Dog Dementia: How To Recognize And Treat Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

7 April 2020

Dog dementia can be challenging, but knowing the facts, outlook, and options can help! Find all tips and info here.

white old dog looking out window dog dementia

Is your dog displaying some curious behavioral changes? Failing to remember routines? Appearing disoriented or confused? They may be affected by dementia (or another symptom of aging). What is dog dementia? How does it affect our furry friends? And what can we do to prevent, treat, and care for dogs with dementia? Here you’ll find all the most frequently asked questions and answers on dog dementia.

What is dog dementia?

Dog dementia, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), is a cognitive disorder in dogs associated with effects similar to those of Alzheimer’s in humans. It’s a condition related to the aging of a dog’s brain, which leads to changes in behavior and primarily affects memory, learning, and comprehension. Moreover, clinical signs of dementia are found in 50% of dogs over the age of 11.

It is estimated that 68% of dogs will suffer from dementia by the age of 15¹.

What are the symptoms and signs of dog dementia?

The symptoms of dog dementia are extensive, ranging from mild to severe as the disease progresses. Initial symptoms of dog dementia are often mild, but they gradually worsen over time. Below are the most common symptoms of dog dementia:

  • Disorientation and confusion – Appearing lost or confused in familiar surroundings
  • Anxiety
  • Failing to remember routines and previously learned training or house rules
  • No longer responding to their name or familiar commands
  • Extreme irritability
  • Decreased desire to play
  • Aimless wandering
  • Staring blankly at walls or at nothing
  • Slow to learn new tasks
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in sleep cycle like night waking and/or sleeping during the day

The early signs of canine dementia can be difficult to detect. They can often be misinterpreted as “just getting old.” However, early recognition is very important and all dog owners should be on the lookout for mild versions of the symptoms listed above.

💡 Knowing what your dog’s routines look like can help you spot changes. Tractive GPS lets you track sleep and activity, and compare with other dogs of similar breed and age. It’s also great for peace of mind knowing you can find your dog in no time if they get confused and wander off.

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Dog dementia symptoms

How is dog dementia diagnosed?

If your dog is exhibiting any of above, it’s important to note that these symptoms do not necessarily indicate dog dementia. Moreover, they could be signs of another possible illness that your dog is suffering from. Diagnosis of dementia in dogs must be done by a professional, and the current means to do so is to rule out any other potential illnesses. So if you suspect that your dog may have dementia, a trip to your vet is essential. Your vet can conduct the appropriate tests to rule out any other conditions, or use an MRI to make the final diagnosis.

In the best case scenario, your dog should already visit the vet for checkups regularly, so symptoms of dementia can be detected and treated early on.

What are the causes of dog dementia? 

The exact cause for dog dementia is currently unknown. However, the disease is often caused by the fact that the brain function is affected by the physical and chemical changes that occur along with the aging process. But age related cognitive decline is not the only condition that causes dementia in dogs. Genetic factors or other diseases like brain tumors and brain trauma may also predispose an animal to develop the dementia.

Can dog dementia be prevented?

Because an exact cause is unknown, it is difficult to determine exactly how to prevent dementia in dogs. However, keeping your dog physically and mentally active may help to prevent dementia. It is recommended to do the following with your dog to keep their mind sharp and healthy:

  • Teach them new tricks
  • Play games together
  • Feed them balanced, whole food diet
  • Consider brain-healthy supplements
  • Make sure they get regular exercise
  • Allow them to have new experiences & regular socialization
  • Avoid putting your dog in stressful situations
  • Eliminate exposure to toxins

Studies have found that regular, moderate physical activity and mental stimulation with interactive toys may help maintain your dog’s mental health.

Additionally, it is recommended that senior dogs receive a health checkup every 6 months¹.

Is there a cure for dog dementia?

At this time, there is no known cure for dog dementia. The condition leads to the physical deterioration of the brain, and therefore, there is no simple corrective measure that can regenerate these tissues. However, research into this subject is already being conducted, with potential cures involving stem cell therapy² as well as pharmaceuticals³.

What is the treatment for dog dementia?

While there is no known cure for dog dementia, there are several options to treat this condition in our furry friends. Treatment includes prescription drugs, diet changes, life enrichment, supplements and surgery. We recommend to consult a vet first and foremost, to determine the best treatment options for you and your elderly dog.

What should I do if I suspect my dog has dementia?

If your dog is showing any of the above signs of dementia, it is important that you visit your veterinarian for a check-up. Your vet will go over your dog’s history with you in great detail and perform a complete physical examination to evaluate the overall health status and cognitive functions of your dog. Your vet may also recommend some diagnostic tests, like blood tests, ultrasounds, and X-rays, to check for other health problems. If your vet determines that your dog has dementia, he or she will then discuss the various options with you.

old dog - dog with dementia

How can I best care for my dog with dementia?

When it comes to caring for a dog with dementia, you’ll want to consider their needs when it comes to your home, surroundings, and lifestyle. You can help your dog cope with dementia and care for them, in the following ways.

  1. Provide daytime activities and opportunities for play.
  2. Encourage opportunities for structured social interaction.
  3. Expose your dog to sunlight to help regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
  4. Keep walking the dog – do not reduce physical activity. If they can’t walk, use a stroller or wagon.
  5. Pet-proof your house like you would for a new puppy or toddler.
  6. Establish feeding, watering, and walking routines and patterns for your dog’s comfort.
  7. Use diapers, waterproof bedding, pads, or furniture if necessary.
  8. Try switching to prescription senior dog food, or a whole foods natural diet².
  9. Add supplements to the dog’s diet, but only under the guidance of a vet.
  10. Explore alternative and conventional forms of treatment.
  11. Avoid changing or rearranging furniture. Try to keep your dog’s home and surroundings as familiar and friendly as possible.
  12. Know your dog’s limits when introducing new toys, food, people, or other animals.
  13. Keep commands short, simple, and compassionate.
  14. Give them plenty of love.
  15. Keep track of your best friend with a GPS tracker that helps stop them from getting lost

By incorporating some of the above into your life as a means to care for your dog with dementia, you may be able to slow down or stop further development of the disease.

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What is the prognosis and outlook for dogs with dementia?

Ultimately, the aging process of dogs is unavoidable, and most of our furry friends will face some health issues as their days reach their limit. While it can be heartbreaking to watch your beloved pooch’s health decline, there are steps you can take to make the situation as comfortable and safe as possible for your dog. Investing in a dog GPS tracker for example, will ensure that you can locate your furry friend, no matter how far they go. The most important thing you can do, is stay strong for your beloved buddy and be prepared for incidents related to dog dementia.

More tips for dogs with dementia

Canine dementia often goes unrecognized or untreated. For more information, take a look at this video which shows you everything you need to know about senility in dogs.

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