Dogs And Dementia: Identification, Treatment, and Prevention

Written by Chanel Coetzee
Published: October 31, 2022
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Just like humans, elderly canines can encounter changes in the brain, affecting comprehension and memory. Sadly, this usually leads to senility and dementia. In addition, dogs with dementia often show signs of disorientation, irritability, and confusion.

At first, these signs are subtle, like your dog forgetting about their daily walk, but soon it will start progressing. While canine dementia can occur in many dog breeds,  it affects small, and toy dogs the most.

Unfortunately, scientists have not discovered the cause behind this disease, but there are ways to manage the symptoms, like dietary supplements, exercise, medication, and strict routines.

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What is Dementia in Dogs?

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction(CCD) is a blanket term for four separate cognitive forms and is a behavioral syndrome that affects the dog’s brain and causes a decline in several mental processes. These four forms include:


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When a dog has dysthymia, it loses its size awareness.

©Olya Maximenko/

Dysthymia usually involves dogs losing their body length and size awareness. For example, they often get trapped in a corner behind furniture. Sadly, all they need to do is walk backward, but they can’t figure it out.

Other dysthymia symptoms include:

  • Disrupted sleep cycles
  • Frequent growling
  • Whining
  • Moaning
  • Aggression

Never disrupt dogs when they are in this state because it could scare them, and they may act out aggressively.

Involutive Depression

This type of depression only occurs in dogs later on in life and is very similar to chronic depression in people. While several causes may be involved, untreated anxiety seems to be the primary reason for this condition.

Dementia in dogs often causes elderly canines to circle, wander, and mess in the house, which usually results in the dog being locked up for its own protection. However, endless hours of confinement and increased anxiety can make the symptoms worse.

Other symptoms of involutive depression can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Sleep disorders
  • Decreased learning
  • Vocalizing

Confusional Syndrome

This form of dementia in dogs is very similar to Alzheimer’s in people. Confusional syndrome is when a dog’s cognitive ability declines substantially.

For example, they can no longer learn any new information; they forget things that occur in their everyday lives, like other pets or regular visitors. As time goes on, their brain function will continue to decrease until they don’t even recognize their owner anymore.


Hyper-aggression in dogs is caused by the dysfunction of structures responsible for the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for the brain’s ability to feel satisfaction, optimism, and happiness, but it also affects communication with other animals. That’s why dogs become aggressive: they can no longer communicate or understand.

How to Identify Dementia in Dogs

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The symptoms of dementia develop gradually in dogs.


Identifying dementia in dogs might take some time as it is a progressive disease, and symptoms develop gradually. However, stressful situations can cause this condition to increase its pace.

While you might think you are recognizing signs of dementia in your canine, always take it to the vet first to rule out other possible issues, which could include:

  • Arthritis
  • Blindness
  • Kidney disease
  • Deafness
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Tumors
  • Infections
  • Inflammation of the brain

But if your dog shows the following signs, there is a high chance they are suffering from dementia.

A Change in Behavior

One of the symptoms of CCD is a change in temperament or behavior. These changes can include decreased interactions with family members or not wanting to partake in their favorite game. In addition, dogs with dementia can become aggressive and scared because they are constantly confused.

Messing Inside the House, Learning, and Memory

One of the first signs of dementia in dogs is their potty training starts to slip. They will reach a point where they won’t let you know when they need to relieve themselves and will pick a random spot in the home instead.

They typically stop reacting to commands and won’t be able to perform old tricks. In addition, it will become more challenging to get their attention.

Increased Anxiety

When a dog is confused, it can often lead to a spike in anxiety. This typically happens when they are left alone and start to panic or shake because they feel so uncomfortable. However, there are medications available that can keep your dog’s anxiety under control.


One of the most identifiable signs of dementia in canines is disorientation. For example, your dog might wander around for hours and appear confused about its surroundings. In addition, they often go to the wrong door when they need to go out.

They might also stare at the floor, walls, or into nothingness for no reason at all. Lastly, they may have difficulty navigating their way around objects or won’t recognize familiar faces.

Disrupted Sleep

As the condition starts to worsen, your dog might experience disruptions to their sleep cycle. For example, they can have trouble sleeping at night and may begin to wander around the house while moaning or barking.

Sleep-deprived dogs have heightened emotions like agitation or fear, which causes additional stress. In addition, you will find that your dog is sleeping more during the day.

Socialization Changes

This symptom will vary depending on the dog. Some canines will become withdrawn and won’t want to socialize anymore. Others may become needier and don’t like being left alone.

In addition, they might not like being pet anymore and prefer being on their own. However, others can become scared and will always want a companion nearby.

How to Treat Dementia in Dogs

Vet treating dog
Consult your vet when you notice any symptoms in your dog.

©StrDr stock/

While there is no cure, dementia in dogs can be managed with the proper care and attention. So, there is no reason your dog cannot live out the rest of its life happily.

For example, there are medications they can take that will make them more comfortable, like a prescription drug named Anipryl, which aids in alleviating several symptoms of CCD in certain breeds.

Aniptyl works by extending dopamine activity in the brain. Dogs need one pill a day, but it won’t work on every breed. However, side effects are few and far between unless misused with other medications like opioids, amitraz, ephedrine, several types of antidepressants, and phenylpropanolamine.

Besides drugs, you could work out a strict daily routine for your pooch, which should include scheduled times for eating, exercise, and other activities. You must ensure you follow through with these routines, especially since dogs with dementia need plenty of exercise and sun.

By sticking to a schedule, you reduce your dog’s anxiety levels, which in turn, promotes nighttime sleep. Play soothing music and try aromatherapy to help your dog feel more comfortable. In addition, spend lots of quality time with your dog, and don’t leave them alone for extended periods of time.

Because they are so disorientated, you should never rearrange the furniture, move their bed or make any other changes to their home.

Some breeds respond well to supplements that help improve dogs’ cognitive function; these include:

  • Denamarin
  • SAMe
  • Antioxidants
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Medium-chain triglycerides
  • Vitamin E
  • Silybin
  • Solliquin
  • Cholodin
  • Melatonin

However, you should always consult a trusted veterinarian about the dosage and which supplements would work best for your dog. In addition, there are also homeopathic solutions and herbal remedies that often benefit canines with dementia.

How to Prevent Dementia in Dogs

There seems to be a connection between dental problems and dementia in dogs. Veterinarians and scientists have found that older dogs with periodontal disease are more susceptible to CCD than other canines. In addition, they found that symptoms of CCD develop faster when the gum disease is severe.

So, by keeping your dog’s teeth healthy, you might be able to prevent dementia. You can brush their teeth at least 3 times a week with a toothpaste specially formulated for dogs, or you can take your pooch for a professional dental cleaning every few months.

Here are some other ways to prevent dementia in dogs:

Schedule Regular Mental Stimulation, Socialization, and Exercise

Having a daily routine for your dog is really beneficial; however, you shouldn’t overexert senior dogs. Instead, take them for relaxing walks where they are free to stop and sniff anything they like. In addition, you can also incorporate age-appropriate strengthening exercises.

For socialization, set up some short playdates with other dogs or people in a controlled environment. Dogs with dementia need mental stimulation to help slow down the condition, which can include food puzzles, treat-release toys, or brief training sessions.

Improve their Diet

By improving your dog’s nutrient intake, you can help prevent CCD. The best supplements to incorporate into your dog’s diet are healthy fats like:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Krill oil
  • Medium-chain triglyceride oil
  • Antioxidant-rich whole foods
  • High-quality protein

In addition, you should cut out refined carbohydrates like potatoes, legumes, and sugar. Check their kibble to make sure there are no toxic byproducts linked to neurodegenerative disease.

Nutraceuticals Improve Memory

Add a ¼ teaspoon of coconut oil for every 10 pounds to your dog’s food every day because this will improve their cognitive function. Other supplements that serve the same purpose include:

  • Jellyfish extract
  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)
  • Resveratrol (Japanese knotweed)
  • Glutathione
  • Vinpocetine
  • Lion’s man mushroom
  • Curcumin
  • Phosphatidylserine
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Probiotics
  • Ubiquinol

Manage Stress Levels

Elderly dogs, specifically ones with dementia, generally become disoriented. So, to manage their anxiety levels and keep them stable, introduce a strict routine where feeding and exercise commence at the same time every day.

In addition, you need to control their weight as this affects arthritis and degenerative joint disease. Consider implementing therapies like acupuncture, chiropractics, massage, stretching, and hydrotherapy.

If your dog starts to mess in the house, first make sure there is no underlying condition, then provide your pooch with additional bathroom breaks, or if they were crate trained previously, reintroduce them to a crate.

When your dog has problems seeing or hearing, use its fantastic sense of smell instead. You can do this by using odor cues like pet-friendly pheromone products or essential oils to help them navigate.

In addition, if they struggle to get up on the bed, into the car, or on their favorite seat, build them a ramp. And lastly, if they are slipping on your floors, place runners, yoga mats, or area rugs to give them more traction.

The Prognosis for Dogs With Dementia

Sadly, dogs with dementia will eventually die from the condition as there is no cure. But luckily, CCD usually only occurs in elderly dogs after they have lived full and happy lives. In addition, there are now treatments that can help these dogs live comfortably for a little while longer.

People who own dogs with dementia should consult with their trusted veterinarian about what to expect, the best treatment for their furry companion, and how you can help your dog adapt to this new normal.

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About the Author

I am a 33-year-old creative and professional writer from South Africa. Wildlife is one of my greatest passions and led me to become the writer I am today. I was very blessed to work with an abundance of wildlife (mainly big cats) and captured my unique experiences in writing. But I wanted to take it further, and I ventured into the freelancing world. Now, I get to spend my days writing about animals; what could be better?

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What are the signs of dementia in dogs?

One of the dogs’ first signs of dementia is their potty training starts to slip. They will reach a point where they won’t let you know when they need to relieve themselves and will pick a random spot in the home instead. They also become disorientated, often getting lost in their own home.

What are the final stages of dementia in dogs?

During the final stages of dementia, dogs will:
• Pace
• Become anxious
• Get disorientated
• Stare into nothingness for long periods of time
• Get stuck in corners
• Seem lost
• Mess in the house

How long do dogs with dementia live?

It takes approximately two years, but it depends on the dog and how far along its condition is.

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