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Can Dogs Get Alzheimers? A Look at Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Older Dogs

Updated on December 18, 2014
Maggie Bonham profile image

Maggie Bonham, or Margaret H. Bonham, is a multiple award-winning pet author and expert. She has written more than 20 books on pets.

Does your dog is forget to ask go outside when needing to relieve himself and instead pees on the floor? Does he look lost when he enters the room or barks wildly for no apparent reason? Maybe you've noticed he's just "not all there." If any of these signs sound familiar, perhaps your dog is suffering from Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS).

What Is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)?

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome or CDS is caused by chemical and physical brain changes that take place as a dog gets older. The telltale sign of CDS is an abrupt change in behavior. Similar to Alzheimers in humans, CDS affects older and geriatric dogs.

How Prevalent is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome?

As veterinary and pet care continues to advance, our dogs are living longer. As a result, veterinarians are seeing more dogs with CDS as more dogs can live past ten. According to a University of California-Davis study, approximately 62% of dogs between the ages of 11 and 16 showed signs of CDS.

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What are the Symptoms of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome?

Common symptoms include: confusion and disorientation, excessive sleeping, reduced activity, abnormal barking, waking up barking, lapse in housetraining (housebreaking), not recognizing familiar people, agitation and lack of interest in surroundings, food or people. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome may also cause excessive thirst and panting.

Owners who have dogs with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome may be driven crazy by behavior that makes no sense. For example, your dog may bark to go outside but stands at the door wondering why you put him out. Or he may see your child and bark at him as though he never seen your child before. Sometimes the behavior continues for hours, with no apparent resolution.

What Causes Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome?

No one really knows what causes Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, except perhaps old age. But why some dogs get it over others remains a mystery. It may be hereditary or genetic.

Other Diseases with Similar Symptoms

CDS isn't always responsible for symptoms that are associated with CDS. Brain tumors and other diseases might mimic CDS which is why it is important for your veterinarian to rule them out first. Kidney disease, for example, can cause incontinence and excessive thirst. A dog who is old will usually be a bit less active and more prone to sleeping.

Treatment for Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Anipryl® is the medication of choice for treating CDS. In the dogs taking Anipryl®, about two-thirds showed some improvement and half of those dogs actually acted young again. However, Anipryl® doesn't work for all dogs and about athird of those treated showed no improvement. Anipryl® works by increasing the levels of dopamine in a dog's brain.

Treating Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome can be expensive, costing anywhere from $50 to $100 a month. Once your dog is on the treatment, he'll have to stay on the treatment for life or revert to his former condition. One very good side effect is that Anipryl® can actually lengthen your dog's life. So, if your old dog is showing signs of CDS, you can actually turn back the clock in some cases and have some truly golden years with your Golden Retriever.


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    • Maggie Bonham profile image

      Maggie Bonham 3 years ago from Missoula, Montana


    • Solaras profile image

      Solaras 3 years ago

      Great post - Thumbs up and shared!