Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)

The physiological origin for cognitive dysfunction in aging dogs can be biological and/or nutritional.  Aging is often associated with a decreased absorption of key ingredients required to nourish the brain.  Aging also brings on an increase in oxidative stress due to free radical attacks that damage the protein, lipid, and nucleotide structures of the brain. Numerous scientific studies have confirmed that oxidative damage and the lack of key nutritional ingredients leads to cognitive dysfunction and memory decline.

Chronic stress and ageing are two of the most important factors that negatively affect cognitive functions such as learning and memory across the lifespan of our pets. This deterioration is typically characterized by behavioral changes such as memory loss and diminished motor function.  Thus far, pharmacological agents have been insufficient in reducing the impact of either of these on brain health; therefore, nutritional therapeutic strategies have become more useful to veterinarians and their clients in recent years.

Recent research has focused on nutritional interventions capable of modifying behavior and reducing the effects of both stress and ageing. Scientific evidence indicates that certain phospholipids, (phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine) are capable of improving a variety of cognitive processes in both animals and humans.

Clinical Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Dogs

As the brain of the dog declines with age, behavioral signs related to CDS appear.  Some of the signs to look for are:

  • Changes in awareness or response to stimuli
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Inability to follow familiar routes
  • Anxiety (restlessness or irritability)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased desire to play
  • Fecal or urinary incontinence
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Inability to learn new tasks
  • Unresponsive to previously learned commands

The initial symptoms of CDS in the dog can be mild and are often written off as normal signs of aging. Cognitive dysfunction signs will gradually worsen over time and can be referred to as “Cognitive Decline or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.”  We sometimes notice these changes but frequently do nothing about them. These things, much like death, are inevitable; however, they can be pushed back, and many can be managed or eliminated.

Oxidative Brain Damage and CDS

The scientific link between aging, neuronal degeneration and free radicals provides an interesting hypothesis – Would reducing oxidative damage in the brain throughout the life of the dog decrease the incidence of CDS in seniors. A second question that comes to mind – Once CDS becomes apparent would the feeding of brain nutrients and antioxidants prevent further decline or even reverse the cognitive dysfunction behaviors.

To evaluate the relationship of CDS and oxidative damage, a scientific study was conducted. First, the results of base-line cognitive tests between young dogs and aged dogs showed that older dogs did significantly worse in all phases of the test. Additional tests were conducted on equal numbers of old dogs that had no differences in their cognitive ability. This group of dogs was split into two groups – one group was fed an antioxidant-rich diet for six months while the other was fed the same diet without the antioxidants. The results showed that the antioxidant rich diet group scored significantly fewer errors on the more difficult tasks. The antioxidant rich group also showed improvements in spatial attention, visual discrimination and reversal learning along with reduced protein oxidative damage and plaque accumulation in the brain.

How CogniPro for Dogs Helps

Obviously, preventing the onset of CDS would be best. I whole-heartedly believe in prevention over treatment. So, here is what I recommend first to prevent the onset; then, slow the progress once signs begin; and finally, reverse some of the effects of CDS before they worsen.

The canine brain must receive nourishment every day in order to stay healthy. This requires that blood flow to the brain remain optimal and neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine function properly. Optimal brain health also requires that free radical events affecting brain tissues be kept at a minimum.

Science has repeatedly demonstrated that nutrition is the key to a longer and healthier life. Laboratory and clinical studies have shown that providing a biologically appropriate diet and further supplementing it with specific brain nutrients and antioxidants supports normal brain function in the aging dog.

Maintaining our dogs in a healthy and stimulating environment also helps maintain normal cognitive function throughout life. Providing mental stimulation during their developmental period and beyond will push back the cognitive signs of aging. Brain teaser toys, obedience training, agility events or any of the activities we can do with our dogs will help keep them mentally alert.

Reducing the risk of developing neurodegenerative disease may be as simple as providing more physical exercise, social engagement, cognitive-enhancing activities and an adequate intake of dietary antioxidants and brain nutrients.

By Clayton Bolinger
April 17, 2024