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Do dog owners recognise behavioural indicators of canine cognitive dysfunction and can environmental enrichment techniques slow its progression?

02 March 2018
9 mins read
Volume 9 · Issue 2


Background: Veterinary professionals have seen a rise in geriatric patients suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). Previous literature has supported the use of environmental enrichment therapies which have been considered to reduce the progression of cognitive decline in CCD. However, CCD is commonly undiagnosed within the companion dog population.

Aim: To determine whether owners of older dogs are able to notice behavioural changes, and in addition, explore knowledge around the term environmental enrichment which may help owners slow the progression of CCD through further education.

Method: The study involved quantitative research using a questionnaire with 11 questions. Data were subsequently statistically analysed. Of the participants 16 worked within a veterinary practice, 52 were customers visiting a pet shop and 39 respondents formed a web survey group predominantly of veterinary professionals.

Results: Owners of geriatric dogs working within a veterinary-related field were more likely to notice behavioural changes possibly associated with CCD compared with the average owner of a geriatric dog, and were also more likely to understand the term environmental enrichment.

Conclusion: This study informs the veterinary field that improved education strategies implemented within nurse clinics may help pet owners recognise behavioural indicators of CCD, and treatment recommendations may assist in slowing the progression of CCD in geriatric dogs.

Due to advances in veterinary medicine the average age of companion animals has risen by 70% since the 1930s (Gerrard, 2013; Critchley, 2014). This has led veterinary professionals to spend increased clinical time caring for the geriatric patient (Critchley, 2014). Bowen et al's study (2013) found 67% of dogs between the age of 15–16 years had mild to severe canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), compared with 27.5% of dogs between the ages of 11–12 years old. Veterinary professionals are, therefore, likely to treat geriatric dogs with CCD. Possible supportive treatments are environmental techniques, which have been indicated to minimise stress and reduce progression of cognitive abilities in geriatric dogs suffering from CCD (Druce, 2014). Environmental enrichment has been considered relevant due to the possible improvements it may have on an animal's quality of life (Kerrigan, 2014) by delaying progression; however it requires early recognition of CCD (Fry, 2015). Subtle changes in behaviour are often early indicators that an animal may be developing CCD (Warnes, 2015a). Fry (2015) suggests that diagnosed cases of CCD are low which could possibly be due to owners confusing normal age-related behaviours with behaviours consistent with CCD.

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