Dementia in dogs symptoms, treatment and more

Dementia in Dogs symptoms

If you have a senior dog that seems lost or is acting a little unusual, and you think it’s just old age — you might have to give it a second thought. Researchers have found that by the time our much-loved dogs reach the age of 11, he or she has a 30 per cent chance of developing dementia. So, is your old dog dealing with dementia ? What does dementia in dogs symptoms look like?

To know how to identify and treat dementia in dogs that are elderly, keep reading dementia in dogs symptoms, treatment and more.

What is dog dementia ?

In simple words, dog dementia is an age-related illness in older dogs just like it is in older humans.  It also progresses in the way it does in humans.

Clinically known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), dog dementia is a brain disorder in aging dogs related with symptoms and effects similar to those of Alzheimer’s in humans.

Often referred to as doggy dementia or doggy Alzheimer’s, it’s a condition in which due to the aging of a dog’s brain there is a mental decline in them.

Dog dementia isn’t a disease but rather a syndrome where a collection of symptoms leads to changes in dog’s behaviour and mood.

Dementia in dogs symptoms result in major changes in memory and primarily affects recognition, learning, and comprehension.

Usually, this cognitive dysfunction negatively affects the daily life of a senior dog, but by understanding what is really occurring, dog owners can reduce the negative effects of this condition.

How common is dementia in dogs ?

Doggie dementia is becoming more common now as our best friends are living longer than they used to in the past.

Researchers and veterinarians have identified that signs of dementia are found in 30% of dogs over the age of 11. It is also estimated that almost 70% of dogs will suffer from dementia by the age of 15.

Some two decades ago, scientists began to identify the condition in dogs, and have managed to collect a large body of research into it.

But many dog parents are unaware of dementia in dogs symptoms, and generally surprised when it happens to their dog.

Dementia in dogs is a cognitive disorder which clearly malfunctions a dog’s brain. It can happen to any senior dog irrespective of its breed and size.

A researcher with the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, Tom Duncan said that, the prevalence of CCD is due to the extended lifespan of our much-loved dogs. As we are prolonging the lives of dogs far beyond what a wild dog would be expected to live to, the brain changes are taking place.

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What are the stages of dementia in dogs ?

A recent observational study on a large group of senior dogs has identified three stages of dementia in dogs.

The researchers recorded the number of times the symptoms occurred. They also made a note of when each symptom showed up. This data helped them to divide the progress of the Canine Cognitive Dysfunction into three phases.

So, if a dog has dementia, these stages can help you understand the progression of his brain changes.

  • Stage 1, MILD: In this stage, dog owners barely notice any problem in their dog. This means that dogs in the 1st stage rarely get diagnosed. The signs a dog displays in the mild stage are changes in sleep patterns (sleeping more during the day) and slight changes in social interactions with owner or caregivers.
  • Stage 2, MODERATE: In the moderate stage, a dog shows obvious signs like hyperactivity at night, loss house training (accidentally peeing and/or pooping in the house). Owners definitely start noticing these behavioural changes and the need of special care for their old dog.
  • Stage 3, SEVERE: Dramatic behaviour problems are mostly visible in this final stage which includes aimless wandering around the house, barking through much of the night, lack of responsiveness to their owner or family members, and significant house soiling.

The investigation also found that the progress of CCD from mild to moderate was quick. Roughly one quarter of the totally examined dogs who had been diagnosed with stage 1, mild canine cognitive dysfunction at the beginning had progressed to moderate dysfunction in just six months.

What does dementia in dogs symptoms look like ?

While we are aware of cognitive dysfunction in humans, the problem with identifying it in dogs is that it can happen rapidly.

In the case of dogs, everything is in fast forward. First, you have a puppy, then an adult dog in a year, a senior dog in 7 years, and finally the geriatric. And that happens in a short period of time compared to humans.

Sometimes it’s a matter of months where you can easily recognize that mental decline in a dog suffering with CCD.

Significantly, dementia in dogs symptoms look similar to those of Alzheimer’s in humans. The signs and symptoms are broadly categorized from mild to severe as the disease progresses gradually. 

Initially, dementia in dogs symptoms are often mild, but they gradually worsen over time. Below are the most commonly seen signs and symptoms of dementia in dogs:

  • Dazing, distracted, and disorientated
  • Appearing lost or confused in the house or known surroundings
  • Anxiety
  • Forgetting daily routines or getting only a part of it
  • Failing to remember previously learned house training rules
  • No longer responding to their name or reacting to everyday commands
  • Extreme irritability and aggression
  • Less or no desire to play
  • Aimless wandering around the house
  • Gazing blankly at walls
  • Slow or decreased desire to learn new tasks
  • Lack of naturally self-grooming
  • Waking at night and/or sleeping during the day
  • Repetitive behaviours such as licking and pacing
  • Walking in circles 
  • Loss of appetite

The most common signs of canine brain malfunction can be remembered with the popular acronym DISHA: Disorientation, Interaction changes, Sleep changes, House soiling, and Activity level changes.

The early indications of dementia in dogs can often be misinterpreted as “just getting old.” However, timely identification of the signs is very important to treat CCD early on. Therefore, all dog owners with senior dogs must be on the lookout for above listed mild versions of the symptoms.

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How is dog dementia diagnosed ?

It’s important to note that if a dog is showing any of the above mentioned symptoms, it does not necessarily indicate dog dementia. It can be possible that the dog is suffering from some other illness.

The diagnosis of dementia in dogs must be done only by a professional veterinarian, and the existing way to do so is to rule out any other potential diseases.

So if you notice any symptoms and suspect that your dog may have dementia, visit the vet without delay. The veterinarian will do an examination and conduct the appropriate tests based on the observations, to rule out any other conditions, or use an MRI to make the final diagnosis and start the treatment.

It is advisable that your dog should visit the vet for regular check-ups, so the stage of dementia on the basis of symptoms of dementia can be detected and treated early on.

What are the causes of dementia in dogs ? 

Dementia in dogs symptoms are being studied at various levels and scientists say that it is a result of changes or damage in the brain. However, scientists also state that different symptoms and types of dementia may arise from a variety of brain issues.

The exact cause for dog dementia is not known yet but there are some things that are known due to the resemblance of the structure of dog brain and human brain. Additionally, signs and symptoms of dog dementia and dementia in humans have been found to be quite similar.

Research findings show that certain proteins that pile up in the brain around the neurons and the failure of these neurons are two things that sabotage the normal transfer of information in the brain. Therefore, this is what contributes to brain dysfunction and results in dementia in dogs symptoms.

However, the syndrome is often caused by the brain decline due to the physical and chemical changes that happen with the aging process of a dog.

But age is not the only component that causes dementia in dogs, genetic factors or other diseases like brain tumors and conditions like brain trauma may also put a dog at a risk of developing dementia.

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Can dementia in dogs be prevented ?

Precisely, it is hard to conclude how to prevent dementia in dogs because the exact cause of dementia is not known.

However, studies have found that if we keep our senior dogs physically and mentally active, it may help to prevent dementia to a great extent. Vets recommended the following tips to keep an aging dog’s mind sharp and healthy:

  • Play games together every day like when your dog was a pup
  • Teach your dog new tricks
  • Use interactive toys for mental stimulation
  • Walk daily, change routes and visit new places
  • Feed your dog a balanced, whole food diet
  • Consider giving you dog brain-health supplements
  • Give your dog new experiences in the form of new dog friends, new places, and humans
  • Avoid putting your dog in stressful situations like loneliness
  • Eliminate exposure to toxins and make sure your dog gets sufficient exercise regularly
  • Get your senior dog a health check-up every 6 months

I follow most of these tips for my 14-year-old Indian Spitz dog Tuffy, with a combo of regular, moderate physical activity and mental stimulation, and it all really works well to maintain his mental health.

Does dementia in dogs have a cure ?

Currently, there is no approved and admitted cure known for dementia in dogs. The condition in dogs leads to the physical decline of the brain tissues, and so, there is no simple cure that can revive these tissues.

However, in Sydney, a research is already being conducted on this matter. A team of senior veterinarian research officers involved in the research are sure about potential cures involving stem cell therapy as well as pharmaceuticals.

Senior Veterinarian Research Officer, Dr. Kaylene Jones from the university of Sydney, says that she has closely witnessed the impact dementia can have both on the dog and its owner.

“There’s an urgent need for the discovery of new treatments for dementia in dogs because of the deep effect it has on the dog’s life and the bond between the dog and their owner,” Dr. Jones said.

At present, Dr. Kaylene Jones is working with her colleague, Dr. Duncan at the Brain and Mind Centre regarding the odds of treating dementia in dogs with stem cells.

In 2015, Dr. Jones and Dr. Duncan treated Timmy, a 14-year-old cocker spaniel, using stem cells extracted from his skin.

After a few months, Timmy’s owners reported a positive feedback that his behaviour had settled down following the treatment.

Subsequently, the researchers carried out another treatment procedure and once again they were able to achieve similar results in a second dog, Leo.

While the research trials are still in the initial phase, the researchers have vouched for the preliminary results from the two cases and said they were “promising”.

Additionally, they have claimed that this line of research can be beneficial for humans as well.

The canine dementia research is being used as a model for the study of human dementia. The researchers are very sure that if it works in dogs, it has a very high chance of working in humans just because of the close similarity between the dog and the human brain.

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What is the treatment for dementia in dogs ?

While there is no cure or way to reverse the signs of senior dementia in dogs, there are things you can do to potentially delay brain changes as a dog ages and make your beloved pet’s life easier.

Discuss with your veterinarian about nutritional and preventative supplements like antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s) that are often considered as the main dietary components for brain health.

Additionally, seek advice on medications and only use vet recommended medicines that can be helpful to dogs with dementia.

Your vet may also recommend getting your dog to exercise more, buying interactive toys, and teaching your dog new skills to help with their memory and learning.

Other things that you can do to help your dog with CCD is – taking him on walks on new routes that encourage him to smell, avoiding any routine changes, sticking to the old routine, adjusting your speed to match with your senior dog and be more generous with your patience and time. 

Do not mistake the symptoms of dementia in your senior dog to be bad dog behaviour. If you notice slightest change in his usual behaviour which looks like dementia symptoms, consider getting him diagnosed.

In case a dog does things like suddenly bark in the middle of the night or dirty the carpet, do not scold them. Instead, be calm, loving and patient with them. They are already restless and the last thing is to add to their existing condition. We must do things to ease them and at the same time avoid making them more nervous. 

Fix a place for food and water so that the dog can always find its food and water bowl in the same place every day.

Leaving the arrangement of your home the same and not changing the position of a sofa are little things that can support a dog with dementia. Try keeping things in place, as a messy house can make things more stressful for dogs with CCD.

What to do if I see symptoms of dementia in my dog ?

If you are worried that your dog may have dementia, you need to speak to a professional veterinarian.

You can’t diagnose or confirm the illness on your own but you can observe your dog and gather information for the vet. If possible, keep video recordings of your dog’s unusual behaviour for your dog may not have them the day you visit the vet.

The vet may ask to see your dog at his clinic. You may need to carry your dog’s health record book or file along with you.

At the clinic, the vet will check your dog’s health history with the help of his health record book/file. He will then physically examine your dog to analyse his health status and brain functions.

Based on the evaluation, the vet may also recommend to run some tests, like blood tests, ultrasounds, and X-rays, to check and rule out other health problems if any.

After reviewing the test reports the vet will come to a conclusion and if he identifies that your dog has dementia, he will then discuss the various treatment options with you.

How can I care for my dog with dementia ?

All that a dog with dementia needs is you. Caring for a dog with dementia requires time and patience.

With your dog’s activity and memory levels going down, you will want to consider his needs when it comes to your home, surroundings, and lifestyle. Here are some ways you can care for your dog and assist him to cope with dementia:

  • Keep him active – do not reduce physical activity.
  • Provide opportunities for play.
  • Encourage human interaction.
  • Regulate the sleep cycle by exposing your dog to sunlight.
  • Walk the dog even when he’s old. If walking is difficult for your dog, use a stroller.
  • Pet-proof your house to avoid accidents.
  • Fix routines for food, water, and walk patterns for your dog’s comfort.
  • Use dog diapers, absorbent dry sheets or waterproof bedding if needed.
  • Try switching to a homemade natural diet.
  • Add vet prescribed supplements to your dog’s diet.
  • Avoid rearranging furniture and stuff in the house or at least try to keep your dog’s area as familiar as possible.
  • Understand your dog and know his limits when introducing him to new animals, people, toys, food or other things.

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What to expect and plan for dogs with dementia ?

Unfortunately, the process of aging in dogs cannot be avoided and ultimately there will be signs of brain decline or some health issue.

While it can shatter you to watch your furry friend’s health go low, there are some steps you can take to make the situation as comfortable and safe as possible for your dog. 

Keeping a GPS tracker or a GPS collar built especially for dogs will ensure that you can locate your buddy in case he wanders off out of the house or safety out of confusion or anxiety.

Keep commands easy and short, and repeat them with compassion. Providing plenty of love and being happy around him is going to help your dog a lot.

The most important thing you can do is to stay strong for your beloved best friend and be practically prepared for incidents related to dementia in dogs.


I witnessed dementia in dogs symptoms a few years ago when my senior dog Tuffy was 11. He stared into a wall, standing in one place in the corner of the room not responding to his name at all.

Though he was normal the next morning, the signs of dementia began to appear more frequently.

A few months later I noticed him walking in circles very slowly, and in the next couple of months there were days when he was totally absent minded and sleep disturbed.

Soon, I realized that he was acting like some elderly people I had known for Alzheimer. I knew it was the onset of CCD in Tuffy, so I consulted his veterinarian immediately to discuss a cure.

I make sure, if not me, there is always someone there for him 24×7. And, when the symptoms show up, I talk to him rubbing his back, offer him his favourite treats to activate his sense of smell in his brains, and sometimes I simply pet him, all as a part of his treatment and care.

He is 14 now and even though he is not necessarily in pain and mostly coherent, it is heart-breaking to watch him when he’s odd.

Dementia in dogs is progressive and worsens with time. With treatment all we can do is to delay the changes and improve quality of life.

Diet, medication, and behaviour management also help in slowing the disease’s progress. Fascinatingly, stem cell procedure research and findings too offer some hope.

If your senior dog shows any sign of dementia, do not give him the “it’s just old age” look, rather visit his vet right away. Be there for him like he has been there for you all these years of his life.

At the end, when things go south, stay positive and always remember to follow the golden rule – all that matters is to love the dog in front of you.

Share this very informative and important article with all the dog lovers you know.

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