The incidence of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or canine Alzheimer’s disease, is an estimated 14 percent of dogs 8 and older. Signs of CDS are slowly progressive in dogs, just like in people. Dogs can go from symptom-free to exhibiting mild to severe signs of CDS within six months. Screening dogs for behavioral and cognitive health should be as routine as screening for medical issues such as dental and joint health.

CDS is a “rule-out” diagnosis. It cannot be detected with a single blood test or exam. Questions asked by your veterinarian include: Is there a difference in activity level? Are there mentation changes or new anxieties? Your veterinarian has to figure out whether the pet is suffering from medical problems, behavioral problems, neurological problems or all of the above.

Veterinarians will look for disorientation, changes in social interactions, changes in the sleep cycle, changes in behavior at home, changes in activity and increased anxiety.

Just like in people, there are, at this time, no wonderful drugs to treat CDS in dogs.

Some veterinarians feel that feeding a diet containing medium-chain triglycerides such as vegetable oil may help improve clinical signs. Adjusting to lifestyle changes in the geriatric pet is very important to keep it mentally stimulated and to maintain the bond between the owner and the pet. A leisurely walk up and down the block provides an opportunity for bonding, as well as mental stimulation for the day. Simple games like hide-and-seek help reduce boredom and stimulate a dog’s mind. Using gentle massage on a dog that is losing sensory capabilities can help ease anxiety.

Dr. Karsten Fostvedt is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.

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