My old dog Red had doggie dementia for about two and a half years. It was a condition I was not familiar with and totally unprepared for. My usually amazing vet never mentioned the possibility, even after tests to explain certain behaviours came back negative. One day the word “dementia” popped into my head, who knows how, and when I asked my vet about it he told me it made sense.
I went through a lot of stress, frustration and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness before I figured out what was wrong. I hope to save many of you from the same which is why I wrote this post.
UPDATE: This post was originally written Nov 23, 2015 and updated Dec 17, 2018. My heart dog Red crossed the rainbow bridge on May 18, 2018.
Probably but not definitely
Many of the signs you will see listed could be attributed to other conditions. For example, your dog pacing and not being able to settle could mean she’s in pain. Not acknowledging or interacting with people she knows may mean she can’t hear them enter the room or see them.
Don’t ignore changes
If you notice behaviour changes, even if it’s something small like your dog seeming a bit “off” please call your vet. A problem caught early has a much better chance of being treated or managed.
There is no test to confirm a dementia diagnosis, it is made through a process of elimination. Since many of the same symptoms can be attributed to other illnesses, tests are conducted to rule them in or out. If they are all ruled out then it’s typically doggy dementia.
I have included a link to an article I wrote about treatment options, so there’s no need to repeat all that. The one thing I will say is, ask your vet about the prescription drug selegeline, the active ingredient found in Anipryl in the U.S. and Canada and Selgian in the UK. I don’t know what the drugs are called in other countries.
I say this because I know from my own experience as well as others, many vets don’t even mention the drug because they don’t believe it works for enough dogs. I disagree with that attitude because it doesn’t have to work for enough dogs, it just has to work for YOURS and Selgian definitely worked for mine.
Red was on quite a few medications and there was no problem with interaction or side effects. Of course her experience doesn’t mean it will be the same for your dog so speak to your vet!
Canine cognitive dysfunction checklist
This checklist is sorted by category, with a downloadable version at the bottom. This way you can print it, tick off the signs you’re seeing and bring it to your vet. Take a video if possible and bring it as well. Together, these tools will go a long way to helping your vet with a diagnosis.
Sleep and awake patterns
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Sleeps more during the day, less at night
- Wanders or cries at night
- Keeps family up at night
- Performing the same behaviours over and over
- Having trouble eating or drinking i.e. finding the bowls, keeping food in her mouth
- Doesn’t respond to her name
- Doesn’t respond to cues/commands
- Wanders aimlessly/paces
- Seems lost or confused in familiar surroundings like the house or yard
- Gets stuck in corners or other tight spaces and just stands there
- Has trouble with stairs
- Stares into space or at walls
- Difficulty finding the door
- Stands on hinge side of the door
- Doesn’t get out of the way when the door is opening
- Stands at wrong door to go out
- Doesn’t recognize family or friends
- Gets stuck under or behind furniture
- Has difficulty learning new things
- Walks in circles, usually in one direction – WATCH THE VIDEO TO SEE WHAT I MEAN!!
- May not remember the signal/words to go outside
- Goes outside and just wanders, then pees and poops in the house
- Doesn’t let you know she has to go out like she used to
- A perfectly housebroken dog seems to have forgotten her training
Interaction with family and others in your household
- Doesn’t greet anyone, or if she does she’s less enthusiastic than usual
- Doesn’t look for attention like she used to
- Walks away when petted
- Withdrawn from family
- Seems fearful and/or anxious
- Easily startled
- Barks for no apparent reason
- Aggressive but never was before
- Trembles for no apparent reason
- Afraid of people she knows
- Less enthusiastic about her toys
- Plays less or not at all
Signs your dog probably has dementia – conclusion
I know this might have been a little scary for you to read, but I hope you found it comforting as well. Until now you may have been faced with some unexplained behaviours which, as I know, can be frustrating and cause you to feel so helpless.
Make an appointment with your vet, bring your checklist and a video. Knowing what you’re dealing with is the first step in figuring out how to manage it.
If you’d like to know more about our journey, read this article called “How I Care For Red Who Has Dog Dementia” !
Has your dog been experiencing any of the symptoms on this list? What did your vet say or do during your appointments when you were looking for an answer? Was your dog diagnosed with dementia? What treatment plan was recommended and has it been helping? Sharing helps others so please leave your comments below.
I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, a FB group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions, share experiences and be a part of a wonderful community. I look forward to welcoming you.