All About Dementia in Dogs

dementia post

The best advice you could ever get about dementia in dogs

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

I know you’re not liking the sound of this right now, but if you have noticed definite changes in your dog’s behaviour, isn’t it better to know the reason? At least once you do, you can help.

Read on my friends…

What causes it?

Some vets are sure of the causes, others less sure.

Here is what I have discovered.

  • Lesions in the brain (caused by an accumulation of a protein called beta amyloid) destroy healthy brain tissue and cause deterioration in how your dog thinks, learns and remembers. This is similar to what happens in the best advice you will ever get about dementia in dogsAlzheimers patients.
  • 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.

There is no evidence to suggest certain breeds are predisposed to developing dementia.

Signs of senility in dogs

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Is withdrawn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 –  Watch the video to see what I mean 

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?

You don’t know what the problem is, but your vet will. Many people either don’t see their vet often enough, or when they do, neglect to mention behaviour changes, often incorrectly assuming they are part of the natural aging process.

Make an appointment as soon as possibleA big help would be to keep a log of behaviours that are different (what, how often, when…) and take a video. The video 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 exactly what you’ve been observing, then he will conduct a physical examination of your dog, including taking urine and blood samples for analysis. As I mentioned earlier, bring your checklist and video.

What comes next will depend on the results of the tests.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure and the dementia will progress, but there are some drugs and supplements that have been known to be beneficial. 

Selgian/Anipryl

The ingredient Selegiline hydrochloride – known also as Selgian® and Anipryl®, has been shown to be effective by Selgian for dementia in dogsprolonging the activity of your dog’s remaining dopamine. This helps by improving memory and helping dogs think more clearly.

It seems some dogs given this drug may live longer, but it could take several weeks to see any improvement.

Natural supplements

There are a variety of natural supplements including coconut oil, omega 3s, and Gotu Kola, but it is best to speak to your vet before giving them to your dog. If your vet does not recommend supplements, or isn’t in a position to advise, a holistic vet can help. 

Interactive and puzzle toys

Giving your dog a challenge, using interactive toys, even teaching old and new tricks, will keep the brain active. 

Through a Dog’s Ear

The other day I discovered this incredible CD called Through a Dog’s Ear: Music to Calm Your Canine Companion. I just ordered it today, but I’ve been playing snippets of it from Youtube for Red, and it’s done wonders to help. There are times when she gets into this zone, and she  wanders. She just keeps going and Through a Dog's Ear CDgoing, and you can’t get her to stop. Well, holding her helps, but only if you’re standing. Somehow I came across this music and I’m not exaggerating when I say she would calm down almost immediately, and relax enough to fall asleep. It’s been so incredible I had to buy the CD. As soon as I get it home and play all the tracks, I will write a proper review.

**update** It’s been almost a year since I wrote this, and the CD has been nothing short of miraculous. Where Red would just wander aimlessly, within a minute or two of listening, she would fall asleep.

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
  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight
  • Good oral hygiene by brushing, providing dental sticks and dental checks
  • Supplements
  • See 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

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.

What I do (updated May 15, 2017)

Red has been taking 1 Selgian tablet per day for about 1/2 years. I saw a big difference not long after, which was a huge relief. She also takes a product called Nutri Calm twice a day. I tried a small amount of coconut oil but unfortunately she developed a touch of pancreatitis, so I stopped it immediately. Sadly there isn’t anything else we can do for her. 

All About dementia in dogs – conclusion

Believe me, I know how scary, sad, and frustrating senility in dogs can be, but don’t despair. I am going through it right now with my beautiful sweet angel Red, and have written this guide to dementia in dogs. 

 

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

 

All About Dementia in Dogs
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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40 thoughts on “All About Dementia in Dogs

  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.

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