Can Dogs Have Dementia? Behavioral changes in your senior dog

Old dog laying down looking at cameraYou’ve noticed behavioral changes in your old dog and are likely asking “Can dogs have dementia?” The answer is yes. As sad as it is, cognitive abilities can diminish in dogs just as they do in humans

What is dog dementia?

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is another name for dog dementia. As with humans, the causes of CCD are not well-known. However, veterinary professionals believe the leading cause is when accumulations of sticky proteins called beta-amyloid plaques form around neurons. These then cause neurofibrillary tangles. Just as in humans, they interrupt nerve impulse transmission. This decreases dopamine function which in turn leads to the production of free radicals and causes further degeneration.

Most dogs develop some form of CCD as they age. As a matter of fact, at the Behavior Clinic at the University of California, Davis, researchers found that 28% of dogs 11 to 12 years old and 68% of dogs 15 to 16 years old showed one or more signs of cognitive impairment.

CCD comes in 4 different forms:

Involutional depression: This is like chronic depression in humans.

Dysthymia: This often involves the loss of awareness of body length and size. In these cases, dogs often get stuck in places and can’t seem to get themselves out. Experts believe this is caused by long term steroid therapy and hyperadrenocorticism like Cushing’s Disease.

Hyper-aggression: In old dogs, this is associated with the dysfunction of structures related to the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Cortical tumors may also cause this. As a result, the dog loses his ability to communicate effectively with other animals. He also bites without warning.

Confusional syndrome: This is the closest thing to Alzheimer’s in humans  because they forget familiar things including other pets and people

Dog dementia symptoms

Old Dog Haven is a non-profit organization in Washington State in the United States. They Old gray and white dogspecialize in caring for senior dogs. Here are the symptoms they say you should watch for:

  • Staring for long periods
  • Pacing
  • Anxiousness
  • Disorientation
  • He’s lost in familiar places
  • Withdrawing
  • Barking for no reason
  • Sleeping pattern changes
  • Changes in appetite
  • Not responsive to your voice (this could also be a symptom of hearing loss)
  • Peeing and pooping in the house (this can be a symptom of other medical issues as well)
  • Any kind of unusual behavior

Also keep in mind that changes might occur without you noticing them. That’s why it’s important to keep close watch on your dog as he ages.

How to help your dog – Dog dementia treatment

You can’t stop the process but it is possible to slow it down. Manufacturers formulate certain dog foods to slow cognitive dysfunction. These foods include omega-3 fatty acids that promote and strengthen cell health.

There are supplements that help as well. recommends Senilife and Aktivait. These contain phosphatidylserine which is part of a cell membrane that treats humans with Alzheimer’s Disease. They also recommend Neutricks which contains apoaequorin. This is a substance derived from jellyfish. Studies show that dogs perform better at learning and attention tasks when taking this supplement.

There are other supplements available that may have benefits that include coconut oil and Omega-3 fatty acids .

You can also go the route of dog dementia medication. There is a drug on the market called Anipryl which is the trade name for selegiline hydrochloride (also known as L-diphenyl). It is used for humans who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and Cushing’s Disease. Similarly, the FDA has approved this for use in dogs to treat Cushing’s Disease and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.

However, this is a relatively new drug and even though the results are encouraging, we need more time to see its effectiveness. For CCD, some dog owners have seen incredible improvement while other have not seen such dramatic results.

There are possible side effects as well. These include vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, anorexia, staggering, seizure and lethargy.

Other drugs to consider are:

Nicergoline: This has been found to improve mental agility because it activates the brain’s metabolism. It also improves arterial flow and the use of glucose and oxygen. You must use caution if your dog has potential for bleeding, heart condition and hypertension.

Propentofylline: This drug is used for treatment of dullness and lethargy. Reports say that it makes red cells more pliable and increases blood flow.

Little old Chinese Crested Dog with wiry hairOther things you can do to help your dog

According to Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorist, you can introduce things like food puzzles to encourage mental stimulation. Also, schedule regular play sessions to stimulate your dog’s brain and improve learning and memory abilities.

If he doesn’t have physical restrictions, take him to the dog park where he can interact with other dogs. Thus, it’s possible to slow cognitive deterioration with physical and mental activity just like with humans

In all cases, you and your dog should visit your veterinarian for an individualized treatment plan. The veterinarian can determine if there are other problems contributing to your dog’s condition. As your dog ages, he should go in twice a year for check ups.

How long can a dog live with dementia?

Well, there’s actually some good news here. A group of researchers (Fast, Schutt, et al., 2013) studied the life expectancy of dogs with CCD. They found that the dogs lived normal lifespans. In fact, the group of dogs with dementia lived slightly longer than the dogs without it. However, the researchers theorized that this could have been because of the high quality medical care they received because of their condition. So yes, that’s good news. But, the thing to look at is the quality of life for your dog, not the quantity.

What this means is that there may come a time when you need to make that terrible decision. Should you prolong his life and risk more suffering or say goodbye. Read here about coping with the loss of your dog.


If you are asking “Can dogs have dementia?” you can see that it’s common. As stated above, 68% of dogs 15 to 16 years old show one or more signs. As you can see, there are things you can do to help your best friend and slow down the dementia process.

We love comments so be sure to leave yours. Tell us about your experiences with your dog and how you both dealt with dementia.Smiling old black, white and gray dog


2 comments on “Can Dogs Have Dementia? Behavioral changes in your senior dog

  1. Susanne

    Your article is very informative on a lesser known behavioral problem for pets. I can tell you have researched quite a bit and assimilated it into an easily digestible format. Don’t be afraid to add in more media photos or manipulate their size to add variety and break up your content a bit more. Very helpful for pet owner to know what symptoms they are looking for. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Christopher Mitchell

      Thank you Susanne.

      This is a very common problem and it’s good to know there are things we as dog owners can do to help!


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