Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

By Dr. Emily Hoppmann

With all the advances in medical technology, diagnostic testing, and medication we are better able to provide pets longer quality lives. With all these advances in veterinary medicine, wonderful care by owners, and the increase in veterinary exams to every 6 months pets are living longer, healthier lives. Pets living so much longer than they used to has presented us, as veterinarians, new challenges to make sure that we are recommending more wellness exams, putting more emphasis on prevention, and tackling new diseases that we did not use to see or that we did not understand as well. One of the huge advances in the field is our increased knowledge on how the brain works and what diseases might be affecting our patients and how to best manage these diseases.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is one of the diseases of the brain that we are seeing more and more of. This syndrome is associated with the brain aging, much like dementia or Alzheimer disease in humans. We see alterations in awareness, decreased responsiveness to stimuli, and deficits in learning. Using the acronym DISHA, most clinical signs can be placed in 5 following categories. One, Disorientation, including getting lost in familiar environments, confusion, or inability to navigate through familiar routes, such as standing at the wrong side of the door to go out. Two, Interactions with humans and animals may change (less playful, difference in wanting affection or not, increase in irritability/aggression). Three, Sleep-Wake Cycle alterations that can manifest as night waking or vocalization and sleeping more during the day. Four, Housetraining may deteriorate, along with other learned behaviors. This can be seen by the pet having accidents in the house and becoming less able to perform basic commands (sit, stay, etc). Finally, Activity level can change and be seen as lethargy, decreased appetite, and less interest in new things/places. As CCD becomes worse the pet may become restless with pacing, aimless wandering, or compulsive activity disorders such as excessive licking.

The cause of this disease all relate back to changes in the brain and it can actually affect both dogs and cats as early as 7 years of age. All treatment options are focus on supporting the brain. Maintaining physical and mental stimulus, feeding a diet specifically for brain function (such as Hill’s B/D), and medications all can help. Every animal is different in the way and the degree they respond to treatment. Sometimes the medications can take months to show full effects. For example, Neutricks is one of the newest medications on the market for this disease and it replaces the calcium-binding proteins that protect the brain cells and protects brain cells from future damage. Again, every patient responds to medications differently so it may take trying a few different medications or combinations to find the one that works best for your pet.