Can dogs get dementia?

If you think your dog is showing signs of dementia, this helpful guide gives you the symptoms to look out for and what you can do to give your furry friend the quality of life they deserve.

If you think your dog is showing signs of dementia, this helpful guide gives you the symptoms to look out for and what you can do to give your furry friend the quality of life they deserve.

Tom Harrison
Content writer
7
minute read
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Posted 12 NOVEMBER 2021

What is dog dementia? 

We’re not the only ones to experience the downsides of ageing – dogs do too and, just like us, a mental decline may be one of the symptoms.  

However, dog dementia, or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), is different from the normal ageing process, although studies have shown that the two are linked. It’s an abnormality in the brain that affects your dog’s ability to think – and what you’ll notice are the changes in behaviour that come with it, which tend to get worse as your dog gets older.

It’s a condition that often goes undiagnosed, as the symptoms of dog dementia tend to be blamed on the normal ageing process, particularly in the early stages of this degenerative disease.

The signs of dementia in dogs 

There are numerous symptoms of dog dementia and some are harder to spot than others. 

If you notice any of the following, it might be a sign that your dog’s mind isn’t what it used to be. 

Changes in eating habits 

  • Losing their appetite or eating more
  • Having trouble with the physical act of eating and drinking. 

Depression 

  • Becoming more anxious or nervy
  • Being fearful in situations that used to be fine
  • Seeming low or unhappy. 

Sleep disturbances 

  • Changes in routine – for example, sleeping more during the day and less at night, or waking up early
  • Going wandering at night
  • Becoming easily startled
  • Lethargy. 

Memory problems 

  • Not recognising their own name
  • Forgetting their training
  • Finding it hard or impossible to learn
  • Forgetting routines or not completing them
  • Not recognising other members of the family, including humans and pets. This may also result in aggression towards them, although this is more the result of confusion and anxiety rather than hostility. 

Disorientation 

  • Getting stuck behind or under furniture or in a corner of the room. This is caused by dysthymia, which involves your dog losing their sense of their own body size
  • Waiting at the hinge side of the door to be let out or not moving away from a door when it’s opened
  • Staring off into space or at walls
  • Pacing backwards and forwards or wandering aimlessly
  • Having trouble with stairs
  • Getting lost in familiar places. 

Forgetting its toilet training 

  • Wanting to go to the toilet at unusual times
  • Not ‘asking’ to be let out, or asking even if they’ve only just come back inside
  • Having accidents indoors. 

Changes in activity levels 

  • Being quiet when they’d normally be barking
  • Barking for long periods/for no good reason
  • Constant growling or whining
  • Becoming more sedentary
  • Repeating behaviour
  • Becoming more agitated or territorial. 

Changes in the way your dog relates to the animals and humans around it

  • Losing their ability to communicate with other pets in the house and becoming very aggressive towards them or interacting less
  • Becoming shy or avoiding people they know
  • Losing interest in playing
  • Being needy or withdrawing from contact

What causes dog dementia? 

Exactly why dogs get dementia is still not entirely clear, although research suggests that it’s associated with a build-up of certain proteins in the brain. 

Other possible causes of CCD include a decreased blood flow to the brain and/or changes to the state or number of neurons, the information messengers that transmit information between different parts of the brain, as well as the brain and the nervous system.

Is there a cure for dog dementia? 

Sadly, dementia in dogs isn’t reversible, although you can help slow the disease’s progress, as well as improving your dog’s quality of life and keeping your relationship with your furry friend as positive as possible. 

If you spot any of the signs listed above, talk to your vet as there are supplements and drugs available that can enhance brain function as well as alleviate symptoms such as anxiety. 

The earlier you start treatment for CCD, the better chance you have of getting the illness under control. This is one of the reasons why regular check-ups for older dogs are a good idea.

What should I do if my dog has dementia? 

Your vet will need to give your dog the once-over to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, like kidney or liver disease, sight or hearing problems and arthritis. This may involve blood tests, urine tests, X-rays and a neurological examination. 

Once you’ve got an official diagnosis of dementia, there are various things you can do to make your dog’s life happier and healthier – and your vet will be able to offer you advice on this too, as well as prescribing any medication and supplements that might help. 

Tips for caring for a dog with dementia 

  • Dog-proof your home. Make sure there are no awkward spaces where your dog could get trapped or get its head stuck. Remove obstacles, including tangles of cables, that they could fall over. You could also put mats down on slippery surfaces and use child gates to cordon off areas of the house, including stairs, that could cause problems. You might also want to consider an indoor dog toilet.
  • Stimulate their brain. Keep your dog’s mind active with games, toys and tricks they’re already familiar with or that encourage problem solving. Train or retrain them if they can manage it.
  • Don’t move furniture or doggy accessories like feeding bowls. This can increase disorientation.
  • Don’t get angry or punish your dog for any accidents. They can’t help it. It’s likely to make them scared and it won’t stop the problem.
  • Use environmental cues to help them orientate. For example, a radio in the kitchen or night lights to help them get around in the dark.
  • Keep your dog’s routine consistent. Stick to a predictable schedule of walks, mealtimes, playtimes and bed. You might also want to add extra toilet breaks outside.
  • Stick to a regular exercise plan. Daily walks in fresh air and sunlight will help regulate sleeping patterns, while staying in familiar territory will provide lots of stimulating sights, smells and sounds. If your dog is becoming less responsive to commands, you might also need to keep them on the lead.
  • Add antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to their diet. Both are believed to be good for older dogs.
  • If you go away, get a pet sitter. Your dog will feel happier in their home environment rather than being sent away to an unfamiliar kennels.
  • Give them lots of love. Make sure their contact with humans remains a positive experience that gives them comfort and reassurance. 

When is it right to put a dog down with dementia? 

When it comes to your faithful friend, deciding whether to put them down is a tough decision, and it can be even harder if your dog is still physically strong and healthy.

Dogs with dementia don’t have shorter lifespans than any other dog – it’s not a condition that kills them. This means it’s their quality of life that matters. 

A confused dog, or one that’s anxious, fearful, depressed, in pain, or unable to recognise or take any comfort from its owners, is unlikely to be happy, but, with the right care, it’s also possible for a dog with dementia to be perfectly content. 

Talk to your vet to get a better understanding of what your dog’s going through and whether they’re distressed or still able to enjoy life. 

Because CCD is a degenerative condition, it can be helpful to track your dog’s quality of life over time. Focus on tangible things like mobility, energy levels, food/eating, happiness and the amount of pain they’re in. It can also be useful to keep an eye on whether they’re having more good days than bad days.

Regular medical check-ups can also help monitor the progression of symptoms, but if you see any significant changes in behaviour, you should talk to your vet immediately.

Will my pet insurance cover dog dementia? 

Your insurance provider may cover your dog for dementia treatments, depending on: 

  • the type of policy you have
  • the level of cover it provides
  • whether or not the dementia is a pre-existing condition when you take out the policy. 

There isn’t a set age limit on dog insurance but the cost of premiums goes up as your furry companion gets older and you may be required to pay a larger excess if you make a claim.  

Certain insurance providers offer policies specifically for more senior canines and it pays to shop around. You can compare the cost of insuring an older dog using our comparison tool.  

Always read the small print before taking out dog insurance to make sure it’s giving you the cover you need.

Frequently asked questions

Are certain breeds of dog more likely to get dementia?

Research suggests that it’s the age of your dog that determines whether it’s likely to develop dementia, rather than breed.

Some studies have speculated that smaller breeds might be more susceptible, but this might be because small dogs tend to live longer, giving the condition time to develop.

How do I calm a dog with dementia?

There are various signs that your dog is anxious. These include:

  • Tucking their tail between their legs
  • Trembling
  • Pacing or wandering
  • Barking or whining
  • A loss of appetite 

To calm a stressed or confused dog, some owners swear by acupuncture, aromatherapy or even music therapy. Natural supplements may also help, but always speak to your vet before taking medication into your own hands. 

There are also more conventional alternatives.

A walk in the fresh air and sunshine can provide a healthy distraction and give your dog a boost. A calm home can also be an advantage, which means keeping your dog away from boisterous children or other, livelier pets. And never underestimate the power of quality time with people who love them. This might include playtime or extended periods of TLC, such as stroking or grooming.

You can also talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medication.

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