Growing older can be tough – and that goes for all species. When it comes to age-related illnesses, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are some of the most notorious and least understood human afflictions.
If you’ve noticed your senior dog has been increasingly irritable and disoriented, having sleep troubles (including sleeping all day) or having frequent accidents inside the house, he or she may be suffering from a disease that manifests very similarly to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in people. All of these signs and more can add up to a diagnosis of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, or CCD, an age-related neurobehavioral syndrome that leads to a decline in cognitive function, and may affect anywhere from 14 to 22 percent of senior dogs.
Although CCD may be inevitable in some dogs and there’s no known cure, there are actions pet parents can take to stave off the heartbreaking and frustrating process of deterioration. PEOPLE spoke to a handful of experts on the issue so you can learn to recognize the symptoms in advance and hold your best friend’s paw as he navigates his golden years with strength and dignity.
Dr. Melissa Bain, Professor of Clinical Animal Behavior at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, tells PEOPLE that CCD is caused by an accumulation of plaque around neurons in the brain, causing degeneration.