it with no intent to play. 

Memory Loss - If your dog was once quick at playing fetch, another sign of CCD is that they won't retrieve the ball like they once did. They cannot make the mental connection to where the ball is after it has been thrown.  

Change in Sleep Patterns - If your dog sleeps a lot more during the day and has difficulty sleeping at night, this may be a sign of CCD.

Tremors - Mild shaking or tremors may develop. These can be mild to severe. In any case it is important to see your veterinarian right away to rule out other causes of tremors. 

Falling - This is really one to watch out for as injury could occur. Falling occurs due to the decline of the neural connections of visual cues to physical movements. 

An elderly woman with a dog sitting outdoors on a terrace on a sunny day in autumn. An unrecognizable elderly woman sitting outdoors on a terrace on a sunny day in autumn, playing with a dog. senior dog stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Healthy Food Can Help Slow Down Disease

Science has shown that overfeeding of highly processed, low nutrient food, leads to a poor quality microbiome in the gut (1). That means the resident bacteria in the gut spill out chemicals that do not optimize function of the rest of the organs in the body, including the brain! Over time, constant eating of low quality food does little to help promote the healthiest of the bacteria in the gut and then leads to poor mood, motivation, intelligence, memory, learning and cognition. While we can't stop the clock from ticking, we can definitely help our dogs live healthier, longer, by giving them the best food, fresh well balanced meals made from quality ingredients. 

More and more research is revealing that fresh food is the basis for optimal health. Whole quality foods provide the right nutrients for bacteria in the gut for humans and for dogs. Evidence is abundant that a healthy gut microbiome is the basis for optimal development and regulation of major organ systems, including the nervous system. (2). Fresh food is like 'medicine' for the gut microbiome in our pets. 

A group of researchers at the University of Bologna in Italy studied how the gut microbiome influenced the central nervous system in dogs by measuring certain behaviours in dogs. They found that an unbalanced microbiome may be releasing neuroactive microbial by-products, and the side effect of these by-products is poor neurological behaviour. The authors suggest: "Although further studies are needed to validate our findings, our work supports the intriguing opportunity that different behavioural phenotypes in dogs may be associated with peculiar gut microbiome layouts, suggesting possible connections between the gut microbiome and the central nervous system" (3).

Happy Old Dog A senior dog having a great afternoon in the park. senior dog stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Another important dietary component to improving cognitive function is omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and are known as “good fats”. It has been well established in humans and in dogs that the omega 3 family of oils: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are vital in maintaining proper neuron and brain function. Some great food sources of omega 3s for dogs are flax seed, chia seeds, salmon, and fish oil. PUFAs are also beneficial in enhancing cognitive functions in dogs showing early signs of dementia and cognitive decline (4,5). It is exciting to know that through food, we can help our aging dogs have a better life. 

Take home message 

Overfeeding, especially of nutrient poor foods, leads to a poor gut microbiome, and what the gut produces is directly related to how the brain and the central nervous system functions, including mood and behaviour. Feeding your dog high quality food is a great way to support your dog’s gut microbiome, leading to better overall cognitive health and slowing some neurologic diseases like CCD. 

senior terrier dog
senior terrier dog

View Sources

1.Bischoff SC, Volynets V. Nutritional influences of overfeeding on experimental outcomes in laboratory mice: consequences for gut microbiota and other functional studies. Int J Med Microbiol. 2016 Aug;306(5):328-333. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmm.2016.05.018. Epub 2016 Jun 3. PMID: 27432516.

2.Wernimont SM, Radosevich J, Jackson MI, Ephraim E, Badri DV, MacLeay JM, Jewell DE, Suchodolski JS. The Effects of Nutrition on the Gastrointestinal Microbiome of Cats and Dogs: Impact on Health and Disease. Front Microbiol. 2020 Jun 25;11:1266. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2020.01266. PMID: 32670224; PMCID: PMC7329990.

3. Mondo E, Barone M, Soverini M, D'Amico F, Cocchi M, Petrulli C, Mattioli M, Marliani G, Candela M, Accorsi PA. Gut microbiome structure and adrenocortical activity in dogs with aggressive and phobic behavioral disorders. Heliyon. 2020 Jan 29;6(1):e03311. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e03311. PMID: 32021942; PMCID: PMC6994854.

4. Pan Y, Landsberg G, Mougeot I, Kelly S, Xu H, Bhatnagar S, Gardner CL, Milgram NW. Efficacy of a Therapeutic Diet on Dogs With Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS): A Prospective Double Blinded Placebo Controlled Clinical Study. Front Nutr. 2018 Dec 12;5:127. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2018.00127. PMID: 30619873; PMCID: PMC6299068.

5. Pan Y, Kennedy AD, Jönsson TJ, Milgram NW. Cognitive enhancement in old dogs from dietary supplementation with a nutrient blend containing arginine, antioxidants, B vitamins and fish oil. Br J Nutr. 2018 Feb;119(3):349-358. doi: 10.1017/S0007114517003464. Epub 2018 Jan 10. PMID: 29316985.

6. Ozawa M, Inoue M, Uchida K, Chambers JK, Takeuch Y, Nakayama H. Physical signs of canine cognitive dysfunction. J Vet Med Sci. 2019 Dec 26;81(12):1829-1834. doi: 10.1292/jvms.19-0458. Epub 2019 Nov 1. PMID: 31685716; PMCID: PMC6943310.

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February 20, 2024
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