This is the first in a two part series about Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) has been recognized in dogs for many years, but like many idiopathic diseases (unknown cause), there has been little information gained as to the cause, treatment or prevention. Due to the increasing number of dogs reaching their life expectancy, the incidence of this degenerative disease is on the rise.
CCD is often referred to as doggy dementia, but in actuality, the two are not the same. From the perspective of clinical symptoms and the fact that both are idiopathic, it is easy to see why they would be considered the same. CCD is actually very similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people, so we can glean the information from human studies and see if we can find similarities between the two species.
CCD and Alzheimers both have the same pathophysiological changes that occur in the brain. Both have the presence of beta-amyloid plaque buildup in the brain that contributes to brain dysfunction and clinical symptoms whereas dogs and people with dementia, do not.
CCD is a degenerative disease affecting the brain found in senior dogs. Unfortunately, little research has been done regarding this condition, so we can only hope to use human studies to gather information that will help our affected pets. Symptoms that often occur with CCD include confusion, memory loss, neurological dysfunctions such as urinary and fecal incontinence, hearing and vision loss and others. CCD is not a normal aging process. It is an abnormality and a disease.
Many clients tell me that they initially find that their dog exhibits odd behavior. Perhaps they find them in odd places in the house. As the disease progresses, the odd behavior patterns continue. They might go outside and walk around, seem confused and return inside the house and immediately urinate or defecate. They seem to forget why they went outside. In time, they may find themselves in a corner of the room, unaware of how to get out of the corner. They may begin to circle and pace. In time, there may be incontinence, hearing and vision loss.
Recent research among leading brain specialist around the world has helped us to understand more about CCD and Alzheimers. It is good to know this, not only to aide our senior pet, but to help ourselves and our human loved ones who might be affected by this disease. For the past 30 years or so, it has been recognized that all human patients with Alzheimers disease had accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain. Once this was determined, the focus changed to finding a drug that would eliminate or remove the amyloid plaques. Many drugs were tried and all of them failed. Alzheimers was deemed irreversible and non-curable.
A group of neurologists and brain specialist decided to change their focus to looking for the cause of the disease. They jokingly referred to this as 21st century medicine, which begins to focus on the cause instead of finding a drug as treatment. Their findings were amazing. Basically, they found that there were three groups of people with Alzheimers, according to the causes. Two of the three groups were determined to have nutritional imbalances that were the cause. The third group were determined to have toxic causes affecting the brain. This included infections, heavy metal intoxication and others. Once the cause was determined, specific treatment was started and many Alzheimer patients responded favorably. Some of them were cured. If we look at these causes, perhaps we can find the same thing is happening in the dog.
The first thing to understand is that CCD and Alzheimers is an end stage process of an insidious disease that has been occurring for many years. This long-standing process usually has many variables which would explain the difficulty in identifying an exact cause. Another finding that is pertinent is that the beta-amyloid plaque buildup in the brain is a byproduct of the immune system’s response to the disease affecting the brain. It is a response to a disease, not the cause of the disease.
CCD is a degenerative disease that continues to alter brain and nerve function. Once degeneration has occurred to a point, acetylcholine (a vital neurotransmitter chemical) levels are reduced which ads to further neurological dysfunction. These symptoms are usually caused by loss of function of the peripheral nerves causing weakness, urinary and fecal incontinence.
Another important factor to know is that the central mechanism for neuronal (brain) degeneration is inflammation and tissue oxidation. If we understand this and work backwards, we can start to identify what could cause this. Potential causes include:
- decreased anti-oxidant nutrients
- decreased omega 3 fatty acids
- decreased B vitamins
- malabsorption/maldigestion of the gut
- poor liver detoxification
- excess aluminum, mercury and copper
- prolonged cortisol levels due to stress
In the second part of this article, I will discuss the factors that cause the potentials for CCD and look at what can be done to prevent this disease and how to treat it naturally if it has already begun.