Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Cricket standing with her head in a corner

This is a hard post to write, but perhaps not for the reason you would think. My old dog Cricket has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. This condition is like Alzheimer’s or dementia for dogs. It’s hard to write about not because I am permeated with sadness about it. It’s hard to write because I’m not. I live with Cricket and attend to her, and I don’t see that she suffers much from CCD. Of course I regret the loss of her capabilities, and the decline can be hard to witness, but for her day to day comfort, I am more concerned about possible pain from arthritis and weakness in her rear legs.

It’s mostly hard to write about this because I’m concerned about being judged. There are a handful of videos on the Internet showing dogs purported to have dementia, and the videos to me are very sad. My visceral reaction is sometimes that the people are not doing the dog a kindness by letting its existence continue. Or perhaps that they are callous to suffering on their dogs’ part. So I wonder whether you’ll have that reaction to my pictures and video of Cricket.

I hope not. I remind myself when I see the other videos, and I hope you all will keep in mind as well, that we are seeing but a small part of the dog’s life. Not only that, but in my observation of Cricket, her own condition is not distressing to her. It can, however, be distressing to witness. It also requires careful management of her environment and a watchful eye on my part to keep her safe. I have written some about Cricket’s care in a previous post: Poop in my Pocket.

Am I being selfish keeping her with me on this earth? I truly don’t think so.

As long as she has enjoyment in life, minimal stress and pain, and still knows me (she has always been very attached to me and I am her anchor), I think her quality of life is just fine. Her appetite is good. She continues to go to work with me several half days a week, and she looks forward to those outings. At the office she is free of bother from other dogs, and has a completely carpeted surface to walk on. She toddles around after me or sometimes sleeps close by. She still sleeps pretty well at night (knock on wood). When she wanders or stands with her head in a corner, she does not display stress that I can see. In fact I see fewer signs of stress or anxiety from her now than I did before she got dementia.

My main purpose in posting these photos is so that others might see what doggie dementia can look like. Cricket started exhibiting symptoms in early 2011, but it was 2012 before I realized what might be going on. The first thing I noticed was a loss of comfort with people she used to be very close to. I don’t have pictures of that, obviously, but it was very disconcerting. Why would she suddenly give the cold shoulder to someone she had formerly known and loved?

By now she has close to a classic set of symptoms. But it took quite a bit of time to tease them out of problems she had because of sensory impairments and body stiffness.  She was diagnosed by a vet early this year. There is medication for this condition, and it has helped Cricket.

Among her symptoms are:

  • standing in corners or with her face next to the wall
  • getting stuck behind furniture
  • confusion about doors (trying to go out the hinge side)
  • forgetting what she is doing
  • circling
  • staring into space
  • occasional tremors
  • pacing or wandering
  • lack of interest in people (other than me)

Another thing I notice that is not on the standard lists is that she can’t get onto mats or pillows in a way that all of her body is on there. I’m pretty sure this is not a physical problem, in the sense of limited mobility or range of motion. She can’t figure out how to arrange herself. She will circle and lie down carefully but end up with her body sliding off the pillow or only a small part of her back on the mat. This is notable in view of her lifelong avoidance of bare floors.

She has lost the general ability to back up, and again, I suspect it is a cognitive problem. She can physically do it. She just can’t figure out that that is what she needs to do.

Here is a the abstract of a scholarly article that links dementia behaviors in dogs with specific brain changes detected by necropsy. In other words, it establishes that the behavior changes are linked to detectable brain changes.

Cognitive disturbances in old dogs suffering from the canine counterpart of Alzheimer’s disease.

Here is an article that lists many of the symptom behaviors of CCD.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Dogs.

So here are what some of the behaviors look like.

Cricket standing with her head very close to the wall

Cricket standing with her head under an office chair

Cricket with most of her body on the linoleum instead of the mat

Cricket still missing the mat, and now with her back braced against a chair base

Cricket sitting on the edge of a crate facing into the dark, with her butt hanging out

Cricket sitting on the base of a rolling office chair

Here also, is a video of several of her dementia related behaviors. They are: getting “stuck” behind an office typewriter table; forgetting what she is doing; losing the door;  and circling.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet and have no medical training for animals or humans. The information on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction included in this post comes from my vet, from articles, and my own observations of Cricket as her behavior has changed. If you are concerned that your dog might have CCD, please contact your vet.

I hope this was helpful to you, and not too saddening to view. Cricket has a good life, and seems to be unaware of her limitations.

Thanks for reading.

Topics coming up:

Addendum February 16, 2013

Dogs and Dementia: What You Need to Know   I published another article on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. It fleshes out the list of symptoms and also has 7 tips for living with and helping a dog with CCD that I have not published elsewhere.

About eileenanddogs

Passionate amateur dog trainer, writer, and learning theory geek. Eileen Anderson on Google+
This entry was posted in Canine Cognitive Disfunction, Dogs' perceptions, Old dogs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

  1. Marjorie says:

    First off Eileen, I’d like to say that Cricket looks great for 16! I don’t feel sad for her at all. Actually, I think she is a very lucky little dog that someone understands and cares about her needs so well. She is an old gal who has obviously lived a full life and that life is unfolding in the normal organic process of things. I would feel bad if she was either in pain or a young dog stricken with a disease that either significantly shortened her life or caused her to have a poor quality of life. I do feel sad for those dogs that either get surrendered or make that one way trip to the vets because they might be less than perfect (urinary incontinenece, arthritis, blind, deaf etc.) and yet, I also realize that not everyone is able to deal with these issues for whatever reason. This is one of those topics where there can be 50,000+ shades of grey.

    I admire you for your keen observatin skills, empathy, and how you work to maximize Cricket’s quality of life. You really pay attention and think that is so important. I also feel that this is not a oneway street and that old and/or infirmed dogs have a great deal to teach/offer us in return. They soften us and bring out the best in what it is to be human. The info you gave on Canine Cognitive Disfunction was very informative,thank you. If others get this diagnosis they will be able to see that it can be manageable and just might not be so tragic for their dog as they think.

    • Marjorie, thank you so much. You are so kind. I hadn’t realized it until you and one other person pointed out that this could give hope to others. My goal was just mostly to show what it looked like. I love it that the message might be further than that, that others can help their dogs still have a full life in this condition.

  2. This was a very informative post, Eileen. Thank you for posting it! It’s helpful information for dog owners who might not understand what’s going on with their dog when they start displaying some symptoms like Cricket’s. I had only learned of this syndrome recently and hadn’t known the details.

    I feel sad that you were concerned that you would be judged for posting this — for talking about Cricket’s CCD. I think a lot of pain, loss, and suffering could be avoided for all if people did not view animals (and people) through the lens of ableist ideas and a certain amount of anthropomorphism. For example, the idea that it’s horrible (a fate worse than death in some people’s opinions) to have a disease or disability. When Jersey lost an eye to glaucoma, a lot of people imagined her to suffer the way a person would, but for her, it meant that the migraine-like pain she’d been enduring for the past week was gone, and she adjusted immediately to reduced sight and still wanted to work. She didn’t mourn. She didn’t need an adjustment period.

    I think pain or other forms of major discomfort, like nausea or dizziness or exhaustion, are where questions come in about is it possible to relieve these symptoms, and if it’s not, does this animal want to live with it or not? As with people, they tend to vary. But Cricket doesn’t look to me like she is suffering at all. She looks unhappy and confused when she is “trapped” under the chair, but otherwise she seems to be happy and pretty spry for a 16-year-old!

    • Thank you for commenting, Sharon. As usual, you point out things that lots of us might not think so much about.

      My experience and thoughts about Cricket are colored by the fact that my mother had Alzheimer’s. I have some pretty direct experience with that. And I have observed that while some people truly suffer with that condition, and are aware of and struggle with their mental deterioration, for some others such as my mother the decline is not particularly distressing. And that’s how I imagine it would be for Cricket or another creature who doesn’t have the introspective consciousness of a human. She lives in the moment and adjusts very fast, as did your Jersey.

      Alzheimer’s and dementia suck. But what sucks more is the focus on the horror of the disease that erases the people and creatures who are still there, living their lives. (I don’t need to tell you that, do I!) Living with little Cricket and truly observing her has taught me so much.

  3. linda says:

    Brilliant article as usual Eileen. My Springer Larry is about 14 yrs plus, he is a rescue so we don’t have his precise age. He sufffers a little dementia just like Cricket, he paces and cricles now and then, he stares into space at times but he slways knows when we are going out in the car, when its dinner time and he can still smell a treat from a mile off. Its so wonderful the way a dog does not feel sorry for himself although most visitors to our house feel sorry for Larry. Thenk you for sharing your experience because sometimes if Larry is having an ‘off’ day I also wonder if others owners would have him put to sleep by now but you have proven to me that we are doing the right thing by just caring, loving and being there for him, so as long as he is ‘happy as Larry’ and has a good value of life, without pain, he will be with us. Just like Cricke, Larrys ailents do not seem to bother him at all, they are an inspiration to us.

  4. Your compassion and care for this dog comes through, and I can see that she is living in a safe, clean, caring environment. Some humans don’t take care of their relatives who suffer from Alzheimer’s this well. Aging related dysfunction, during certain stages, is not disconcerting to humans either (although there are stages when some people are very agitated). The key to decision-making is just as you have described it should be – based on the dog’s quality of life.

    • Thank you, pawsforpraise. That means a lot. I don’t know if you read in the comments that my mother had Alzheimer’s. It was as you said; her dementia came on fairly painlessly to all appearances, with just a couple of rough spots.

  5. shihtzumommy says:

    Do you have Cricket on any medication? I have a 14 year old who has CCD and we have had great results. No more standing in corners or getting trapped by the furniture. He does continue to pace around the house, but that is okay as he needs his exercise 🙂 the medication is called Anapril and it has worked wonders for our little guy. He is happy, knows momma, and loves to cuddle. What more could I ask for?

    • That’s what Cricket is on too. I noticed a pretty big difference when she first went on it.I suspect that like the drugs for humans, it slows the pace of the disease but it still progresses. Thanks for writing!

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  7. titch990 says:

    I immediately thought of our old girl Pepsi when I read your other post about Cricket and your pocket full of poop! Cricket sounds so like Pepsi was for the last years of her life.

    We realised Pepsi had some form of dementia, and she too used to get stuck in corners and behind furniture. She was also arthritic, and was on painkillers and glucosamine, which definitely helped to keep her comfortable. We made her a little area with nothing to get stuck behind if we had to leave her for any amount of time, and used an old bike trailer to push her in so we could take her with us when we went out with our other dogs. She was even happy to be carried into a pub and lie quietly in a corner on a soft mat at our feet, and be passed the occasional crisp. But as you said with Cricket, as soon as she stirred, up one of us jumped, to carry her out to do her business.

    We changed her snug high-sided bed for a duvet-style one, since she too couldn’t settle in her old bed. Like you, we put down a patchwork assortment of mats, so she didn’t slip on hard floors, as if she did, she couldn’t get up unaided. We also had to be very careful never to lock her behind a door that opened inwards onto a hard floor, since she would wait for us behind it, and often slip and then not be able to get up. Then we couldn’t open the door as her body was in the way, and on one occasion, we had to make an entry via the window to rescue Pepsi and open the door.

    Some people told us that we were being unkind keeping her alive, but you only had to pick her up in your arms and feel her relax contentedly against your body to know that she was still getting enjoyment from her life. She spent a lot of her last year or so in one of our laps. For us, we knew her time had come when she began to refuse food, and started adopting the arched back of a dog in pain. She was 17 1/2 and we would not have wanted to have denied her one minute of her long and happy life with us.

    Love and hugs to your Cricket and the rest of your brood.

    • Oh THANK YOU titch990 for this lovely note about Pepsi and how you cared for her. Oh man, I never even thought to mention the “doors opening inward” thing. This happens to Cricket and me about two dozen times a day. They are all either baby gates or French doors, and luckily, she can still get up if she falls. But I have to open the door very gradually and either push her gently with it or coax her around with hand signals to get her to move. Even though I am fully in view and she can somewhat perceive the door trying to open, she just can’t get it to back up.

      Cricket has also come to enjoy being held, which is still so surprising to me. She is very content in my arms, which is good since I carry her so much these days.

      Last night I had a bad scare. (She is fine.) She started limping on both front legs. I checked her little joints and couldn’t tell what was wrong. I held her for a while in sorrow, then put her down on one of her palettes. Then she started nibbling at her foot. I mean really nibbling. I hadn’t checked the bottom of her feet. There was a piece of large kibble wedged between her pads! She was walking normally again after we got the kibble out.

      Thank you again for writing. I loved hearing about the ways you kept Pepsi’s life a happy and safe one.

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  15. Chris says:

    Thank you so much for this article and photos of Cricket! My 13 yr old, Kobi, displays all of the symptoms on the list and they seem to be progressing. It’s very hard to witness, but it doesn’t seem to distress him as much as it does me. He also suffers from Kidney Disease and very poor vision which complicate his situation, but he still has plenty of good days and pleasure in his life. I’m very careful not to move the furniture around and to keep his environment simple and safe, so as not to confuse him further.

    • Hi Chris, I’m glad you benefited from the post. I hear you; I’m pretty sure it distresses us humans more. Kobi is lucky to have you. By the way, I have a website entirely about canine cognitive dysfunction. It’s just getting off the ground but there are some more resources there. The website is: . I’d love to have a picture of Kobi for the “old doggies” gallery on that site. If you would like that, you can send it through the email sidebar of this blog or that website. Thanks for your comment, and the best to Kobi.

  16. Helen says:

    wow wonderful site. My dog is 16 this year and has been diagnosed with dementia. I kind of knew this for a few years before I really asked. He is currenly in a cycle that is worse, and I know the cycles vary at times but I am finding it really hard to cope. I work so I am not home during the day, at night he becomes confused and barks continually, unless I get up and put him back to bed. then he starts again. Last night I watched and he had forgotten he had eaten and was barking waiting for his food over and over, Unfortunately he cant stay inside anymore as he has too many accidents and I don’t have the room or means for him to have his own space so he is outside on my verandah. He can’t go out the back as I have another dog who is too much for him. He knows his way around the yard but still gets confused and yowls. The vet has said he has a strong heart and besides rear legs that are starting to go with arthitis and no teeth is in good health for his age. I just feel guitly. He doesnt like being touched anymore, he hates being washed and clipped as regularly as he used to be, he seems to sleep all day, and bark all night. My neighbours havn’t complained as yet,( I have to take them into consideration). He doesn’t seem to be in pain, ( I am watching) but I don’t even know if he remembers us really, or how to comfort. My vet offered meds but they would lesson his life expency and make him sleep more so I just don’t know. On weekends all he does is sleep all day so assuming that is what he does when I am at work. My postal lady says he is always sleeping as she checks him. ( she misses him chasing her of all things!! ) anyway this is a wonderful post and just needed to offload. I just hope I am not being selfish one way or the other.

    • Hi Helen,

      That sounds like a very hard road. We all have to vent sometimes. I never heard of meds that would lower the dog’s life expectancy. You might ask your vet a little more about that. I’m sorry you are having a rough time. Take care.

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