7 Signs of Dementia in Dogs & How to Help You Senior Pup

Learn the signs of dementia in dogs so you can catch it early and take action to slow the disease progression.

Updated September 6, 2023
old dog with dimentia

Watching your dog get older can be tough, especially when their mind starts to deteriorate. Dogs can get dementia just as people can. Once the signs of dog dementia begin to show, a dog might act anxious, confused, and withdrawn. Even though there's no cure for dementia, early detection and compassionate care are the best things you can provide to manage your pet's condition. 

What Is Canine Dementia? 

Dog dementia, also referred to as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) or cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), is similar to Alzheimer's disease in that the brain of an older dog goes through changes that cause a breakdown in communication between brain cells. This reduces the pet's ability to think clearly, remember how to perform learned behaviors, or recognize people, places, or things. 

Fast Fact

Dementia is most common in dogs over 9 years old.

Signs of Dementia in Dogs

The signs of canine dementia are usually subtle at first. They worsen as the disease progresses. You might notice a few or all of these dementia-related symptoms. 

  • Personality changes: A dog may seem more anxious and whine, pace, or circle the room frequently. Some dogs become irritable, and others may seem to lose interest in the world around them.
  • Disorientation: Dogs seem confused about where they are and may even get lost in their own home.
  • Forgetfulness: As the condition progresses, a dog may no longer recognize people they've known all their life.
  • Withdrawing: The dog spends more and more time on their own just staring into space. They gradually stop seeking attention from their human companions.
  • Changes in sleep pattern: This includes sleeping more, especially during the day, as well as staying awake at night.
  • Onset of house accidents: A previously trained dog may suddenly begin having house accidents, especially in inappropriate places such as their owner's bed.
  • No longer responds to learned commands: The dog may no longer seem to understand what you're asking them to do, such as come when called or sit on command. They may forget other trained behaviors, like how to walk on leash or fetch a ball.

Dogs at Risk for Dementia

Dementia is an incurable, progressive condition, and there's no definitive way to prevent it. However, knowing if your dog is at risk for developing it can help you keep an eye out for symptoms and get them the care they need sooner. Studies suggest that these dogs are at the highest risk for dementia.

  • Dogs who don't exercise regularly
  • Dogs that are underweight
  • Small breed dogs, like Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, and papillons

Caring for a Dog With Dementia

If your dog has been diagnosed with dementia, there are plenty of measures you can take to manage your pet's condition and even help slow the progression of the disease. 

  • Reduce clutter in the home and keep furniture arranged the same way.
  • Stick to a regular schedule for feeding and watering.
  • Feed a diet that's high in antioxidants. 
  • Establish regular times for walking.
  • Provide mental stimulation with short, gentle play sessions.
  • Keep commands simple and be patient.
  • Place nightlights in hallways to reduce night-time wandering. 

Let Your Vet Be Your Guide

Caring for a dog that has dementia can be difficult and emotionally draining, but owners don't have to go through this situation alone. If you suspect your dog may be showing signs of dementia, schedule an exam with your veterinarian and rely on them to make treatment recommendations that can help you provide your pet with the highest quality of life for as long as possible.

7 Signs of Dementia in Dogs & How to Help You Senior Pup