How to Recognize and Treat Senior Dog Dementia

Senior dog

Senior dementia, like senior dementia in people, is a prevalent condition in elderly canines. Dementia in dogs, like Alzheimer's in people, causes changes in behavior and memory loss. These changes may have an impact on the dog's and owner's quality of life, but by better knowing what's going on, owners may be able to mitigate the problem's negative impacts.

What Is Senior Dementia in Dogs?

Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is the official name for senior dementia, although it's often known as doggy dementia or doggy Alzheimer's disease. Dementia is a set of symptoms that cause significant changes in mood, behavior, and memory. It is not a disease. It typically has a detrimental impact on a senior dog's daily life and is noticed in varied degrees as canines age. According to the Behavior Clinic at the University of California in Davis, 28 percent of dogs aged 11 to 12 years show signs of dementia, and this number rises to 68 percent of dogs aged 15 or 16 years.

Leticia Fanucchi, DVM, PhD, director of Veterinary Medicine Behavioral Services at Washington State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital categorizes CDS into four main types:

  • Involutive depression: This form is similar to chronic depression in people and results in anxiety.
  • Dysthymia: This form results in confusion, disorientation, and sometimes a loss of conscious awareness of the body.
  • Hyper-aggressiveness: This form involves the decline of serotonin, or "happy hormone," levels in the brain and usually results in an aggressive dog.
  • Confusional syndrome: This form is similar to Alzheimer's in people where a major decline in cognitive function occurs.

Signs of Senior Dementia in Dogs

The symptoms of senior dementia in dogs are caused by changes in the brain that occur as a dog matures. These changes might be gradual and worsen as the dog gets older, or they could be more dramatic. Some signs are often readily overlooked until the dog owner is impacted.


  • Soiling in the house
  • Getting lost in the house/disorientation
  • Barking without reason
  • Going to the wrong side of the door
  • Lack of interaction with people or other pets
  • Decrease or lack of appetite
  • Lower threshold for aggressive behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Irregular sleeping patterns
  • Staring at the walls
  • Pacing/repetitive behaviors

The loss of house training is one of the most common worries among dog owners with dementia. Some dogs get senior dementia and become disoriented, urinating or defecating within the home. This frustrates the owner, who may become irritated with their pet as a result. This has an impact on the human-animal relationship and, as a result, the pet's and owner's quality of life.

Disorientation in the home, looking at walls, and walking to the hinged side of a door when the dog has known which side of the door opens to go through it for years are all indicators of senior dementia. Senior dementia can lead a dog to get disoriented in rooms or corners of its home after years of familiarity.

Dogs with senior dementia frequently exhibit vocalizations such as barking, whining, and wailing for no apparent cause. This might be a sign of tension, worry, or anxiety caused by bewilderment, as well as hostility.

Because dogs with dementia have a reduced tolerance and patience threshold, aggressive behaviors may be more likely. Dogs that are normally tolerant and cooperative may suddenly show symptoms of hostility, such as growling and biting at people and other pets.

Additional indicators of senior dementia in dogs include irregular sleeping patterns, repetitive habits such as licking and pacing, a decline in eating, and even a refusal to engage with other pets or their owners. These, as well as other habits, can strain ties between owners and their pets.

The most typical symptoms of CDS are disorientation, interaction changes, sleep changes, house soiling, and activity level changes, which may be recalled using the acronym DISHA.


The symptoms are caused by changes or damage in the brain, although various brain disorders can cause distinct symptoms and forms of dementia. Although no one fully comprehends the origins of dementia, some facts are known owing to the parallels between canines and patients. Certain proteins that build up surrounding neurons in the brain, as well as the destruction of neurons, impede the normal transmission of information in the brain, contributing to senior in dogs.

Getting a Diagnosis

Before diagnosing CDS, your veterinarian will rule out any other medical conditions with your dog. Monitoring indicators of senior dementia in dogs is critical in making a diagnosis, and a questionnaire may be used to detect behavioral signs that are typical in this illness. The HHHHHMM Scale, or Quality of Life Scale, is frequently used by owners to determine whether or not their dog has changed as it ages. This scale examines the symptoms of dementia as well as the behavior of the dog. The HHHHHMM scale measures pain, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, and having more good days than bad days. This scale may also be used to determine if a pet's quality of life is still acceptable as dementia advances, as well as when euthanasia should be considered.

Treatment and Prevention

Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse the indications of dementia in dogs, but there are certain nutritional supplements that may be given to help a dog's brain age more slowly. The key dietary components that are typically mentioned for brain health are antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Although some experts advocate feeding dogs before they exhibit indications of elder dementia, there is no particular cure or prevention plan available. If you're worried about your older dog having CDS, ask to your veterinarian about possible prophylactic supplements.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.


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