How to Help a Dog With Dementia

how to help a dog with dementia


Dementia, senility or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) – whatever you call it, dementia in dogs does exist.

It’s probably sounding a bit scary but don’t worry, I’m going to walk you through what this is, how it’s diagnosed, and the treatment options available. One thing I always like to mention that is relevant for all pets, but seniors in particular, is the importance of keeping an eye out for changes in behaviour. If you notice anything different, no how to help a dog with dementiamatter how subtle you think it is, my advice is to make a note of what you’re witnessing, video it if possible and make an appointment to see your vet. 

What many people assume is just a natural part of aging could in fact be signalling a problem. A problem caught early stands a much better chance of being treated or at least managed. 

What causes dementia in dogs?

Some vets are sure of the causes, others less sure. Here is what I have discovered.

  • Genetics
  • 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

You probably will never know the exact cause, but that has no impact on your ability to help your dog cope.

Will my dog get dementia?

It is thought the rise in cases of dementia is a result of our pets living longer.

I haven’t been able to find any definitive statistics on the percentage of senior dogs likely to be afflicted with dementia. The figures I did find were wildly different, but I’ll share them anyway.

  • Around 25% of all dogs over 10 will be afflicted
  • 50% over the age of 11
  • 23% 12 and over
  • 41% over 14
  • Over 60% or 68% have at least one symptom by the age of 15

See what I mean?

If I were you I wouldn’t get too hung up on these figures, but rather spend time on the rest of this post. I would also like to mention I haven’t found any evidence to suggest certain breeds are predisposed to developing dementia.

Signs of senility in dogs

Signs of dementia can be similar to other health concerns, so just because you notice some does not mean your dog has it.   
 

  • Paces or wanders aimlessly through the house
  • Appears lost or confused
  • Becomes trapped under or behind furniture
  • Stands head first in corners or tight spaces and just stays there
  • Stands on the hinge side of the door, waiting for it to open
  • Has trouble finding and using doors
  • Doesn’t move out of the way when someone opens the door
  • Trouble using the stairs
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Howling, barking,  or whining for no apparent reason
  • Aggression where none existed before
  • Does not respond to her name
  • Does not remember cues/commands
  • Is withdrawn
  • Seems scared of people she knows
  • Walks away when petted
  • Trembles or shakes for no apparent reason
  • Has trouble finding the food and water bowls
  • Difficulty keeping food in her mouth
  • Panting and restlessness
  • Has difficulty learning new tasks, commands…
  • Generally more fearful and anxious
  • Has accidents in the house, no matter how often she goes out
  • Sleeps more during the day, less at night
  • Stares at walls or into space
  • Startles easily
  • Doesn’t seek out as much of your attention
  • Less interested in, or stopped playing
  • May be less interested in food, forget to eat
  • Does not respond to commands
  • Walks in circles, typically in the same direction 

This is something important to note: CCD shares many symptoms with other illnesses or conditions

For example:

  • Accidents in the house could be a sign of urinary tract infection or kidney disease
  • Not responding to commands may mean she is losing her hearing
  • Less interested in playing or going for walks may mean she is starting to feel the effects of arthritis
  • Sudden aggression may signal pain

How do I know what the problem is?

Like I mentioned earlier, just because your dog may be displaying some of these signs, does not automatically mean he has dementia. It does mean there is an issue that needs to be addressed, and the only way to do that is by seeing your vet sooner rather than later.

What I find helpful both for me and my vet, is to make notes ahead of the appointment. Sometimes we’re nervous during an appointment, and of course time is limited so having a list of questions or in this case symptoms you’ve WP_20161114_16_20_23_Probeen observing can save time. Taking a video of behaviours you’re observing would be of tremendous value, since it is unlikely your vet will see indications during the appointment.

Diagnosing CCD

There isn’t a test to diagnose CCD, but a diagnosis is typically made based on the exclusion of other possible explanations for your dog’s changed behaviour. 

When you meet with your vet he will want to hear what you’ve been observing, and he will watch the video if you have one. Urine and blood samples will likely be taken as a way to test for other possible explanations. What comes next will depend on the results of the tests.

Treatment

For the sake of this article let’s assume all other possibilities have been ruled out, and your vet has concluded doggie dementia is the only possible explanation. While there is no cure or a way to halt its progression, there are things you can do to slow it down and help your dog cope with its effects.   

Selgian/Anipryl

This is THE drug given 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. 

Natural supplements

Natural treatments are becoming increasingly popular, so it’s encouraging to know there are options for those who prefer them. Personally I would not give up on the Selgian or Anipryl in favour of a supplement but I would, and do, absolutely use them in combination. 

Some of the options are –

Melatonin – dogs with dementia may experience something called “sundowning” which means they start getting agitated as night approaches, and they tend to sleep all day and wander at night. Melatonin can help restore the sleep/wake cycle

Coconut oil – is a rich source of medium-chain triglycerides, believed to be used as fuel by the brain. You do have to be careful with doses, especially if your dog is prone to pancreatitis. I gave Red less than 1/4 tsp and she started to show signs so I immediately stopped it

B vitamins – For their antioxidant properties

Omega 3s – Omega 3s such as Krill oil is critical for cognitive health. My holistic vet recommended flaxseed oil

CBD oil – Cannabidiol oil is a product derived from cannabis, and many dog parents have reported very good results. Although my holistic vet does not promote it in her practice, she did recommend buying organic

Golden paste – There seems to be more and more buzz about the health benefits of turmeric for humans and dogs alike. It’s a powerful antioxidant and I have read a lot of testimonials from dog parents who have seen amazing results for a variety of issues. It seems that doggie dementia is on that list. This article “Healing With Turmeric Golden Paste For Dogs” explains all about it, and includes a recipe to make golden paste at home. 

NutraCalm – Created in the UK, it is a natural calming supplement to help reduce stress in anxious dogs and cats

NutraMind – Manufactured by the same company as nutracalm, it is a high strength supplement to support brain and mental function. Again take note if your dog is susceptible to pancreatitis, although Red has been okay on it so far and it’s been about 3 weeks. 

Thundershirt – The company claims Thundershirt works on over 80% of dogs with anxiety. I have heard positive and negative reviews, but that’s the case with most things isn’t it? It’s trial and error. 

Acupuncture – Acupuncture is often recommended as part of an overall treatment plan, with many dog parents reporting positive results. If you do want to give it a try please make sure you go to an experienced, qualified vet.

I have included an interesting article I came across called “Acupuncture as an Auxiliary Treatment of Dementia/Cognitive Dysfunction in Geriatric Dog.” It explains it better than I ever could!!

Interactive and puzzle toys

Giving your dog a challenge will help keep his brain active. Things like interactive toys and even teaching old and new tricks can help.  

Through a Dog’s Ear

Through a Dog’s Ear  is bioacoustically engineered music, proven to help calm anxious dogs. Studies conducted in shelters have shown remarkable results in helping them relax in what is a stressful environment. A 13 minute snippet can be found on youtube for you to try before you buy.  

Routine
I believe a routine is important for all dogs, but particularly for dogs with dementia who derive comfort from a schedule. If you don’t have one in place, try and start something right now and it’s as simple as feeding and walking your dog at roughly the same time each day.

What I do for Red

It was about 2 1/2 years ago when I first noticed Red was wandering, uncomfortable and not able to settle. In addition to that she was drinking and peeing a lot. At around the same time she was having some kidney issues, so These are the medications and supplements I use to help manage dementia in dogsI naturally assumed there was something about her condition that was making her uncomfortable. I’m a regular presence in my vet’s office so of course I called for an appointment to discuss what had been going on.

My vet assured me her condition would not have made her uncomfortable or caused the wandering. Being unfamiliar with dementia at the time, it was not something that had entered my head, or my vet’s head obviously. I know Red very well and I couldn’t accept there was no explanation for her behaviour. She would circle for hours and I was losing my mind. There were times it got so bad I had to leave the house to take a break. A few times I closed the door and went to sleep and let her wander. She did eventually settle but who knows how long that took. 

I want to say I’m not proud of having to take time to myself, but it was extremely stressful not to mention heartbreaking when nothing you do helps your dog.

I don’t recall how I found Through a Dog’s Ear. I must have heard or read somewhere about music calming dogs and what a difference it made. I found it on YouTube and I’ll never forget the first time I played it. Red had, literally, been wandering for hours and when I started that music it was like a switch was flicked and she calmed down and within a minute or two she was resting, even sleeping.

At the beginning, especially before there was a diagnosis, I played that all the time. The music was incredibly beautiful I would find myself snoozing as well. 

The word “dementia” popped into my head one day, which is odd considering how I knew nothing about it but once it did and I did some research I realised all the pieces fit. I immediately called my vet who said it made sense to him as well. He ordered Selgian for me right away and within a few days I noticed a big difference. To this day she takes one 4mg tablet a day. My vet said there were no other treatment options, but that was not acceptable. Trust me my vet is amazing but he doesn’t know that much about natural supplements, and I think if something hasn’t been scientifically proven he doesn’t mention it so I did my own research.

She takes nutramind and nutracalm (which I believed are made here in England). Nutracalm is for dogs who are stressed by fireworks and thunderstorms so the relaxing properties prevent Red from getting anxious. She was on one capsule for a long time, now she’s on them twice a day. A few weeks ago my holistic vet recommended nutramind as it’s made up of omega 3s and ginko biloba. I do think it has been helping her as well. 

B vitamins are very good for dogs with dementia and I give Red a B1 vitamin everyday. She gets other Bs in supplements she takes for different reasons.

My holistic vet also prescribed .2ml of berberis.

She started going for acupuncture a few months ago, and helped a lot with her overall wellbeing. I know there is mention of it helping dogs with dementia but I can’t say whether or not it’s made a difference. She hasn’t been in a My senior dog Red having acupuncture treatments at her holistic vet in Spainfew weeks due to transportation issues. I found with acupuncture in general I didn’t see the results at the time, but I saw a big difference when we stopped it and I mean for the worse so obviously it has been beneficial for her. 

From the moment my dogs step into my house, they have a routine and a schedule, and I know how much that helps Red. I never used to have a problem taking Red out for hours, but just last week we had company and I took her with us in her stroller. We were only out for about 4 hours but I could tell she was getting agitated. She’s blind, which has never affected her before, but combined with her dementia she was stressed being away from her familiar environment.

Red has some vestibular disease so her circling is aggravated by her dementia. In order to help keep her calm she sits with me on the couch during the day while I work. I do believe it gives her some security, and allowing her to circle for too long causes her anxiety. 

Why I added natural supplements

If you’ve read my posts before, you’ll notice how often I talk about the importance of involving your vet in your pet’s care. I love my vet, I think he’s amazing but…he does not deal with natural and alternative treatments. He is open to them, he knows a bit about some of them, and is always willing to listen when I talk about something I’ve read, but he’s all about the drugs. Yes those drugs have helped Red tremendously, but when he told me the only treatment for dementia was Selgian, I could not accept that. I did my research and found lots of alternatives people were having varying degrees of success with, and because I personally prefer a kinder gentler approach to treatment when possible, I felt it was important to add them into the mix to see if they would help…and they have. 

Prevention

There isn’t necessarily a way to prevent your dog from getting dementia, but the tips listed below are really the things we should be doing with, and for our dogs no matter the age.

  • Feeding a nutritionally balanced diet
  • Antioxidants to destroy free radicals before they harm healthy cells
  • Regular exercise
  • Mental stimulation – learning new tricks, using interactive toys and puzzles…
  • Socialising with dogs, other pets and people
  • Keeping your dog at a healthy weight
  • Good oral hygiene by brushing, providing dental sticks and dental checks
  • Supplements such as omega 3s and anything else your holistic vet feels would benefit your dog
  • Seeing your vet when you notice any changes in your dog’s behaviour.

Dealing with the effects of dementia in older dogs

  • The most important thing is to be patient and understanding
  • Try not to rearrange your furniture – leave it as it is
  • Red relaxing on the swing with her human dadDon’t leave stuff on the floor she can trip over
  • A ramp may be easier for her to use than stairs
  • Engage in a little play time with her
  • Comfort her when she needs it
  • Don’t overwhelm her with too much “new” stuff – people, toys…
  • 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
  • Keep commands short and simple

Take care of yourself

This is huge, trust me! Caring for a senior dog who isn’t well can be very stressful, you may not even realise the effect it’s having, until you feel like you’re going to snap.

You have to take care of yourself because living with the constant worry will make you sick, and that is unfair to you, and no help to your dog.

I know you’re worried about leaving him/her alone for too many hours, so don’t.

  • Put your sneakers and headphones on, and go take a 30 minute walk on the beach, or in the park. You’ll feel so much better when you get back.
  • Prefer something closer to home? Try meditating for a few minutes, it will do wonders.
  • Have someone you trust come over and dog sit, then go to the mall, have lunch with a friend or both!
  • If it’s become harder to let your dog sleep in your room with you, then set her up on a nice cozy bed in another room. You all may sleep better.

Believe me, I know how difficult it is to watch your dog wander aimlessly, and how helpless you feel. I’m going through that right now with Red. But no good can come out of you ending up a wreck.

The better you care for yourself, the better you will care for your dog, and she needs you to help her.

How to help a dog with dementia  – conclusion

Believe me, I know how scary, sad, frustrating and cruel dementia in dogs can be, but don’t despair. I hope this article all about dementia in dogs has helped you see there are options to helping your dog cope. 

Share your experiences in the comments section below, or on my Facebook page, dedicated to people who share their lives with senior dogs.

I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, a new Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.

How to Help a Dog With Dementia
Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

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42 thoughts on “How to Help a Dog With Dementia

  1. hi Hindy!
    Oh your article on dementia in older dogs comes at a good time. I was just at my friend’s house, the one who has an older big dog. She has suspected now for months that her dog has dementia (he will be 12 in 4 months). And his behavior has changed. I have noticed he is definitively more skittish. He seems afraid of random things. When I get into the house, he just does not leave my side, often leaning on me. He has health issues but his behavior is for sure strange. I literally saw him standing in a corner today with his head pointed first! I was like “what are you doing there Dakota?”My friend is now in the debating stage of whether or not her dog is in too much pain to live. And that is such a hard decision. What is his quality of life like? And today the whole time I was looking at him, all I could see was how sad he looked 🙁 and it certainly is not because he is not loved.

    1. Hi Emily, This article definitely did come at a good time. Her dog wouldn’t be in pain from dementia, I can’t say anything else because I don’t know what other health issues Dakota may be having. I recommend she gets her dog to the vet ASAP. He will most likely do blood and urine analysis to determine what, if any, problems he has. While we would never want to say goodbye before it’s time, rushing into that decision wouldn’t be fair. There are lots of alternative treatments available for dementia, which show some great results. Depending on how advanced his dementia is, he could still have a good quality of life. I have a post coming out about that on Nov 18. If your friend is interested, I’d be happy to send you an advance copy. If she has any questions, please let me know.

  2. I never thought of dogs getting dementia. I have had four dogs throughout my life so far and none of them have shown any signs of it, luckily. Idk why but I do know they get plenty of exercise and eat well balanced meals.

    1. Hi Kyle, thanks for your comment. To be honest, I’ve had a few senior dogs and I wasn’t aware of dementia either… until I started thinking about it in relation to my dog Red. That’s when I started to learn more about it, and it’s definitely not something you want to happen. Exercise and well balanced meals are definitely a help.

  3. Dementia in Older Dogs? I never even thought that was something they could get.
    We had a dog called Casey and he passed away some time ago. When I read your signs of senility in dogs, some to of the symptoms applied to Casey. He wondered around barking for no reason and looked lost or confused and some times would not respond to me. Now I know why!
    Thanks for sharing this informative article.

    1. Hi Dinh, I admit I wasn’t familiar with dementia in dogs either. It’s certainly not something any vet ever mentioned to me. Although some of the signs are similar to other illnesses, it does seem possible that Casey may have had dementia. I don’t think many people are aware of this condition, so I hope these articles help.

    1. Hi Kody, yes it does seem to be crazy common. Most people chalk up behaviour changes to the natural ageing process, but often they are signs of illness or disease. Always good to book a checkup with the vet, just to be sure.

  4. I recently started my 14 year old dog on a pet supplement called Neutricks which has Apoaequorin 5mg. The results have been amazing!! I have a puppy again! I kid you not! My husband says he wants some!
    I also have a 15 year old cat who exhibits signs of dementia and look to start him on it too.

    1. Hi Linda, thanks for sharing that information. It’s so sad to watch our dogs suffering from the effects of dementia, so I’m always grateful when people share their experiences, and what works for them. Glad to hear you dog is doing so well and hope your cat gets as much benefit from the supplement.

  5. I love this post on dog dementia! There is a canine food sponsored TV commercial that implies feeding their food will bring back the ‘mental spark’ in an aging dog – and this always makes me uncomfortable. If it were that simple, then humans would have already done this (with human food). Small steps toward health can hep, but at the end of it – we are all aging. Caring for an aging dog is equally as important as when we care for aging human family members – learning about the disease as much as possible, augmenting with eastern and western care as helpful, and calmly and with a warm heart care for the aging pup such that they have a quality life and know they are loved! We’ve adopted a number of seniors, and we find it so heartwarming to create a peaceful and joyful life for them in their last months or years. Great informational post and I will share this with our readers!!

    1. What a beautiful and thoughtful comment, thank you Rebecca. I agree with what you say about dog food commercials and how simple they make it. Their food may contain some ingredients that are on the “helpful for dementia” list, but they don’t mention the real quantity, quality and the likelihood the manufacturing process destroyed any efficacy. I always try and add natural treatments when possible, and it is about loving them and making their quality of life your number one priority. How wonderful you have adopted seniors, I love hearing that. I appreciate you sharing.

  6. Thank you for sharing such in-depth and great information! It’s a sad thing to watch, whether human or pet, and it’s good for people with similar experiences to connect and know they are not alone.

    1. Hi Nichole, it really is a sad thing to watch. What I really want people to be aware of is…not everything is a natural part of aging. If changes in behaviour are becoming noticeable, speak to the vet. It may well be a problem starting to arise, and the sooner it’s diagnosed the sooner it can be treated or at least managed. It can get lonely, so connecting with others experiencing the same thing is a great help.

  7. I am so sorry your baby has this but I am thankful he has such a great family that has taken control and gained knowledge! I fear my babies getting this. It is hard enough with the human kind.

    1. Thanks Joely. Red is doing quite well, and seems to be loving her life so that’s what matters. Of all the seniors I’ve had, no one else had dementia, so it’s definitely not a “given.” I believe starting to give dogs certain supplements like omega 3s and coconut oil early, can help as does exercise, mental stimulation and a quality diet. I have a 4ish year old dog named Jack, the first young dog ever, so I’m starting to think about what I can do for him now, that will help him later.

  8. Red is just adorable. We’re so glad she’s responding to the music and the supplements. Thanks for sharing such important info.

    1. She is cute!! She’s doing quite well, which I’m grateful for. I think it is important to share, because too many people assume the changes they see in their older dogs are to be expected. They may or may not be, but a trip to the vet is recommended just to be sure there’s nothing more sinister going on.

  9. This is such good information to know, although it is heartbreaking to think of your dogs ending up like this. Right now my dogs are in the prime of their life, although Taffy is going on 8 so she is on the brink of being a senior. About your dog going in circles, a good friend just lost her little dog, a senior, to enshyphilitis (sp) and she was going in circles all the time so that might be a sign of something more serious.

    1. It’s true it is heartbreaking, but the earlier we have something checked out, the easier it is to either cure or manage. Any time there is something going on that isn’t “typical” it’s always best to have it checked out right away, especially where seniors are concerned. So sorry about your friend’s loss.

  10. Thanks for sharing information on a subject that doesn’t seem to have much coverage up to this point. If pet owners are unaware, they may not know to be asking when speaking with their veterinarian. Are there any side effects for the medication you indicated has helped your pup?b

    1. Hi Bryn, it’s such an important issue, because too many people attribute changes in behaviour to the natural aging process. While sometimes it is, often it is a sign of something else. I always recommend making an appointment with the vet at the first sign of any problem, particularly when dealing with older pets. The sooner something is caught, the sooner it can be treated, or at least managed. No, thankfully Red isn’t experiencing any side effects.

  11. Aw Red you are such a precious little pup. I too have Senior dogs in my home, ages 7, 8 and 9. While none of them have dementia, this is a great article to read in in case one of them does start showing symptoms. Thank you so much for sharing. Glad you are doing so well!

    1. Thanks Kandace. How wonderful to have 3!! If I had known more about dementia, I would have investigated what supplements could possibly prevent or at least reduce the impact. I adopted Red when she was a senior, so I would have started her on something more targeted immediately. Live and learn.

  12. We thought that my sister’s dog had dementia, she was exhibiting many of the signs. However, when the vet changed her pain medication, she returned to her old self.

  13. Mr. N is not old enough to show signs but I make sure he gets healthy meals and plenty of stimulation.

    1. That’s the best thing to do – get them off to a good start. I never know what kind of start my dogs got, so who knows what could have been prevented had they received better care.

  14. Very interesting post. I would love to try that CD. We did experience mild dementia with our dog, Pip. He also had heart disease and some other issues. It’s really very painful to watch them struggle. I would love to have had that CD.

    Cats can get it, too. Our cat Tommy had terrible dementia caused from a brain tumor. He had such a difficult time with many of the symptoms you listed – especially the walking in circles and getting trapped behind furniture.

    1. It is so painful to watch them struggle, but thankfully medications and supplements are such a great help. So sad about Tommy. None of my cats had dementia, and Red is the only dog who’s had it, but it is a tough one.

  15. THis is a very valuable post. Who knew there were so many really positive things you can do to help a dog with dementia. I will refer my doggy friends to this.

    Thank you.

    1. It is so encouraging to know there are things that can be done to not only help with the symptoms of dementia, but maybe even reduce the likelihood of getting it. I hope it helps your doggy friends.

  16. i lost one of my boo-boo’s late last year with dementia. she was a small dachshund, and she got stuck in, under, behind and on EVERYTHING. i just caution people they really need to have a very safe area for their pet with dementia when they are away from the house. i had to pretty much “baby” proof my entire house. it was worth it of course to keep my boo boo safe, but we had many close calls because i never even imagined that normal things could cause such problems for a dog with dementia.

    1. I’m very sorry to hear that, dementia is such a tough disease to deal with. You’re absolutely right about having a safe area, and thanks for reminding everyone of that. You really do have to baby proof the entire house, and a good way to do that is getting down on the floor to your dog’s level to see what can be hazards we never even think of. Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience, it does help others going through the same thing.

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