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Cognitive Dysfunction in Dogs

As a dog ages, cognitive Function will deteriorate and manifest itself in behavioral changes. While some behavior issues can be overlooked and considered normal for elderly dogs, advanced dysfunction and senility can probe very problematic. It's very important to think of these changes as symptoms of a disease, rather than typical misbehaviors that come with old age. 


Cognitive dysfunction can be cause by some or all of these changes in the brain:

  • Decreased dopamine levels. Monoamine oxidase B, or MAOB, increase in older dogs. MOAB metabolizes the neurotransmitter dopamine, which leads to a decrease in dopamine levels.
  • Increased beta-amyloid levels. Beta-amyloid is a protein that can accumulate in the brain and damage neurons, leading to cognitive dysfunction. 
  • Mico-hemorrhages and infarcts (areas where blood flow has been disrupted). These can impair blood flow and reduce the availability of oxygen to the brain.
  • A reduction in the toal size and weight of the dog's brain. This leads to a decrease in neurons and, conseuwuentially, diminished brain function.


These brain changes will manifest themselves in various ways. You may witness your dog having difficulty with spatial orientation, apparent loss of memory, wandering, confusion, restlessness, nighttime pacing, and inappropriate elimination. Some dogs may even have difficulty recognizing known family members.


There are several treatment methods available for dogs with cognitive dysfunction. L-Deprenyl (Anipryl) helps prolong dopamine activity by inhibiting MAOB function, thereby lessening cognitive impairment. Dopamine also breaks down free radicals in the brain. Many dogs improve after a few weeks of taking L-Deprenyl. Certain therapeutic diets may also help with canince cognitive impairment. These foods are supplemented with antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other substances that can help retain cognitive function. Studies have shown that dogs fed these diets perform better at cognitive tests than dogs who are fed non-supplemented diets. Ask your vet about special prescription diets for your older dog. Keeping your dog mentally stimulated and enriched is another good way to treat, manage and prevent cognitive dysfunction. Even old dogs can learn new tricks--use verbal instruction, hand signals and touch indicators to teach your dog tricks or commands. This type of mental exercise, a stimulating enviroment and a supplemented diet can all work well together to improve cognitive function in affected dogs.