Dog Dementia: Does Your Dog Have Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?
Just like you, your dog’s brain ages and wears out just like the rest of his body.
But in some dogs, the brain wears out quicker than in others. This causes a spectrum of symptoms that we call Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), or simply, dog dementia.
The degenerative changes in the brain tissue that cause dementia in dogs aren’t well understood. We do know that the number of nerve cells reduces as dogs age. A build-up of neurotoxic deposits in the brain may also be a contributing factor. High levels of free radicals also appear to lead to decline in cognitive function.
So, how common is dog dementia and how do you know if your dog has it?
How Common Is Dementia In Dogs?
Canine cognitive dysfunction is more common than most dog owners realize! In one study, approximately 50% of dogs over 11 years of age displayed at least one sign of CCD. Another study showed that 68% of dogs between 15 and 16 years of age may show at least one sign of CCD.
Another important thing to note is that CCD is a progressive disease. More than half of the dogs with at least one clinical sign will develop more symptoms within 12 months.
The older your dog, the more likely he is to develop CCD. That said, giant breeds age more quickly and may develop CCD as early as 5 to 7 years old. Also, it seems that neutered dogs have a slightly higher risk.
Signs Of Dementia In Dogs
Dementia in dogs can be easy to miss for a
couple of reasons:
#1 Dementia is very slow to develop. The symptoms come on so slowly that they just seem to be part of the normal.
#2 There’s a myth that it’s normal for old dogs to get a bit strange. Many people write it off as a ‘normal’ part of the aging process (it isn’t).
So how can you tell if your dog has dementia? We’ll use the acronym “DISHA” to look at the common symptoms of dementia in dogs.
This can include staring into space or getting lost in familiar surroundings. This can include not being able to find his way in and out of the house, getting stuck in corners or under tables. Your old friend may seem confused all the time. Some dogs will forget you’ve fed them. You may also see anxiety develop with a range of triggers. He may start barking at nothing. Continual pacing is another common symptom.
2. Changes In Interactions
Your old dog’s ability to maintain healthy relationships may decline. He may either show decreased affection or become overly attached and stick to a particular person like glue. Some will become irritable and grumpy.
3. Sleep-wake Cycle Changes
This is where sundowner syndrome can kick in or sleep patterns will become affected. Your old friend may start to become unsettled in the evenings or all through the night. Some dogs with dementia won’t sleep at all and others will wake often, be restless, etc. They will often bark in the night for no clear reason. And sometimes they’ll sleep all day and be up all night, wanting your attention.
4. No Longer Housetrained
Your dog may forget all his housetraining and start messing in the house. This can also happen because he can’t find his way outside at all, or in time. You may also see a lack of response to commands and an inability to perform tasks that he once could do with ease.
5. Reduced Activity Levels
Your old friend may not want to do anything much at all (sometimes not even eat). On the flip side, you’re likely to see restless behavior with continual pacing or aimless wandering around. Some dogs will develop obsessive-compulsive behaviors like licking floors.
Act Early To Prevent Dementia In Dogs
Yes, dementia in dogs is a progressive, degenerative disease. It gets worse over time, BUT there’s plenty you can do to slow it down, and often reduce or sometimes even clear the symptoms altogether.
Keep an eagle eye out for any symptoms. If you see any subtle signs, it’s time to kick into overdrive and take action. I can’t stress enough that the prognosis is good if your dog’s dementia gets diagnosed early, and poorer if diagnosed late.
The sooner you act, the better the results will be.
To help delay the onset of dementia in dogs or prevent it altogether, you should feed a healthy, complete, whole food diet. Raw is usually best, but some older dogs do better on a home cooked diet if their digestive fires are burning low.
You’ll also want to consider adding some (or all) of the following supplements:
- High-quality omegas-3s. (EPA and DHA play an important role in brain health).
- Give plenty of vital antioxidants (these help lower toxic free radical levels in the body). One great antioxidant supplement is blueberries. Another is green tea steeped in cold water for 12 hours. is the best medicine I’ve ever seen for dementia in dogs. I had one dog who had kept his mum awake every night for a year sleep through the night after just 3 days on CBD. I have consistently seen obvious reductions in symptoms with the use of CBD Oil.
- PEA (Palmitoylethanolamide) is another non-toxic, natural and highly effective medicine. You can use it alone or alongside CBD oil.
- I have found that many dogs with dementia have significant undiagnosed pain (usually from arthritis or back pain). When treated with appropriate pain relief, the symptoms often improve significantly. Natural medicines such as turmeric (golden paste) and green-lipped mussels can make a big difference.
Other supplements that are of value include:
- SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine)
- Ginkgo biloba
- Vitamins C, and E
- B Vitamins
- Gotu kola
- Valerian root
Please note: if your old dog is nearing the end, palliative use of any and all prescription pain relief medications that help may be necessary.
Other Ways To Help Prevent Dog Dementia
Hands-on bodywork can be a huge help with increasing quality of life by reducing anxiety and pain while increasing connection. Acupuncture or acupressure with Traditional Chinese herbs can be a great support for dogs with dementia.
When caring for a dog with dementia, there are also a host of proprietary remedies out there in the wild. I encourage you to seek a holistic vet or a skilled animal naturopath. They can help make sure that you give your old friend the best treatments for his needs.
And last, but definitely not least, is enrichment and gentle exercise and affection. Do things with your old dog: simple games, gentle training sessions, intentional touch and regular light exercise. This will help give him mental stimulation.
Be sure to keep the house uncluttered and all the furniture in the same place. And enjoy every moment, with heaps of love, tons of cuddles and a heart full of compassion!
Neilson JC, Hart BL, Cliff KD, Ruehl WW. Prevalence of behavioral changes associated with age-related cognitive impairment in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2001;218(11):1787-91.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction and Cannabis
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder of senior dogs. (1, 2) Dogs with CCD show behavioral alterations such as disorientation, altered interactions with owners, other pets and the environment, sleep-wake cycle disturbance, house-soiling and changes in activity. (2, 3) CCD is dog dementia.
CCD is an umbrella term for four separate cognitive forms identified by Leticia Fanucchi, DVM, PhD, a veterinary behaviorist and director of Veterinary Medicine Behavioral Services at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. (10)
Depression occurring in the dog’s later years, similar to chronic depression in humans. Several factors may be involved, but untreated anxieties seem to play a key role. Because some of the symptoms of canine dementia — circling, wandering and house soiling—often result in the dog’s confinement, anxiety can increase, which, in turn, worsens the symptoms. Other symptoms of this form of CCD include lethargy, sleep disorders, decreased learning and vocalizing. (10)
Dysthymia: This often involves loss of awareness of body length and size. Other symptoms include disrupted sleep-wake cycles; constant growling, whining or moaning; and aggressive behavior. Causes of this form are thought to include hyperadrenocorticism (such as Cushing’s disease) and long-term steroid therapy. (10)
Hyper-Aggression: In old dogs, hyper-aggression is associated with the dysfunction of structures related to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Cortical tumors may also be involved. “Dogs with this form of CCD lose their ability to communicate with other animals,” explains Fanucchi. “They neither give appeasing signals to other pets in the house nor understand when others send them. They bite first and warn second.” (10)
Confusional Syndrome: This involves a profound decline in cognitive ability. Dr. Fanucchi warns, it is the closest thing to Alzheimer’s in humans. (10)
Learn more about Canine Cognitive Dysfunction and how Cannabis might help.
Coming home to a wagging tail and sloppy kisses is simply the best. The mutual feeling has developed from thousands of years of the canine-human relationship. Mutual feelings? Yes. Investigators at Emory University found that dogs’ brains go crazy with the excitement when they see a familiar face. Like humans, as dogs age they can begin to forget those familiar faces, displaying signs of CCD . Dogs naturally accumulate deposits of the protein beta-amyloid (Aβ) in the brain. (4) Human Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is widely believed to be driven by the production and deposition of the Aβ. (6) In fact, researchers have developed the amyloid cascade hypothesis, the deposition of amyloid β protein, the main component of the plaques, is the causative agent of Alzheimer’s pathology and that the neurofibrillary tangles, cell loss, vascular damage, and dementia follow as a direct result of this disposition. (11) Canines and humans actually share the same Aβ sequence and both show increased oxidative damage. As a result, dogs can show impaired learning and memory as they age. (4)
Sadly, d ogs age faster than we do. In fact, recent research indicates that the ‘one human year is equivalent to seven dog years’ is inaccurate. A study on Labradors showed they age more in their younger years, while the aging process slows as they get older. For rough comparisons, an 8 week old puppy is equivalent to a 9 month old baby, a 1 year old is a 30 year old adult and a 6 year old dog is approximately 60 years old. (12, 13) Age and chronic systemic inflammation are risk factors for many Central Nervous System diseases, including depression and Alzheimer’s [and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction], and the elevation of peripheral inflammation in old individuals frequently leads to cognitive decline. It follows that there is a complex interrelationship between nerve cell proteotoxicity, inflammation, aging and CNS disease. (7, 8, 9)
Can Cannabis help protect dogs’ against Canine Cognitive Dysfunction? The answer is. I like to think so!
A patent t he United States Government holds states that Cannabinoids provide neuroprotectant propertients. US Patent US6630507 B1 states “The Cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Non-psychoactive Cannabinoids, such as Cannabidiol, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive Cannabinoids at high doses (15) .”
Dogs are not human. No, but but like humans they have an Endocannabinoid System. The ECS is intimately involved with the brain, cognitive functions and disease. Research indicates that ECS receptors CB1 and CB2 and endocannabinoids are involved during times of injury such as a traumatic brain injury or the accumulation of Amyloid plaque production.
Endocannabinoids can be produced in response to stress, (7, 7-44, 7-45) and in rodent AD, models Cannabinoids reduce Aβ accumulation and improve memory. (7) THC also reduces inducible huntingtin protein overexpression in laboratory cells, (7) and both THC and endocannabinoids reduce inflammation. (7,) Several synthetic, plant derived and endogenous Cannabinoids are able to prevent the accumulation of intraneuronal Aβ, reduce the production of eicosanoids, and block nerve cell death. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that there is a therapeutic potential of Cannabinoids for the treatment of Alzheimer’s (7) and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.
Further, investigators at San Diego area Stalk Institute have found preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in Cannabis can promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta . Granted the research was conducted on laboratory created neurons in an in-vitro study but it can still show insight into the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease. “Although other studies have offered evidence that Cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s [and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction], we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that Cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells,” says Salk Professor David Schubert, the senior author of the paper. (14)
Cannabidiol (CBD) is also a neuroprotectant. To the benefit of stoners, research shows CBD protects the hippocampus from changes caused by heavy consumption of THC. (from previous article on smoke cbd daily) A side note, daily smokers of Cannabis should also consume CBD daily. Alzheimer’s is characterized by the loss of hippocampal neurons and in a research model, the activation of ECS receptor CB2 might protect against A β toxicity. (16)
Oxidative stress occurs naturally, playing a role in the aging process. It is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to counteract their damaging effects through neutralization with antioxidants. (5) Oxidative stress provides the body the ability to rid itself of damaged cells and proteins and replace them with new molecules, but the accumulation of oxidative damage and free radicals can reach an unhealthy level, leading to illness. Our environment can lead to an increase in oxidative stress and unfortunately, our dogs are not immune! Potential causes of increased oxidative stress, both in human and canines, are pollution, poor quality food containing chemicals, UV light, radiation, emotional stress and more. Some diagnosis linked to oxidative stress and damage are cancer, chronic inflammation, autoimmune conditions, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s [and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction], strokes and more. (15) Research shows that THC, Cannabinol (CBN) and CBD are potent lipophilic antioxidants. (17)
How Can I Give My Dog Cannabis
Obviously dogs don’t smoke pot but can utilize Cannabis in several forms. Edible treats have become a popular way to introduce Cannabinoids into a dog’s health regimen with companies flooding the market with CBD products. For non-legal Cannabis states, CBD is federally legal and available in all fifty states making it an excellent option. Another popular product on the shelves are tinctures, a liquid oil based application. Many people apply and mix the tincture into food. Another way to use a tincture is by giving it as a pill; I combine multiple tinctures, one has CBD:THC and the other is THCA, into a vegetable gelatin capsule for a mixture of THC, CBD and THCA. For CBD only treats and products SATIVAisticated only recommends CW Botanicals, creators of the original Charlotte Web Strain made famous on the national news and Theramu, holders of the patent for using Emu oil as the transdermal carrier of Cannabinoids.
Dr. Martin Goldstein, DVM and creator of Dr. Marty’s Dog Food recently discussed the use of Frankincense to help with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Frankincense is an ancient oil that’s chock-full of antioxidants. That’s why it’s been used for thousands of years to help soothe sore muscles, boost immunity, and reduce skin irritation…And best of all, it’s easily absorbed right into your pup’s skin! (18)
He provides easy instructions:
Step 1: Pour 2-3 drops of Frankincense (you don’t need much, it’s very potent) into your palm and rub both hands together.
Step 2: Call your dog over and let him or her smell your hands so they can get used to it. Once your dog is comfortable…
Step 3: Massage the side of your dog’s face in circular motions with both hands, just under their ears and above their jaw.
Bonus: If your dog is scared of their weekly bath, this is an excellent way to calm them down before they get into the tub.
Excellent tip from Dr. Marty and it got me to thinking, I use Cannarignals (CBD:THC transdermal utilizing Emu Oil) transdermal rub on my temples when experiencing a headache to alleviate pain and throbbing. and it works. Rubbing a transdermal topical on the temple, located in the soft tissue right outside the ear canal can possibly lead to health benefits. At the very least, I can foresee it having a calming effect on your pup.
Improving Our Dog’s Endocannabinoid Tone
Like their human parents, dogs have an Endocannabinoid tone. For medical doctors and veterinarians, it is a relatively unexplored aspect to health. Up until a few years ago, it was against the rules of the California American Veterinarian Association for vets to discuss Cannabis with their patients. And now, many veterinarians are not comfortable discussing Cannabis because they do not know much about it or the Endocannabinoid System.
Believe it or not, many things we can do to improve our ECS tone will also work for dogs. Good nutrition is foundational to health and overall wellness. Over-processed foods like a lot of the dry dog kibble available can lead to poor nutrition, illness and increased oxidative stress. Besides low quality food, under feeding, over consumption, parasites and medical issues can also affect the Endocannabinoid System tone.
Nutrition is the foundation to good health and omega 3 ‘s are the building blocks for Endocannabinoids and help stabilize function of the ECS. They have been shown to help with depression and mood stabilization (3, 4 from supporting endocann system post) . Omega 3’s from ocean based sources with
In some cases, dogs can take probiotics to improve their intestinal health. Probiotics can help reduce inflammatory processes and modulate the ECS’s CB1 receptor expression. (19) With that recommendation, a recent study identified probiotic use in dogs are typically unable to colonize the gut, the metabolites they produce during their transit through the GI tract can ameliorate clinical signs and modify microbiome composition. (20) We periodically give our 14 year old Pomeranian Terrier mix probiotics when he has stomach issues but it is not a daily medication.
The environment, physical and mental, affects the Endocannabinoid System. Physical locations contaminated with pollutants, toxins and other trash is harmful to dogs. Being indoor or outdoor pups can also play a role in the ECS tone. Outdoor dogs are more prevalent to skin cancer, especially on the ears and the nose. Dogs indoors with too much UV light can also experience decrease tone. Research over the past three to four decades has clearly established that psychological stress affects immune system outcomes, including inflammatory processes, wound healing, and responses to infectious agents and other immune challenges such as auto-immune and cancer. (21) An example of psychological stress in dogs is separation anxiety, a condition that can lead to continual barking or destruction of property.
Easy to Over-Supplement and Over-spend
It is easy to over-supplement and overspend when treating our loved ones. It is can also potentially cause harm with kidney damage and gallstones with the use of too many vitamins. The use of Cannabis and pets should be done with the utmost care possible. The use of cannabinoids can cause cardiac irregularities, confusion, dizziness, unsteadiness and euphoria in humans and can do the same in pets. Further, CBD is the more complicated molecule compared to THC, and has the potential to interact with more veterinarian prescribed medications. Veterinarians should be kept aware of Cannabis use by their patients. We also recommend a consultation with a Canna-Nurse when thinking about adding THC to your pet’s Cannabinoid regime or if they already are on prescription medications.