Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder in senior dogs.  It is commonly under-diagnosed because behavioral changes are often attributed to the natural process of aging by most dog guardians. 

We all hate to see our dogs get olderIt’s heartbreaking to see the geriatric signs start to show up one by one. Unfortunately, CCDS is quite common in older dogs. Based on a web survey from the journal of veterinary science in 2019 it was shown that the prevalence of CCDS was 18% in dogs of 14 years of age or older. Early detection is key to managing your dog’s symptoms.

The Primary Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) in Dogs Can Be Described By Using The Acronym DISSHA

  1. Changes in behavior such as Disorientation, sustained gaze
  2. Social Interaction changes
  3. Sleep/wake cycle alterations
  4. New symptoms of Stress (pacing, shaking, hiding, restlessness) and sometimes even aggression. These are often worse at night.

5.Breakdown in training especially House-soiling

  1. Dogs can also exhibit symptoms of Apathy, indifference, and less playing.

Here is a link to a downloadable check list to see if your dog may have a diagnosis of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Making a  Plan For Treatment

First it is essential to differentiate between physiological aging and pathological  aging.  In other words, rule out other geriatric medical issues such as pain from osteoarthritis or other orthopedic issues, organ dysfunction, infection, loss of hearing or sight, etc. before reaching a diagnosis of cognitive dysfunction.  

Underlying medical issues may be worsening the cognitive dysfunction symptoms therefore when these are properly managed the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction will likely improve.

Treatment involves Behavioral Modification, a Management Plan, Diet Change and Medications and Supplements.

BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION for dogs with CCDS includes:

1.Environmental enrichment and adjustment such as:

  • Extra large, comfy dog beds. Maybe one in each room of the house. You may have to place wee wee pads between the bed and a blanket if urinary incontinence is occurring.
  • Area rugs and runners to prevent slipping
  • Calming music at night
  • He may need to be enclosed in a small area of the house to avoid confusion and overwhelm.

2.Increased mental stimulation which can include Healthy bones, brain stimulating toys and treats. Playing ball or long walks if he is still willing and able. If there are specific activities your dog loves to do, try to keep doing them even if you have to modify them.

3.Structured interactions with the guardian-just getting into the habit of getting down on the floor with your dog 2-3 times daily to be present with him is both reassuring and comforting. Give a gentle massage to make him feel loved and relaxed. It’s also quality time that benefits you as well while you make sweet memories with your old dog.

4.Implementation of a predictable routine – this adds a sense of security and supports your dog’s confidence. These dogs do not do well with change or surprises. For example, I have seen dogs with dementia go downhill quickly after being boarded in a kennel. If you have to leave your dog for a trip try to keep him in his own environment and routine by having someone stay at your house.

5.Retraining certain behaviors such as housetraining. This is definitely one of the most difficult aspects of managing a dog with cognitive dysfunction. Often you have to treat him like a puppy and start from scratch. You may have to modify his freedom in the house to keep the accidents under control.



1. This may include confinement to a safe area of the house, baby gates by stairs, and keeping your dog close to you when possible.  An old dog may need to be reintroduced to a crate in order to keep him safe while left alone.  These adjustments must be done slowly in order to avoid worsening stress in your dog. 

2. Your older dog may need to be separated from other household dogs if aggression and stress starts to show up in either dog.  

3. Wee Wee pads or diapers may need to be utilized if housebreaking regression develops.


Supplements that support brain health include Ginkgo biloba, Omega 3s, Denamarin, MCTs (coconut oil), Senilife® (Ceva) contains phosphatidylserine, pyridoxine, ginkgo biloba, resveratrol, and vitamin E

Medications that have been shown to improve symptoms of cognitive dysfunction include Anipryl® (selegiline, Pfizer) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (prozac).

Anti-anxiety treatment: CBC oil (3rd party tested), melatonin, benzodiazepines (valium), trazodone. The valium or trazodone may be necessary at night to help your dog sleep. Acupuncture and massage can be very effective as well.

A fresh diet that is not overly processed is essential. If you feed a dry kibble I rcommend transitioning over to a fresh diet. Here is my blog on why dry food is not good for your dog Options include a commercial raw diet, commercial cooked diet, a balanced home-cooked diet, freeze dried, air-dried or dehydrated diets. Avoid highly processed treats. Check out my blog on healthy treats here:

Some foods that support brain health include broccoli, salmon, blueberries and the spice turmeric.


Dog guardians are often unaware of slight behavioral changes in their dogs and therefore may overlook the early onset of CCDS, leading to late diagnosis of CCDS when the brain tissue is conclusively damaged. Early intervention is key to managing your dog’s CCDS so that you can keep him comfortable and happy for as long as possible.