Canine Cognitive Dysfunction & Grooming

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction & Grooming

By Elsebeth DeBiase ICMG, FFCP, LSHC-S

Do you have a senior dog struggling with grooming? It is the goal of the professional groomer to ensure pets are clean and comfortable throughout their years. Extra care should be taken with senior dogs experiencing age-related changes, which commonly includes diminished hearing and eyesight, mobility issues, and reduced activity levels. An experienced team of groomers can easily manage the needs of aging pets. Conversely, behavioral changes resulting from canine cognitive dysfunction, also referred to as doggy dementia, pose more of a challenge. According to, “Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) syndrome is a condition related to the aging of a dog's brain, which ultimately leads to changes in awareness, deficits in learning and memory, and decreased responsiveness to stimuli.” If you suspect your pooch is experiencing age-related cognitive changes, there are steps you can take to make their next grooming appointment go more smoothly, including familiarizing yourself with the signs of CCD, communicating changes in your pet to the groomer, and being open to varied approaches to the grooming process.

The signs of CCD are not always easy to recognize in the early stages and are often dismissed as normal aging. Therefore, it is important to record behaviors that are unusual for your pet and consult a licensed veterinarian as well as inform your professional groomer. The most evident signs of canine cognitive dysfunction include:

● Aimless wandering or pacing

● Barking for no apparent reason and/or for prolonged periods

● Fear/anxiety/startling easily

● Disorientation in the home/waiting at the hinge side of the door

● House soiling

Despite the difficulties of aging, senior pets feel their best when they are groomed. However, the stress of grooming could also be detrimental. Therefore, communication with your professional groomer is paramount, especially when it involves CCD. Ask your groomer to take note of any physical or behavioral changes your pet is experiencing. This will allow the groomer to make special accommodations for your pet, including setting up or removing equipment to make the area safe. Additionally, it might be necessary for the groomer to book a longer time slot for your pet, particularly if it is struggling with a certain aspect of grooming like drying or face trimming. Discuss your pet’s progress with the groomer after each groom to determine if more changes are needed.

For pets struggling with fear and anxiety due to CCD, a variety of modifications can be made to improve the grooming process including:

● Staying with your pet for part or all of the groom

● Waiting in the car in case you are needed

● Bathing your pet at home to reduce the grooming appointment time

● Consulting a veterinarian for anti-anxiety medications

● Splitting the groom into two appointments

Comfort and hygiene should be the main priority for pets experiencing adverse effects of aging. It will not always be possible to accomplish a perfect haircut. Often, senior pets will experience good days and not so good days; therefore, it is important to remain flexible in your expectations of grooming.

Finally, not all grooming salons are equipped to manage senior dogs with special needs. It is best to look for groomers who accommodate one-on-one appointments and have special training in animal handling, such as Fear Free or Low Stress Handling. For more information, support, and a symptom checklist for CCD, visit

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