Many senior dogs will develop dementia, also known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), but sadly it isn’t always diagnosed. That is because many of the signs typically associated with this disease are assumed to be nothing more than a part of the natural aging process.
Some of the signs you will see in a dog with dementia include: staring at walls; getting stuck on the wrong side of the door or under furniture; a well trained dog peeing and pooping in the house; forgetting how to eat; and not recognizing their people.
**There are affiliate links in this post, which means if you buy something I may receive a small commission. This has no effect on the price you pay.**
What is dog dementia?
According to Vetsnow, “Cognitive dysfunction is an inappropriate loss of mental function which is not associated with any other medical condition. It is similar to dementia in humans and results in loss of perception, loss of awareness of and interaction with, the environment, memory and learning problems and decision making.”
Is dementia painful for dogs?
The disease itself is not painful for dogs, but as senior dog parents it’s painful for us. We watch them struggle to find their food even when we hold the bowl up to their nose; we enter a room to find them stuck behind a door; we see them anxious, confused and wandering aimlessly. The feeling of helplessness is the worst!
Dog breeds prone to dementia
Red, my Chihuahua/Min Pin had dementia, and hundreds of senior dog parents in my FB group have dogs with dementia as well. I wondered if certain breeds were more prone to it than others, so I did some research.
While evidence finds it more common in smaller breeds than larger ones (maybe because smaller breeds live longer so there are more years for the disease to develop), I haven’t found any definitive answer about breed.
Will your dog get dementia?
There’s no way to know, but I did find some figures:
- 14%-22% of senior dogs will get dementia
- Around 25% of dogs over 10 will get it
- 50% of dogs over 11 will get it
- 23% of dogs over 12 will get it
- 41% of dogs over 14 will get it
- 68% of dogs will exhibit at least one symptom by the time they are 15
To me these are just numbers, and I certainly wouldn’t spend each day worrying if my dog will be one of those statistics. What I would do is:
- Familiarize myself with the signs
- Take my dog to the vet when I see changes in behavior
- Start implementing some of the preventive measures listed below
- Be an advocate for my dog by not accepting “it’s old age” as a diagnosis, and researching treatment options to present to the vet
What are the signs of dementia in a dog?
There are several signs that may indicate your dog has dementia, and to help you I have included a thorough list below. I have also created a downloadable version so you can tick off behaviors you’ve been noticing, and take it to your vet. It will be a valuable tool in helping him make a diagnosis.
NOTE: Just because your dog exhibits a few, or many of these symptoms, it does not mean your dog has dementia. Many are present in other diseases as well, which is why a visit to your vet is critical.
- Cries/barks for no reason
- Seems afraid/anxious when he never was before
- Exhibits aggressive behavior for the first time
- Afraid of people he knows
- Stares at walls or into space
- Wanders aimlessly
- Trouble recognizing family members
- Pacing back and forth
- Walking in circles, usually in one direction
- Lost in familiar places like the house or backyard
- Not responding to his/her name
- Doesn’t seem to understand commands
- Gets stuck in corners, behind furniture or doors
- Stands at the wrong door to go out
- OCD behavior
- Trouble eating/keeping food in his mouth
- Comes back in from a walk, then pees and poops in the house
- Doesn’t let you know he has to go out like he used to
- Pees/poops whenever she needs to, no longer waits to be taken out
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Sleeps more during the day, less at night
- Wanders or cries at night
Interaction with household members
- Doesn’t like to be petted or cuddled
- No longer greets people when they come home, or is less enthusiastic
- Isn’t seeking attention from anyone
- Doesn’t play much or at all
- Not as interested in walks
DOWNLOADABLE: Does My Dog Have Dementia Checklist
Stages of canine cognitive dysfunction
In a study called “Assessment of severity and progression of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome using the CAnine DEmentia Scale (CADES)” 3 stages of the disease have been identified.
Mild cognitive impairment – very minor changes are beginning in terms of sleep patterns and how dogs interact with their guardians.
Moderate cognitive impairment – Sundowner’s, which is a disturbance in the sleep/wake cycle. Dogs with sundowners tend to sleep more during the day but are up at night. Housetraining, or lack of it is becoming an issue at this stage.
Severe cognitive dysfunction – This is when you start to see a lot of barking, crying, wandering aimlessly, not recognizing family members, not remembering how to eat…
What causes doggie dementia?
Some vets are sure of the causes, others less so, but after a bit of digging this is what I discovered.
- Lesions in the brain (caused by an accumulation of a protein called beta amyloid) destroy healthy brain tissue and cause deterioration in how your dog thinks, learns and remembers. This is similar to what happens in Alzheimers patients.
- Oxidative stress due to free radical damage which harm healthy cells in the brain
- Decreased dopamine production (a neurotransmitter essential for effective nerve transmission)
- Not enough blood getting to the brain
- Brain tumor or brain trauma
It’s unlikely you will ever know the exact cause, but that has no impact on your ability to help your dog cope.
How is dementia in dogs diagnosed?
Since there is no test to diagnose dementia, it is done through a process of elimination. The reason for this is because many of the signs associated with this disease are also present in other illnesses.
Your dog may be staring at the wall or stuck behind a door because he’s blind or losing his sight.
A dog with diabetes or kidney disease will have to pee frequently, which could explain the accidents in the house.
Loss of interest in playing is understandable if he has arthritis or other joint problems.
- Make an appointment to see your vet.
- Bring the checklist with you.
- Ask your vet to take blood and urine tests. Results will either show issues of concern or nothing to worry about.
- If the tests are all negative, and no medical explanation can be found to explain the behaviors you’ve ticked, by process of elimination your vet will likely determine it to be dementia.
How fast does dementia progress in a dog?
I’ve seen many posts written by senior dog parents who believe their dogs “suddenly” got dementia. It is not a disease that happens all of a sudden, but rather is progressive. In the early stages, many pet parents believe the minor changes they’re seeing are to be expected in an aging dog. It’s often not until a more advanced stage when it’s assumed to be dementia, if then.
In the study I mentioned above in the “stages” section, they found:
42% of dogs progressed from “normal ageing” to a mild case of dementia in 6 months. That number rose to 71.45% in 12 months.
24% of dogs progressed from mild impairment to moderate in 6 months. That number rose to 50% in 12 months.
NOTE: Dementia is a progressive disease, and will worsen. The good news is there are treatment options which you will find below.
How long do dogs live after being diagnosed with dementia?
There have been very few studies of dementia in dogs, and those that have been done are relatively small. What was found in the study “An Observational Study with Long‐Term Follow‐Up of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction: Clinical Characteristics, Survival, and Risk Factors” is that dogs have a good chance of living a full lifespan if they are well cared for by both the pet parent and the vet.
Is there a cure for dog dementia?
There is no cure, but the prescription medication selegeline may slow down its progression, and other drugs, supplements and remedies can help with the side effects. There is more information in the treatment section below.
Does CBD oil help dogs with dementia?
CBD oil will not slow down the progression of this disease, but it can be effective in helping with the anxiety that is usually present. It is important to note that not every brand is created equal, and there is no guarantee it will work for every dog.
Before you try it, please check with your vet to ensure it does not interact with any other medication.
Here is what senior dog parents have to say about CBD oil and dog dementia
“I put my 14yrs old Jack on CBD oil. I am so happy I did! He was starting to keep me up at night and the first night I gave him the oil he slept right thru the night! He’s like a new puppy today!”
“I’ve been using a regular CBD tincture for my pup for the last 9 months, and it has worked great for his sundowners symptoms (he used to whine at me all night for no reason). I just add it to his food.”
“Day 2 of CBD oil and I can really notice the difference in my girl. She slept through last night and would normally have me up 4-5 times a night.”
“CBD oil helped my 12 year old with early stage of canine cognitive dysfunction. And also with incontinence.”
“My Aussies Sundowners is completely gone. No more panting, trembling, pacing or crying.”
Senior dog parent recommended brands
Creating Brighter Days (Canadian company)
Pure Life (UK)
Treatment options for dog dementia
The extensive list below will contain both natural options and medications senior dog parents have seen success with. Not every product will work on every dog, so just because your friend or neighbor can’t recommend X highly enough because it was a game changer for their dog, it doesn’t mean yours will see the same results.
It’s also important to be aware that it’s often a combination of products that offer the best results, so expect a lot of trial and error.
Note: Please check with your vet before giving your dog any supplements, because natural does not always mean safe or appropriate for your dog.
This is THE drug for a dementia diagnosis. Containing the active ingredient Selegiline hydrochloride it is sold as Selgian® in the UK and Anipryl® in the US. It has been shown to be effective by prolonging the activity of your dog’s remaining dopamine, which helps by improving memory and helping dogs think more clearly.
Alprazolam (better known as Xanax)
Alprazolam is a “benzodiazepine tranquilizer. It works by depressing activity in a number of areas of the brain…It works as an anti-anxiety treatment, as a sedative, as a suppressor of seizure activity, and as a muscle relaxer.”
Typically used to treat panic disorders due to things like fireworks or thunderstorms, many vets have recommended Xanax to treat the anxiety associated with dementia in dogs.
“Senilife is a supplement containing a unique blend of antioxidants — phosphatidylserine, pyridoxine, ginko biloba extract, resveratrol and d-alpha-tocopherol — which work together to help reduce brain-aging behaviors in as little as 7 days.”
What’s interesting about this, aside from how many dogs with ccd it has helped, the manufacturer states you can start giving it to your dog as soon as he becomes a senior. While there are varying opinions as to when that is, here is the guide they have on their website.
|Dog’s Weight||Age to Administer Senilife|
“ThunderShirt’s patented design applies gentle, constant pressure to calm all types of anxiety, fear, and over-excitement issues.” Many senior dog parents I know have seen a big change in their dog’s anxiety level when wearing the Thundershirt, but have a look through the website to learn more about this and other calming products they offer.
They also offer a money back guarantee, more information about that can be find in their FAQs sections.
Coconut oil is a rich source of medium chain triglycerides [MCT], they are converted into ketones in the liver, which are believed to fuel the brain. As with most things there are mixed reviews as to whether it helps with dementia, but there are a lot of other purported benefits as well.
- Balances thyroid, helping with weight loss
- Disinfects cuts and soothes cracked skin
- Improves skin and coat
- Flea and tick repellent
NOTE: I’ve read conflicting information about dosage, from 1tsp for every 10lbs your dog weighs to every 30lbs, but the same sources recommend starting with ¼ tsp. That was too high for my dog and she started showing signs of pancreatitis, so if your dog has pancreatitis I would stay away from it.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep. Being exposed to light at night can block melatonin production.”
Many dogs with dementia experience something called “sundowning” which means they start getting agitated as night approaches. Because their sleep/wake cycle is disturbed, you may notice your dog sleeping all day, but wandering all night. Melatonin may help restore that cycle.
Clomipramine (brand name Clomicalm)
This is an FDA approved drug for treating separation anxiety in dogs. Since it’s also used to treat other anxiety related issues, it has been prescribed for dogs with dementia.
Typically prescribed for liver support, it is now also used for dogs with dementia.
Novifit is one brand, and here is a quote from research done on the efficacy of this product: “Results from a combination of new research studies of aged dogs and cats suggest NOVIFIT® (NoviSAMe®) Tablets can diminish the effects of age-related cognitive dysfunction. Collectively, the results also support the use of NOVIFIT Tablets supplementation for cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) in senior dogs and cats, especially for those in the early stages of the disease.”
For more information on how SAM-e can help your dog, this article is worth reading – “What Can SAM-e Do for Dogs?”
L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea leaves, and has been shown to reduce anxiety in dogs. “It is thought to increase levels of dopamine and GABA in the brain, though there is differing opinions on how the substance affects serotonin levels. These chemicals play a role in mood, and can affect how anxious a dog feels.”
Read this ⇒ “Supplement Can Bolster Pets’ Anxiety Treatment”
A synthetic version of L-Theanine, called Suntheanine®, is in the Anxitane supplement.
A traditional herb of both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, Gotu Kola it is an antioxidant that improves the flow of oxygen to the brain, helping memory and improving mental awareness. It is also good for stress.
In a study conducted on young and old mice, while both showed improvements in learning and memory, the biggest improvement was in the old mice.
For anyone living in the UK or Ireland, nutramind “provides high strength nutritional support for healthy brain function in dogs and cats. It includes the key nutrients for supporting cognitive function in aging pets whilst benefiting younger pets in training and learning.”
Made by the same company as nutramind, this natural calming supplement helped my dog Red with the anxiety associated with dementia.
Trazadone is an “antidepressant that is used to treat behavioral disorders, especially anxiety- or phobia-related in dogs.” Available by prescription from your vet, he or she will discuss the suitability of this medication, and recommend dosage.
SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy Behavioral Aid Toy
This cuddly toy helps reduce stress, loneliness, whining and barking thanks to the “heartbeat” (with an on/off switch) and a self warming pack.
According to “Herbal support for geriatric animals” published on the Innovative Veterinary Care, one of the things Rhodiola rosea is used for is decreased memory. “A review published in the American Botanical Council’s journal reported that numerous studies in humans, animals, and in cells have shown that Rhodiola helps prevent fatigue, stress and the damaging effects of oxygen deprivation. The evidence suggests that Rhodiola has an antioxidant effect and enhances immune system function.”
A tree native to China, the extract made from the leaves contains powerful antioxidants that improve brain function and circulation.
According to the Neutricks website “As dogs age they lose calcium-binding proteins that protect their brain cells. This protein loss affects their ability to learn, retain memories, think and concentrate Neutricks (apoaequorin) replaces these proteins and helps protect cells during this natural process of aging.”
I found many favorable reviews from senior dog parents who said –
“no more aimless wandering and barking”
“helps her sleep at night”
“less separation anxiety”
Read this ⇒ “Evidence Update: Neutricks Still up to Same Tricks”
“Bacopa monnieri, also called brahmi, water hyssop, thyme-leaved gratiola, and herb of grace, is a staple plant in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.…used by Ayurvedic medical practitioners for centuries for a variety of purposes, including improving memory, reducing anxiety, and treating epilepsy. Research shows that it may boost brain function and alleviate anxiety and stress, among other benefits.”
Animal studies show Bacopa reduces anxiety and depression and enhances memory.
“A dog-friendly plant with a distinctive lemon-mint fragrance and flavor, lemon balm is best known as a nervine, a calming herb that soothes and relaxes.”
Read this ⇒ “Ways to Use Lemon Balm on Dogs” .
Read this ⇒ “Lemon Balm Benefits for Dogs”
Fluoxetine, better known as Prozac, is an antidepressant often used to treat depression and sometimes obsessive-compulsive disorder and bulimia in humans.
Many senior dog parents I know have been prescribed Prozac for their dogs’ anxiety. As with most things, some have found it helpful, others did not see a difference.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Not found naturally in the dog or human body, omega 3 has many important benefits:
- Heart health
- Keeps skin and coat in good condition
- Anti inflammatory so may help relieve joint pain
- May improve cognitive function in older dogs
TerraMax Pro Premium Liquid Omega-3 Fish Oil
Nordic Naturals Omega 3 Pet
Amazing Omega for Dogs
Read this ⇒ “Fish Oil for Dogs”
Read this ⇒ “Nutrition and the aging brain of dogs and cats”
Read this ⇒ “Fish Oil: The Dangers of Too Much”
“Choline (brand name Cholodin®) is a vitamin that is used in detoxification pathways in the liver and as a precursor to nervous system chemicals such as acetylcholine and dopamine. Because of these effects, supplemental choline is used in dogs and cats with seizures and/or cognitive dysfunction.”
Many senior dog parents in my FB group have mentioned the benefits of B6 for dog dementia. I found a lot of interesting information on the AVMA website. I’m going to quote the section on B vitamins in case you aren’t planning on reading it or are just interested in this particular supplement.
“Certain B vitamins, especially thiamine (B1), pyridoxine (B6), folate (B9), and cobalamin (B12), are important for neurodevelopment and cognitive function.79–84 Deficiencies in B vitamins can lead to a high blood concentration of homocysteine,82–84 which is a risk factor for brain atrophy, cognitive impairment, and dementia in humans.79,82,84–86 Long-term provision of B vitamins reduces homocysteine concentrations, oxidative stress, and brain atrophy and improves memory and cognition, compared with results for a placebo.83,87 However, use of B vitamins to slow brain atrophy and cognitive decline provides benefits only in human subjects with high blood concentrations of omega-3 PUFAs.75
The B vitamins are thought to serve roles in dogs and cats that are similar to their roles in humans. However, deficiencies of the B vitamins are uncommon in dogs and cats. The authors are not aware of any studies that found a benefit of increasing the amount of B vitamins beyond the amount typically provided in nutritionally balanced pet foods. However, studies of dogs88 and cats89 revealed cognitive benefits for animals fed a diet supplemented with a blend of B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and other nutrients. Because of the design of the studies, it could not be determined whether the B vitamins specifically contributed to the benefits.”
“A nutritional supplement to aid a healthy central nervous system and support brain function in older dogs, Aktivait helps to avoid free radical damage and promotes brain signals.”
RESCUE REMEDY® PET
A blend of 5 Bach Flower Remedies, Rescue Remedy is an all natural alcohol free product that helps calm stressed and anxious dogs.
Valerian/Valerian and Scullcap
Valerian root is known for its sedative qualities, Scullcap is a plant with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacteria, anti-histamine and sedative properties.
My vet recommended the combination to help with my dog’s anxiety, but many can benefit from Valerian alone.
Back in 2018 there was a lot of talk about a drug by GNT Pharma in South Korea called Ropesalazine. Early trials showed some promise in helping relieve dementia symptoms in dogs. I haven’t been able to find out any more recent information about this drug, and it’s not mentioned on the company website. There is mention of a 3rd phase clinical trial for a drug called Crisdesalazine instead.
Turmeric Golden Paste
I’m sure you’ve heard about the health benefits of turmeric for humans, but did you know it’s also great for dogs! It’s a powerful antioxidant that has helped many senior dogs with arthritis and even dementia symptoms.
This link will take you to the recipe.
Read this ⇒ “Turmeric Used on Animals/Humans”
“Zylkene is a calming supplement that contains a natural ingredient derived from a protein in milk called casein that has clinically proven calming properties to help relax cats and dogs.”
Hill’s Prescription Diet b/d
“Prescription Diet™ b/d™ Canine is a complete pet food for the nutritional for dogs with behaviour changes associated with old age.”
- Helps support brain function
- With specially selected antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to maintain brain function and learning ability in older dogs.
- Clinically proven to help maintain learning ability, social interaction and sleep patterns in older dogs.
Purina Bright Minds Adult 7+
According to Janet Jackson, Director of Nutrition Research at Purina, “Our team of Purina scientists discovered that nutrition can positively impact a dog’s cognitive health and developed a breakthrough nutrition innovation – BRIGHT MIND Adult 7+ – to support cognitive health in dogs ages seven and older.
BRIGHT MIND Adult 7+ formulas contain enhanced botanical oils called MCTs, which have been shown to promote alertness and mental sharpness in dogs seven and older. MCTs provide an additional source of energy for the brain cells to naturally nourish their minds and help them think more like they did when they were younger. When added to the daily diet of dogs seven and older, formulas that contain enhanced botanical oils promoted memory, attention and trainability.”
Through a Dog’s Ear
Through a Dog’s Ear is bioacoustically engineered music, proven to help calm anxious dogs. This was a game changer for me in dealing with Red’s dementia. She would wander for hours, but once I played this CD she would settle in less than a minute. A 13 minute snippet can be found on Youtube so you can try before you buy.
Believe it or not, this is a trick many senior dog parents use and they have found it helps their dogs settle and sleep better.
Often recommended as part of an overall treatment plan, many senior dog parents have reported positive results in terms of a reduction in dementia symptoms.
Whether you’re ready to book a session or just want to have a chat to see if it’s right for your dog, please be sure to find a qualified and experienced vet.
International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS)
Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists (ABVA)
Living with a dog with dementia
As someone who lived with a dog with dementia for 2 ½ years, I know how stressful it is for everyone. I learned a lot during that time, so I’m sharing these tips with you.
º The most important thing is to be patient and understanding. Sorry if this seems obvious, but it can be a hard thing to do
º Try not to rearrange your furniture, keep things as familiar as possible
º Dogs with dementia tend to wander a lot or circle, so don’t leave stuff on the floor they can trip over
º A ramp may be easier to use than stairs
º Engage in play time with her
º Comfort her when she needs it
º Don’t overwhelm her with too much “new” stuff – people, toys…
º If you don’t already have a schedule, create one for feeding, walking and bedtime. Structure is good for all dogs, but can help confused dogs even more.
º Keep commands short and simple
º I don’t like the idea of crating a dog with dementia, in my experience that level of confinement can be very stressful because of their need to wander. A baby gate to keep her in one room or part of the house is a better option
º If it’s become harder to let your dog sleep in your room with you, set her up on a nice cozy bed in another room. You all may sleep better
º If you’re planning a family vacation and don’t want to leave your dog behind, bring her along. A motor home or caravan is a great dog friendly way to travel, or stay in a pet friendly hotel. Can’t bring her with you? Find someone you completely trust to care for her in your home if possible, since it’s less disruptive
Take care of yourself
This is huge…trust me! Caring for a senior dog who isn’t well is very stressful, you may not even realise the effect it’s having until you feel like you’re going to snap.
- Put your sneakers and headphones on, and take a 30 minute walk. You’ll feel so much better when you get back.
- Prefer something closer to home? Meditating will do wonders.
- Have someone you trust come over and dog sit, then go to the mall, have lunch with a friend or both!
- The better you care for yourself, the better you will care for your dog, and she needs you to help her.
Should you put your dog down if he has dementia?
It depends on:
- How advanced the dementia is
- How severe the symptoms are
- Whether or not there are treatment options left to try
- Your dog’s overall health, meaning is he or she dealing with other serious health issues
- Your dog’s quality of life
Keep in mind there is a difference between living and existing. Many senior dog parents believe that as long as their dog is eating there’s no reason to let them go. I’m not a vet, but from my experience of sharing my life with several old dogs, that is not enough of a criteria.
There are quality of life scales that can help, in addition to sitting down with your vet and discussing what kind of life your dog has.
Your dog may be eating but is he crying all the time? Wandering without being able to stop? Peeing and pooping all over the house? Doesn’t play or take walks anymore?
There are two sayings I heard from vets, and I’ve never forgotten them.
“Don’t let their last day be their worst day”
“Just because there is something to be done doesn’t mean it is morally or ethically right to do it.”
No one wants to let go, and none of us can imagine life without our heart dogs. At the end of the day it is never about us and avoiding the pain we know is coming, but it is always about what’s best for our dogs.
Is this the life you honestly believe they would want?
How to prevent dementia in dogs
There are things we can do to reduce the chances of our dog getting dementia. If we do everything on this list does it mean they won’t get it? Sadly no, but these are still very beneficial for dogs of all ages.
º Feed a nutritionally balanced diet
º Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found in certain fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of cognitive decline i.e. spinach, blueberries, raspberries, carrots, tomatoes.
º Regular exercise
º Mental stimulation to challenge your dog and keep his brain active. That could mean: interactive toys – treat dispensing toys – teaching new tricks – re-teaching old tricks – playing games like hide and seek
º Socialising with dogs, other pets and people
º Keeping your dog at a healthy weight
º Good oral hygiene by brushing, providing dental sticks and dental checks
º Supplements such as omega 3s and anything else your holistic vet feels would benefit your dog
º Seeing your vet twice a year. and when you notice any changes in your dog’s behavior.
Too many cases of canine cognitive dysfunction go undiagnosed. Make note of new behaviors you’re seeing, no matter how minor and speak to your vet. Being part of a community of senior dog parents is also extremely beneficial. Not only will you be in the company of others who can understand so you don’t feel alone, it’s a place to get helpful tips and advice.
While there are many amazing vets out there, my experience in the senior dog care community has shown me just how many not great ones there are as well.
Never let your vet dismiss your concerns or tell you it’s just “old age,” especially if no physical exam was done, or blood and urine taken.
To book an appointment with an online dog trainer or for more information, please visit the services page.