Dog Dementia: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Updated: 1/17/20242-4 minutes
young girl snuggling with golden retriever dog

While your dog can have many wonderful experiences in their senior years, old age does present some new health challenges. Among those potential challenges is dog dementia.

Cognitive decline in senior dogs is a fairly common but serious condition. Fortunately, depending on the stage and severity of your pet’s disease, it’s possible to slow its progression through proper care.

Read on to learn more about dementia in dogs, including information on symptoms, life expectancy and treatment options.

Can Dogs Get Dementia?

Yes, dogs can get dementia. According to The National Library of Medicine, here’s the percentage of dogs who develop dementia by age:

Percentage of Dogs Who Develop Dementia 

Age (years) 

Percentage 

8 – 10 

3.4% 

10 – 12 

5% 

12 – 14 

23.3% 

14 and older 

41% 

Along with joint problems and heart disease, brain health is an area of concern for senior dogs.

What is the Cause of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)?

Dog dementia refers to the brain’s inability to function properly due to age.

Formally known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCD or CDS) (and colloquially referred to as dog Alzheimer’s), CDS occurs when there are changes to the brain, including abnormal protein accumulation (amyloid plaques) in the brain’s frontal lobe and degeneration of brain cells (neurons). 

The frontal lobe controls things like memory and learning. Once the plaque spreads to other parts of your dog’s brain, it can affect spatial awareness, among other functions.

Dog Dementia Symptoms

CDS in dogs is a progressive condition, which means symptoms are usually mild and limited at first but develop over time.

In the early stages of CDS, you may only see a slight change in your senior dog’s behavior, but it helps to understand the range of symptoms.

Signs of dementia in dogs include: 

  • Disorientation – getting stuck behind furniture or appearing lost in familiar places 

  • Confusion – not recognizing familiar people or pets 

  • Change in sleep patterns – sleeping more overall but less at night 

  • Forgetting commands and house-training 

  • Pacing and aimless wandering 

  • Increased anxiety

Stages of Dog Dementia

CCD in dogs develops across three general stages: early, moderate and severe. (Note symptoms may present or overlap across different stages.)

Early Stage

Unfortunately, in the first stage, signs of early onset dementia in dogs can be easy to miss. They may include subtle shifts in behavior such as less social interaction with your family, friends and other pets. 

Moderate Stage

In the moderate stage of dog dementia, symptoms often increase and become more obvious. Your pet may start going potty inside or forget where they are. 

Severe Stage

In the severe stage, your dog will likely be frequently disoriented. In addition to other symptoms, they might bark for seemingly no reason, pace at night, or fail to respond to their name. 

Dog Dementia Life Expectancy

According to research, symptoms of CDS in dogs can develop from mild to moderate in about six months. This is notably faster than the rate of progression for Alzheimer’s in humans, which may be explained by the fact that dogs age faster than people.

Remember, though, every dog is different, and their condition will track at its own pace.

In terms of life expectancy, talk to your veterinarian about what to expect. They can evaluate your pet’s quality of life and, if possible, give you a prognosis.

Does My Dog Have Dementia - Quiz

If you think your pet might have dog CDS, note their changes of behavior. This will help your veterinarian make a formal diagnosis.

You can make your own canine cognitive dysfunction checklist or take our Dog Dementia Quiz (and consider printing before your veterinarian’s visit). This can help clarify your pet’s symptoms. 

Dog Dementia Quiz 

Do any of these behaviors apply to your dog? 

YES 

NO 

Gets lost in the house or yard 

 

 

Appears disoriented or confused  

 

 

Gets stuck behind furniture 

 

 

Wanders around the house at night 

 

 

Goes to the bathroom in the house  

 

 

Has become more socially withdrawn 

 

 

Doesn’t respond to their name when called 

 

 

Seems more anxious than they used to be 

 

 

Seems less reactive to sights and sounds 

 

 

Diagnosing Dog Dementia

There’s no formal test for diagnosing dog CDS (although the Purina Institute’s evaluation tool can help). Your veterinarian will make an assessment based on your pet’s symptoms, physical examination and health history. They’ll likely also want to rule out any other illnesses that may be causing symptoms.

Dog Dementia Treatment

If your pet has senior dog cognitive dysfunction, there are a range of treatment options. Remember, there’s no cure for CDS in dogs, but early treatment can help slow the progression of the disease. 

Diet

One common method of canine cognitive dysfunction treatment is diet. Feed your pet high-quality, complete-and-balanced senior dog food that’s formulated to support their aging bodies and brains.

Therapeutic diets for brain health are also available. Ask your veterinarian if Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Neurocare is an option for your dog.

Dog Dementia Supplements

Dog food formulated for seniors may provide all the nutrition your pet needs. In some cases, though, supplements for canine cognitive dysfunction may be appropriate.

Whether they’re natural supplements for dog dementia or a different kind of supplement, brain health supplements often contain ingredients such as antioxidants, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) among others.

Like with all dietary decisions, talk to your veterinarian about dog dementia supplements before giving them to your pet. 

Medication

In addition to diet, medication may be available to treat dog dementia symptoms to help improve symptoms and quality of life. Ask your veterinarian if it’s appropriate for your pet, or if they have other recommendations. 

Lifestyle Changes

Your support also plays an important role in helping a pet with dog dementia.  

  • Provide enrichment and mental stimulation activities for senior dogs 

  • Keep them physically active 

  • If your pet has accidents in the house, place potty pads in areas where they tend to go 

  • Ensure your home is accessible to them, but close off areas where they might become stuck 

  • Refrain from getting angry with your dog over their behavior; it may worsen their anxiety 

Dog Dementia at Night

An unfortunate symptom of dementia in dogs can be the change to their sleep-wake cycles. It’s not uncommon for canines to sleep less at night. They may wander the home while whining or panting, which of course can wake you up.

Wondering how to calm a dog with dementia at night? Here are a few tips to try:

  • Give them enough exercise and mental stimulation during the day 

  • Keep a consistent sleep and feeding schedule 

  • Provide a comfortable and calm sleeping environment 

  • Put night lights around the house to guide them 

  • Ask your veterinarian if there are other ways to reduce anxiety related to their condition 

If you’re asking, “Does my dog have dementia?”, pay attention to their symptoms and other factors such as general health and age (dogs are considered senior around age seven).  

If your veterinarian determines your pet has CDS, they’ll recommend treatment depending on the severity of your dog’s symptoms. From canine cognitive dysfunction supplements to medication, there may be a range of options to provide comfort and slow the disease’s progression. 

For more expert tips for the health of your canine companion, explore our other dog health articles 

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