FREE SHIPPING for orders over $75 within the USA and Canada | SHOP NOW
Old dog

How to Help Dogs with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

How to Help Dogs with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCD or CDS), sometimes referred to as 'doggy dementia', is a neurodegenerative condition that commonly affects aging dogs. Just like humans, dogs can experience cognitive decline as they get older. CCD diagnosis is quite challenging, and in some cases it can slowly progress until significant behavioural change or cognitive impairment is noticed. In other dogs, CCD can come on quite quickly and dramatically.

Causes of Cognitive Dysfunction

The exact cause of CCD is still not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to its development. As dogs age, changes to the vasculature and supportive tissues in and around the brain are common. These changes can restrict blood flow and delivery of nutrients essential to healthy brain cell function. Fibrosis, secondary to oxidative stress and inflammation, may also play a role in the development of CCD. In some dogs, plaques formed from amyloid, a specific protein, have been documented, similar in appearance to Alzheimer's-like pathology in humans. These alterations in normal structure can disrupt the functioning of brain cells and impair cognitive abilities. 

Symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Recognizing the symptoms of CCD is crucial for early detection and intervention. The signs are non-specific and can easily be mistaken for other conditions, or mistaken for normal aging. Common signs of canine cognitive dysfunction include:


Dogs with CCD may become confused and disoriented, especially in familiar surroundings.

Interaction changes

Dogs may be less interested in playing, may not socialize as well with other dogs, withdraw from family members, or conversely seek more attention than typical.

Sleep/wake disturbances

Changes to sleep patterns may result in nighttime restlessness and excessive sleeping during the day.

House soiling

dogs with CCD may inappropriately eliminate in their home environment despite being previously house-trained.

Activity Changes

Decreases in energy levels can result in less interest in physical activities and exertion.

General behaviour changes

Affected dogs may exhibit increased anxiety, irritability, or other behavioural alterations.

Treatments for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

While there is no cure for CCD, there are options available to manage the condition and improve the quality of life for affected dogs. Environmental enrichment, including mental stimulation and a consistent routine, can help slow the progression of cognitive decline. Physical activity, as appropriate for each individual dog, and exposure to new and stimulating environments have been shown to promote brain health and maintain cognitive abilities. Learning is also a critical component - it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

Additionally, nutrition can be used promote brain health and even reduce symptoms of CCD in some cases. A diet rich in antioxidants (bright and dark fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants) and natural anti-inflammatories (the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA) can help to slow brain aging. Addition of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs, naturally found in coconut and palm oils) appears to provide an additional source of energy for brain cells. Supplements that contain these nutrients, such as the Vivus Calming Support Chews, may help to protect the aging brain, delay onset and slow progress of CCD. 

Remember, it's important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of their specific signs and most appropriate treatment plan for your dog based on their individual needs. Many of the signs of CCD can also be due to other underlying health conditions that may, in some cases, require medications  prescribed by a veterinarian. Always speak with your veterinarian about dietary changes or supplementation to ascertain what will work best for your dog.


Tips on how to care for a dog with Cognitive Dysfunction

Consistency with location for food, water and amenities like bed

This helps a dog with cognitive dysfunction to retain familiarity and reduce. disorientation. Dogs may need to be shown or reminded where these are on occasion.

Avoiding staircases

Keep food and water and amenities on the same level for the dog.

Brain training

Learning new behaviours and cues keeps the brain active and helps develop and maintain neural pathways.

Consistency in routine

As with consistency in locations, this helps a dog with cognitive dysfunction to understand the course of their day better.

Regular exercise

Going out for adventures consistent with a senior dog's capabilities can help introduce them to new sights, sounds and smells and keep their brains active.

Compassionate support

It can be frustrating being woken up in the middle of the night by a howling dog, but remember that dog may be confused, disoriented, or even scared, so patience and understanding are critical for senior support.


Read more: Cornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center, Veterinary Partener

Shop the story