Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), sometimes known as “cognitive dysfunction syndrome,” is similar to dementia in humans. While there is no cure for CCD, there are plenty of ways to improve your elderly dog’s well-being, happiness, and sense of security in their twilight years.
Here are six of the best tips for caring for dogs with canine cognitive disorder.
1. Stick to a Regular Routine
All dogs benefit from a consistent routine. Knowing when they go out, when you’re at home and when it’s time to settle for the night is reassuring. However, routines are especially important for dogs suffering from CCD. An inconsistent schedule can raise anxiety and may make CCD symptoms worse.
While it can be challenging to stick to an exact schedule, try to ensure that your dog’s waking and sleeping hours are kept as consistent as possible. This helps to reduce night-time confusion.
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Potty breaks and walks should also be done at the same times each day or at least performed in the same order if you struggle to keep to a set time every day. Factoring more supervised potty breaks into your routine can also help to decrease the number of accidents inside.
2. Avoid Changing Your Home Environment
Unfortunately, aside from the confusion brought about by CCD, your aging dog is also likely to suffer some blindness. Vision loss may make it more difficult for your pet to move around the home. For this reason, you should keep your dog’s food, water, and bed in easily accessible positions and avoid moving them. Similarly, try to keep furniture in a consistent location.
It’s also important to minimize clutter as this can present a trip hazard. If your dog is becoming unstable on their paws, place non-slip mats on slippery surfaces so your pooch will feel more secure.
3. Plenty of Patience
You’ll need plenty of patience to look after a dog with canine dementia. Even when maintaining a consistent schedule, frequent indoor accidents and forgotten training are commonplace occurrences. Frustrating as it may be, this isn’t your dog’s fault, so practice plenty of patience.
Dogs with CCD may also forget familiar people or react undesirably towards new ones. Make sure that you explain the situation to any guests at your home, asking them to remain calm and quiet. Allow your dog to greet them in their own time, rather than having a lot of new faces crowding around their dog bed.
4. Talk with your Veterinarian
Although there is no cure for CCD, it is still worth speaking to your veterinarian about medication or nutritional supplements. While your dog will never revert to their younger self, there are ways to treat the symptoms. Simple changes to diet, medications, and supplements can help keep your dog happier and calmer in their final years.
Veterinary Partner recommends supplements rich in antioxidants or medium-chain triglycerides, noting that the latter “provides energy to the dog’s brain, which is helpful because the brain is less able to use glucose for energy in CCD.” According to one scientific study, a change of diet has been shown to make significant improvements in CDS signs after 90 days.
5. Gentle Exercise
While your dog is no longer going to be running energetically around the park, exercise is still essential. Physical and mental stimulation can slow down cognitive decline and reduce anxiety.
Take short walks at a slow pace, letting your dog move at a comfortable gait. Allow your dog to sniff and take their time exploring new smells, as this is great stimulation for their mind. If possible, try to take your dog for a walk during the day rather than early morning or evening. Walks during sunlight hours can help to reduce the occurrence of nocturnal barking and daytime sleepiness that are commonly associated with CCD.
6. Mental Stimulation
Strenuous exercise may not be suitable for your elderly dog, but that doesn’t mean the end of playtime!
Mental stimulation is essential for senior dogs and slowing down CCD symptoms. Simple games such as hiding treats, stuffing Kongs or snuffle mats with treats, or playing with a favorite squeaky toy can all help activate your dog’s brain and make them feel less anxious.
While your dog may not play like in the past, games are still important – even if they are shorter and less intense. Not only are you helping to keep your pet mentally active, but you’re also strengthening the bond between you, which is vital for your dog’s happiness.
Make sure that you take things at your dog’s pace. Don’t forget lots of caresses and praise can do wonders for reassuring your dog. As the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois recommends:
“Make changes gradually and introduce activities that are within the physical and mental capabilities of your dog or cat. For example, while there are many food puzzle toys available for dogs and cats, offer toys that are fairly simple to manipulate (such as a Kong) unless your dog or cat is already a food puzzle pro.”
So, keep it simple, choose simple toys, and, above all, take time to maintain a strong bond with your dog.
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from CCD, make sure that you get the advice of a qualified veterinarian who can help you both to make the most of life together in the coming years. While having a dog with CCD can be emotionally distressing and tiring, these tips will help you to improve your dog’s quality of life in their twilight years.