Can Dogs Get Alzheimer’s?

Petting a golden retrievers head
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Written by Marisa Wilson

Updated: October 31, 2022

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Alzheimer’s disease is often the most common cause of dementia, an umbrella term for memory loss and other problems with thinking that are bad enough to get in the way of daily life. 60 to 80% of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease. If you know anyone who has suffered these impairments, you might wonder if your dog can get Alzheimer’s too. 

While dogs can’t get the same disease as humans, they can develop Canine Cognitive Dysfunction¬†or CCD. This is a brain disease that is similar to Alzheimer’s in people. Dogs older than nine years old are most likely to have it. Most owners first notice small changes that they might chalk up to normal wear and tear.¬†

Over time, these changes can worsen to the point where they hurt the quality of life for the dog and its owner. Early evaluation and treatment by a vet can slow the progression of this disease, so it’s vital to talk to your vet about any signs of this Alzheimer’s-like disease during your dog’s senior wellness visits. You’ll find out more info on this syndrome in this post. 

How Does it Happen?

old dog sleeping

Dogs over the age of 9 are more likely to develop CCD

Dogs with CCD aren’t only aging. Their brains are actually changing, which is causing the signs the owner sees. The dog has trouble thinking, remembering, and recognizing things, and its behavior has changed. 

CCD has been thought to be caused by a few different things. One is that like in Alzheimer’s disease, a protein called beta-amyloid builds up in the brain and turns into plaques that kill cells and damage the brain. Changes in different neurotransmitters have also been thought to play a role. 

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is ubiquitous in dogs, and most dogs over the age of nine will have at least some of the disease’s main symptoms. It is also essential to know that CCD is a brain disorder that worsens over time and that the symptoms and behaviors will get worse as time goes on.

Symptoms

Even though the first signs of the disorder aren’t too bad, they get worse over time, which isn’t the same as aging. The brains of these pets slowly lose their ability to do everyday tasks. This is called “cognitive decline.” In fact, nearly one in three dogs over the age of 11 show clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome, and by the age of 16, almost all dogs display at least one sign. 

  • Disorientation: If your dog is having trouble going around objects, or they stop recognizing familiar people or stare blankly 
  • Behavior Changes: Your dog starts pacing, has no desire to play, or is irritable. They might suffer anorexia, stop grooming themselves, or excessively lick.
  • Impaired Memory/Anxiety: They may stop following commands or house rules and be slow to learn anything new. Dogs may have trouble following their regular routes. Using the bathroom in the house after being potty trained for a while.
  • Sleep Changes: If your dog begins night walking or becoming more vocal, that can be a sleep change. Dogs can also pace at night as a symptom.

How is it Diagnosed? What is the Treatment?

A long-haired German Shepherd at the vet's office

If your dog shows any signs of CCD then it’s important to have them checked by a vet

You will need to give your veterinarian a complete history of your dog’s health, including when and how the symptoms started and any possible events that may have led to the strange behaviors or complications. Then, the vet will do a complete physical exam to determine how your dog’s health and brain are doing.

Routine blood tests, thyroid tests, and X-rays are also used to rule out other diseases that could cause the changes in behavior seen with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Your vet may also suggest getting an MRI or CT scan, two types of advanced imaging. There is also genetic testing that can aid in a diagnosis.

Medication 

Adding omega fatty acids as a supplement can also be very helpful for dogs with CCD. Other supplements might help your dog. If anxiety-related symptoms are a big part of your dog’s CCD, some dogs do better on anti-anxiety drugs. 

There is a medicine that can only be given by a vet to dogs with CCD. This drug stops MAOB from working, so neurotransmitters can stay in the brain where they are needed. Treatment for CCD depends a lot on the symptoms, and before treatment starts, you and your dog’s vet should talk in depth about all the options.

What You Can Do For Your Dogs

old dog

There is no cure for CCD but there are things you can do to help your dog

Canines with canine CCD need help and therapy for the rest of their lives. Even though there is no cure, there are things you can do at home to help your dog’s brain. Keeping the environment healthy and exciting will help slow down the process of cognitive decline. 

Most of the time, this makes them follow a daily exercise, play, and mental stimulation schedule. CCD symptoms can be lessened by sticking to a strict routine, especially at bedtime. There are a few extra things you can get. Night lights can help your dog find their way in the dark. Potty pads can help provide a place to use the bathroom if they can’t hold it. 

Orthopedic beds can make sleeping more comfortable and often have washable covers for easy cleaning. Your dog can also stay comfortable and busy with the help of medicine and behavioral therapy. Your vet might suggest giving your dog a special, well-balanced diet to help it think better.

Life Expectancy 

Canine cognitive dysfunction is a degenerative disease that happens in older dogs, just like Alzheimer’s does in older people. This makes it challenging to predict how long a dog will live. 

Even if a dog is healthy in other ways, dementia will eventually cause the dog’s life to be less enjoyable, but no one knows when that will happen. Working with your vet to track your dog’s quality of life is the best way to keep an eye on their physical and mental health. This will help you figure out how to know when your dog’s time is near. 

Conclusion 

While Alzheimer’s disease is most commonly diagnosed in humans, dogs can suffer from a similar condition known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). CCD is characterized by a decline in mental function; symptoms can include changes in sleeping patterns, increased anxiety, and difficulty with basic tasks such as housetraining. 

If your dog shows signs of CCD, it is essential to take them to the vet for a diagnosis. There is no cure for CCD, but treatments can help improve your dog’s quality of life. In addition, watch for other symptoms that may indicate a more serious health problem. With proper care and treatment, dogs with CCD can enjoy a good quality of life even in their golden years.

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About the Author

Creepy-crawly creatures enthrall Marisa. Aside from raising caterpillars, she has a collection of spiders as pets. The brown recluse is her favorite spider of all time. They're just misunderstood. You don't have to worry about squishing the creatures as her catching, and relocating abilities can safely move stray centipedes or snakes to a new location that's not your living room.

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