Signs of Dementia in Old Dogs

Updated on July 18, 2019
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Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Dogs may get old, but they often remain young at heart.
Dogs may get old, but they often remain young at heart. | Source

Understanding Dog Dementia

In humans, old age often triggers a variety of changes both physical and mental. These changes may take place gradually over the years, or may seem to have a sudden onset, almost out-of-the-blue. In humans, these symptoms are mostly caused by a disease known as ''Alzheimer's disease."

Similarly, when canines age, they also go through a variety of changes affecting their mobility, senses, memory, and general bodily functions. This canine version of Alzheimer's disease is known in the veterinary field as ''Canine cognitive dysfunction." The main trigger of this condition appears to be the accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain, a protein responsible for damaging nerves. With time, as the build-up of this protein progresses, the brain eventually develops plaque which interferes with the proper transmission of neurological signals.

As much as this condition sounds like bad news, the good news is that just as in humans, if this condition is detected in its early stages it can often be slowed, improving the dog's overall brain activity.

According to Pfizer Pharmaceutical, 62% of dogs age 10 years or older will develop signs of this condition.

Signs of Dementia in Dogs

There are several signs that suggest the possible onset of dementia in dogs. These age-related signs are often accepted in dog owners as signs of ''getting old,'' but there is a lot that dog owners can do to help their aging four-legged friends. While there currently is no diagnostic test to actually confirm the onset of dementia, most veterinarians will recognize the signs of dementia after a thorough examination and provide the most appropriate treatment plan. Here are some signs of dementia in dogs:

Separation Anxiety

This condition can affect senior dogs and often may leave dog owners puzzled. The dog may appear clingy, following the owner around the home. If left alone, the dog may urinate and defecate and may also develop barrier frustration chewing at the doors and scratching at the windows. Often, this form of anxiety develops when the dog's senses start to fail, leaving the dog fearful of being alone. The article ''Why is My Elderly Dog Suffering From Sudden Separation Anxiety?" will prove a helpful read for these circumstances.

Getting Lost in the Home

Dog owners may complain their dog gets ''lost'' in the night, barking, howling and appearing disoriented. In other circumstances, the dog may stare at a corner or get ''blocked'' behind a piece of furniture. They appear confused in familiar surroundings appearing often helpless and disoriented. Some just stare aimlessly at walls or objects as if daydreaming.

Pacing Around at Night

Senior dogs are often reported to pace around the home aimlessly for no obvious reason. This may be seen often at night because dogs affected by Alzheimer's also develop changes in their sleeping patterns. They therefore may be sleeping more during the day and staying awake more in the night.

Not Responding to Commands

Dogs suffering from canine dementia may also not respond well to commands as before. However, this may also be due to hearing loss, a condition quite common in senior dogs. Owners also report that their dog is more ''distant'' and no longer greets people he knows and asks less for attention.

Loss of House Training

Dogs suffering from canine dementia may forget to go potty when outside and may therefore not be able to keep it when inside. Or they may not even realize they are urinating at times. As much as this is indicative of canine dementia, it is important to have a dog exhibiting such symptoms seen by a vet as there are several medical conditions mimicking this condition. A senior dog urinating on the rug may be suffering from a urinary tract infection, arthritis, lack of bladder or bowel control, and other conditions.

Reduced Drinking/Eating

Senior dogs may forget to eat and drink and must be often reminded. However, if there is a lack of interest in food, a vet visit is warranted to rule out medical conditions and find a way to provide adequate nutritional intake. Dehydration may set in quickly if the dog does not drink enough.

Treatment for Canine Dementia

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for canine dementia, but there is a medication (Anipryl) known to slow down the process. Dog Appeasing Pheromones may help relax some dogs and reduce anxiety. Several steps may be taken to manage the dog's environment such as:

  • Maintaining the dog's routine as stable as possible
  • Bight lights may help dogs that become disoriented at night.
  • Feeding foods with anti-oxidants, vitamin E or prescription diets such as Hill's B/D
  • Encourage play
  • Review obedience commands and tricks if the dog responds to them
  • Remind the dog to eat, drink and go potty outside

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli


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    • moonlake profile image


      8 years ago from America

      We have a dog that I think may have some dementia. He's 13 and he stays close to us. In fact we trip over him all the time. We have told our daughter we won't be coming to her house for Christmas because this dog can't handle the confusion of being in a different house. We sure can't get anyone to take care of an elderly dog on Christmas.

      Good up.


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