Dog Dementia: Recognizing & Treating It
Your senior dog might be vulnerable to canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) syndrome. So here's how it develops - and what you can do to prevent it and manage it better.
Is your dog displaying some curious behavioral changes? Failing to remember routines? Appearing disoriented or confused? They may be affected by dementia (or other symptoms of aging as they graduate to becoming senior dogs.) But 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? Let’s dive right in.
Table of contents
- What is dog dementia?
- What are the symptoms and signs of dog dementia?
- How is dog dementia diagnosed?
- What are the causes of dog dementia?
- Can dog dementia be prevented?
- Is there a cure for dog dementia?
- What is the treatment for dog dementia?
- What should I do if I suspect my dog has dementia?
- How can I best care for my dog with dementia?
- What is the prognosis and outlook for dogs with dementia?
- More tips for dogs with 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.
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
- 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.
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.
💡 Knowing what your dog’s routines look like can help you spot changes. Your Tractive GPS helps 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.
Because what’s one of the first signs your dog might be developing dementia? A change in their sleep patterns. And you shouldn’t have to lose out your own sleep watching your dog sleep all night just to catch on a change.
But with a Sleep Alert, you can instantly catch on to a change – if your dog’s sleep has been disturbed more often than usual. So you can take action and get your dog to a vet immediately.
“It’s pretty difficult tracking every minute of your pet’s sleep. You can watch them run around and play – but it’s not the same during naptime. But with a Sleep Alert, you can quickly check if there’s been a significant change in your pet’s sleep patterns. If they’re continuously waking up more than usual or just sleeping less well than before, it could be a sign that something’s wrong.”– Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive & occasional pet-sitter
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.
These steps can help you keep your buddy’s mind sharp and healthy:
- Don’t skip on regular exercise. Play games together with your dog and make sure they get some daily outdoors time.
- Keep your dog mentally active. By teaching them new tricks or new commands, you can both keep them engaged and deepen your bond. Clicker training for dogs is an excellent, practical method that’s built on positive reinforcement.
- Feed your dog a balanced, whole food diet. Dogs are omnivores and can safely eat a number of vegetables and fruits. On the other hand, stay informed on what can dogs not eat as well. Consider brain-healthy supplements with the advice of your vet.
- Help your dog socialize. Meeting new pets and people can help them stay socially and mentally active as well. However, avoid forcing them to interact longer than they’re comfortable.
- Stay on top of your vet visits. Senior dogs should get a health checkup every 6 months¹.
- Eliminate exposure to toxins. Whether that’s in food or from their outdoor adventures, senior dogs might be likely to wander off. (And potentially pick up something infectious – or eat something they’re not supposed to.) So keep tabs on their location with a dedicated dog GPS tracker which helps you locate your dog in real-time.
Always know where your dog is
Follow every step in real-time with unlimited range. Get alerts if they wander too far. Keep them happy & healthy with Wellness Monitoring. And let others – like walkers or sitters – keep an eye on your dog too.
How regular activity tracking can help you keep your dog healthy
Vets recommend actively tracking your dog’s daily movement to stay on top of their health. Because if you notice a big drop in your dog’s regular activity, it could be a sign of pain, illness – or even cognitive dysfunction.4
With regular activity tracking, you can catch such health issues early on.
It’s how Tractive pet parents around the world are caring for their dogs’ health. From your dog’s Wellness profile, you can monitor their regular level of activity – and more easily spot a change if you notice a drop. Because one of the first signs your dog might be struggling with a sickness is if they seem more lethargic than usual.
So you can take action immediately – and get your buddy the help they need.
Here’s a story of one of our pet parents, who immediately caught on to a change in her dog’s regular behaviors from her Wellness profile – and avoided a medical emergency:
“When I looked at Ruby’s Wellness profile, the data showed that her activity level was low and that she hadn’t slept well. I was concerned and watched her carefully.
Early the next morning, she had blood in her urine and was lethargic. We visited the emergency veterinarian, and Ruby was diagnosed with a UTI.
She received antibiotics and pain medication and is feeling much better. Her tracker data made me aware that she was not acting normally and that something could be wrong with her.
I love her tracker, and I will always have one for any dog I ever own.“– Katie J, Delaware
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. 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. 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, visit your veterinarian for a check-up. Your vet will go over your dog’s history with you in great detail. They might also 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.
How can I best care for my dog with dementia?
You can help your dog cope with dementia and care for them, in the following ways.
- Activity: Keep walking your dog – or use a stroller or wagon, if they can’t walk.
- Social interaction: Take your dog to a park or somewhere they’ll be around other dogs. However, be aware of your dog’s limits around other people and pets.
- Nature: Expose your dog to sunlight to help regulate the sleep-wake cycle. They’ll also benefit from the sensory stimulation from being in nature.
- Routine: Establish feeding, watering, and walking routines and patterns for your dog’s comfort. Try to keep your dog’s home and surroundings as familiar and friendly as possible.
- Indoor security: Pet-proof your house like you would for a new puppy or toddler. Use diapers, waterproof bedding, pads, or furniture if necessary.
- Food: Try switching to prescription senior dog food, or a whole foods natural diet². Add supplements to the dog’s diet, but only under the guidance of a vet. For example, certain prescription diets like the Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind diet are designed to support your dog’s cognitive health.
A dog with dementia might be more likely to get lost
Finally, plan ahead for wandering. Dogs with dementia might be at risk of wandering off. So you can keep track of your best friend with a GPS tracker that helps stop them from getting lost
With these steps, you may be able to slow down or stop further development of the disease. And with a dedicated dog GPS tracker, you’ll always be able to prevent your dog from wandering off by mistake – and also stay on top of their health.
““Everything we build puts pets and pet parents first. It’s why we’ve built one device that tracks all aspects of your pet’s safety, from location to wellness. So you can holistically keep them both safe and happy.”– Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive & occasional pet-sitter
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.
Your furry friend’s health and wellbeing means as much as to us as it does to you. So we’ve made it a priority to only share medically-relevant content on our blog.
This post was checked, double-checked, and medically verified by Georgia-based vet, Dr. Dwight Alleyne.
Dr. Dwight Alleyne, DVM
Dwight Alleyne was born and raised in Long Island, New York where his love of animals began. His career for animals began working for a well-known no-kill animal shelter on Long Island.
He worked his way up the career ladder working as a kennel technician, veterinary assistant, and then becoming a licensed veterinary technician at the shelter.
His passion for veterinary medicine led to him applying to and being accepted at Cornell University Veterinary where he graduated from in 2006. After completing a small animal rotating internship at Purdue University, he eventually made his way to Georgia where he has been practicing ever since.
Dr. Alleyne has practiced at several small animal clinics throughout Georgia. He has a keen interest in soft tissue surgery and has extensive experience in performing ultrasounds including echocardiograms.
When he is not practicing medicine, Dr. Alleyne enjoys writing and editing pet health articles and providing pet advice through telehealth.
Dr. Alleyne also has his own blog called “The Animal Doctor Blog.” Check it out on: www.anmldrblog.com.