Golden labrador near a bench

Signs your dog has dementia.

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8 signs your dog has dementia

By Dawn Parrish Content Writer

Updated on the

There are many signs in your dog’s behaviour that can lead to a dementia diagnosis. In the canine world, doggy dementia is known as canine cognitive dysfunction.

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) can be difficult to diagnose, as many medical conditions can also cause similar symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to work with your vet to get to the bottom of your dog’s problem, to ensure nothing more serious is missed.

CCD appears to be part of the normal aging process for senior dogs, and early signs of dementia can be extremely subtle. 

Senior moments

Your pet probably won’t be able to tell you he is forgetful, but if you notice him ignoring his usual walking route, or he no longer greets you when you return home, he could certainly be suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction.

Our pets are living for longer, with the advances in medicine, but this results in more senior dogs being diagnosed with dog dementia. If your dog lives to the ripe old age of 12, 14 or even older, there is every chance that he can have canine cognitive dysfunction.

Signs of dementia in dogs

If you’ve noticed any odd behaviour in your older pet that you don’t have an explanation for, it could be CCD that’s causing it.

According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, “the same pathological changes are found in the brains of dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction as are found in human Alzheimer's and dementia patients.” 

Here are eight of the most common symptoms you might spot.

Symptom #1: Waiting for a door to open

This is probably one of the most common signs of CCD in dogs. If your pet stands in a corner facing a wall, or at the wrong side of a door appearing to wait for it to open he might be feeling confused or forgetful. He may stand and look helpless, unable to decide on his next step.

Symptom #2: Anxiously pacing around

Another symptom that your dog could have dementia is his apparent loss of purpose. Check to see if he paces around the room and wanders about the house, possibly anxious with no objective. Of course, this could also be due to other reasons such as a weak bladder or an overactive bowel.

Symptom #3: Doesn’t appear to respond to his owner’s voice

If it seems like your dog has suddenly gone deaf, first of all, rule out a loss of hearing which is more common in an older dog. In the case of canine dementia, the dog will fail to process your command and do what you ask of him. If you call his name, he may be quite confused as his memory fails.

Symptom #4: Having a reduced appetite is a sign your dog has dementia

An older dog suffering from dementia might just lose all interest in food in general. Of course, senior dogs may decrease their appetite as they get older. It’s advisable to keep a check on their portions and what they do actually consume.

Symptom #5: Not going outside to do toilet duties

Senior dogs with dementia might not recall that they go outside to urinate. Certainly, rule out any urinary tract infections, kidney disease or bowel problems first. In particular, kidney disease is common in elderly dogs, and can be extremely detrimental if it is ignored. In addition to this, older spayed female dogs commonly leak urine, due to a condition called ‘urinary sphincter mechanism incompetence’ (USMI). The difference is, toileting in the house with CCD appears to be deliberate and a loss of house training, rather than unconsciously going on the floor.

Symptom #6: A dog with dementia may forget family members

A pet suffering from dog dementia will not purposely search for human interaction. He may just walk away while being spoken to or when being stroked. Likewise, he may not give you an enthusiastic greeting when you return home.

Symptom #7: Barking at nothing in particular

Certainly, this could be caused by your dog failing to recognise the humans he normally interacts with. Perhaps your dog cannot find you and thinks you are lost, barking for attention. Your pet will probably bark during the night too, as he is generally confused.

Symptom #8: Irregular sleep patterns are a common sign of dementia in dogs

A dog with this disease might reverse his sleeping pattern. He will sleep more during the day yet remain wide awake and often confused during the night. Similarly, he may sleep for longer periods of time.

How do I know if my dog has dementia?

CCD or canine cognitive dysfunction is rather difficult to diagnose in dogs. The symptoms of dementia in dogs display with symptoms that could also relate to another illness.  Hearing loss, vision problems, kidney disease, incontinence, diabetes, cancer and arthritis can also cause symptoms which look the same as dog dementia.

Keep a diary of any strange behaviours you notice, noting any repetitions and the timeframes. If you suspect any signs of dog dementia symptoms, it’s important to take your pet for a full medical assessment, to rule out any other problems.

What is the treatment for canine cognitive dysfunction?

Unfortunately, CCD is not curable, however there are medications available which improve the blood flow to the brain, thereby increasing the oxygen concentration in the brain, and the brain’s ability to function. For some dogs, they are relatively ineffective, whereas for others, they provide a whole new lease of life.

How long do dogs live with dog dementia?

Dog dementia is rather a complex illness, with no definite resolution. There appears to be no set life expectancy for dogs afflicted with canine cognitive dysfunction, and it is often the case that they pass on from another illness in the end.

With care, compassion and lots of patience, your senior dog can live out the rest of his days with a decent quality of life.

Reviewed by Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS 
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