Dr. Annie Chen-Allen, an assistant professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, answers this week's questions about dementia in dogs. It is part of our series about the health issues facing aging dogs.

Chen-Allencropped.jpgDr. Annie Chen-Allen, an assistant professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, answers this week’s questions about dementia in dogs. It is part of our series about the health issues facing aging dogs.

Question: What are the signs of senility?

Answer: Dogs with senility, otherwise known as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS), commonly have one or more of the five main symptoms: disorientation, interaction changes, sleeping-habit alterations, house soiling and activity-level alteration. This is otherwise known as DISHA.

Other behavioral changes include aggression, anxiety, sedated states, changes in eating habits and changes in sexual behavior.

Question: Are there different forms of senility? Does Alzheimer’s disease exist in dogs?

Question: There are not different forms of CCDS, but just different severity or degree of CCDS.

Alzheimer’s has not been proven in dogs, but there are neuropathologic lesions in dogs with CCDS that are similar to those seen in human Alzheimer’s patients.

Question: Are there tests to determine if a dog has dementia?

Answer: Unfortunately, there is not a definitive test to diagnose CCDS. It is diagnosed by excluding other diseases that can produce similar symptoms &#8210 metabolic disorders such as kidney or liver disease and primary neurologic disorders, such as brain tumors.

It is most helpful when the owner can provide a thorough history that includes a detailed description of the behaviors the pet is exhibiting. Many CCDS researchers have questionnaires and other tools to help define the changes the owners observe at home.

Videotape of the behavior is also helpful because the animal is more likely to show changes in cognitive function at home than in the stressful environment of a vet clinic.

Advanced imaging can be a useful (although not a definitive) diagnostic tool for identifying the brain pathology in patients with CCDS.