How To Recognise, Treat & Prevent Dementia In Dogs

As our pets get older their interactions with us often change.

Many start to refuse to go on walks, where once they enjoyed it.

Some may begin to have accidents inside, become more vocal, or be less obedient.

Many become less tolerant of being handled and may get snappy.

The interesting thing is that these changes aren’t necessarily due to ‘getting old’, but could actually be signs of dementia and early onset of canine cognitive dysfunction.

The sad thing is that many of us tolerate these behaviours, not realising that there are interventions we can implement until the behaviours become too much for us to handle.

When we are sick and tired of being woken during the night; sick of the monotonous bark that seems to go on and on for no apparent reason; sick of seeing our dog stare blindly at the wall; or can’t handle the constant pacing up and down all day and night…we then choose to euthanise our family pet.

What we have discovered, is that canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) (dementia in dogs) can be slowed.

Read on to find out how you can recognise the early signs of dementia in dogs, and most importantly slow its progression.



Have you ever experienced the situation of an older dog or cat wanting to go outside, come back on repeat, multiple times?

This could well be a sign of dementia in your dog.

Whilst we all might laugh at memes such as this one, it often means that your pet may be suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) which isn’t a laughing matter.

Video Tutorial: Dr Leigh Discusses Dementia In Dogs

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What Is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?

When behavioural problems occur in the older, senior dog and we can’t contribute these to a medical condition such as neoplasia or organ failure we call it canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

There are four main categories where we see the behavioural change:

  1. Disorientation
  2. Inappropriate urination and/or defecation
  3. Change in social interactions
  4. Change in sleeping patterns
    • Changes to the sleep-wake cycle in a senior dog can put huge stresses on our family life, it’s wise to talk with a vet before things get bad.

Interestingly, in a survey of owners of aged dogs reported by Landsberg and Araujo (2005), 75% of dogs had at least one behavioural symptom indicative of cognitive dysfunction, yet only 12% of owners had reported the change in behaviour to their veterinarian.

Canine cognitive dysfunction is similar to human Alzheimer’s Disease in humans.

That is, changes to the brain result in neural degeneration and synaptic dysfunction.

Amyloid plaques are often found in the brain and these sometimes predispose to microbleeds that impair cognition.

How Do We Diagnose Dementia In Dogs?

To make a diagnosis of canine cognitive dysfunction we first have to rule out many other diseases that could be causing your dog to act strangely.

  • Painful conditions such as arthritis or an ear infection might cause them to snap at you.
  • Dog ear infections can also result in weird circling behaviour and posturing.
  • Urinary tract or kidney problems may result in them needing to urinate frequently or cause accidents when they can’t get outside quick enough.
  • Cataracts and other eye disorders, as well as hearing loss, can cause issues that can mimic dementia.
  • Lack of coordination could be a musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, neurological, or hormonal issue.

As you can see, diagnosis relies on a thorough history, physical exam, and often further testing that might include testing of blood and urine.

Management & Treatment Of Dog Dementia

Once a diagnosis of canine cognitive dysfunction has been ruled in we look at prevention to slow the progression of the disease.

Treatment involves a multifactorial approach utilising management of behaviour and environment, combined with an enhanced diet and in some cases the use of medication.


The addition of supplements high in omega 3 and other anti-oxidants has shown to delay the onset of senility in our pets.

Natural supplements such as omega 3 Fish Oils and vitamin C can be added to a diet, or there are specially formulated dog food veterinary diets that contain high levels of these ingredients such as Hill’s B/D and Royal Canin Senior Consult Mature.

These diets are useful as they have been researched extensively and do show an improvement in clinical signs.


The vet-only medication Selegiline has been shown to alleviate some symptoms of ccd.

You will need to see a veterinarian for a prescription for this medication.

It isn’t a cure, but like the natural ingredients, it may slow the progression of the disease.

If your dog does show a response, then it is recommended that they continue this medication for the rest of their life.

Anti-anxiety drugs can also play a huge role in helping to relieve symptoms.

While they won’t slow the progression of the disease, they may well improve the quality of your dog’s life.

Your vet may recommend medications such as gabapentin, fluoxetine, or trazodone to help limit anxiety.

A veterinary behaviourist can often assist you with working out how to create an environmental enrichment program combined with medication so that the quality of life for both you and your dog is improved.

Behaviour & Environment

Most importantly, an active brain and body can slow the progression of this disease just as it does for us humans.

Daily walks and learning new tricks keep these pets young at heart.

Like us, if our pets don’t use it, they will lose it.

There are many options for keeping your dog or cat’s mind active.

If your older pet is experiencing behaviour problems, talk to a vet.

There may be multiple ways to help your pet have a more happy and healthy life in their senior years.

Signs Of Dementia In Dogs:  Symptoms

One of the best ways of working out whether your dog is showing signs of dementia is completing a questionnaire that then formulates a “risk profile” dependent on the answers.

We have a “signs of dementia” questionnaire that you can fill out to see if your dog is at risk, or is likely to have dementia. You can download it here:

The particular signs that we are looking for with a dog who might have dementia are:

  • Confusion or disorientation.
    • The dog may get lost in his own backyard, or get trapped in corners or behind furniture.
  • Pacing and being awake all night, or a change in sleeping patterns.
  • Loss of housetraining abilities.
    • A previously house-trained dog may not remember to signal to go outside and may urinate or defecate where he normally would not.
  • Anxiety and increased irritability.
  • Increased vocalization.
  • Apathy.
  • Decreased activity level.
  • Decreased attentiveness or staring into space.
  • Not recognizing friends or family members.
  • Decreased ability to perform certain tasks (e.g., tricks) or respond to commands.

Final Words On Dementia In Dogs

Dementia in our pets whether cats or dogs is heartbreaking for us.

We do have to remember that sometimes the welfare of the pet is compromised also.

The decision to euthanise is a big one but sometimes it is in the best interests of our pets and for us.

Please don’t ever think you are doing the wrong thing if you cannot cope with your pet’s change in behaviour.