5 Signs of Dog Dementia


If you’ve noticed your senior dog experiencing some mental abnormalities and wondered if it was possible for a dog to have dementia, your suspicion would be correct. When a dog’s brain ages, they can undergo changes that are the same as those found in human Alzheimer’s patients. In dogs, this is called canine cognitive dysfunction (CDS). This article will explore canine cognitive dysfunction and how to manage the aging, mentally declining dog.


Symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

These are symptoms that indicate a dog is suffering from cognitive decline. Using the tool called DISHA, can help you identify behaviors that are a symptom of CDS. Symptoms include the following:

  • Disorientation
  • Interactions with household family and other animals become altered
  • Sleep-wake cycle changes
  • House soiling

Activity levels change

You may also notice that your dog has other abnormal behaviors that can include:

  • Trouble eating or locating food and water dishes
  • Restless or repetitive movements
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The five signs of dog dementia explained are as follows:


This is one of the most common symptoms a senior dog suffering CCD might display. This happens even when the dog is in normal, familiar environments.

You may observe these behaviors:

  • Aimless wandering
  • Pacing
  • Gets lost behind furniture
  • Doesn’t recognize known people and pets
  • Gets lost in the yard
  • Forgets why he’s outside (for toileting)
  • Loses responsiveness to commands
  • Doesn’t seem to recognize his name

If you notice any of these behaviors, take your dog to the veterinarian for an examination. You’ll want to rule out any medical issues that could cause abnormal behavior.


Interactions With Family And Other Pets Become Altered

Dogs with CCD can become unpredictable. They may become withdrawn. Or they may become irritable and growl, or even snap at household family, including other pets. You should have your dog examined as this could also be the result of being in pain.

Your dog may also:

  • Be disinterested in attention (playtime, petting)
  • Doesn’t greet family upon arriving at home
  • Not interested in greeting visitors

When a dog’s behavior changes drastically toward family, CCD is a strong possibility. See your veterinarian for an evaluation.


Sleep-Wake Cycle Changes

A more specific symptom is a disruption to circadian rhythms—a change in sleep patterns. Sleep-wake cycle disturbances are often experienced by dogs and humans who have dementia. When affected by “sundowning” dogs will reverse their normal schedule and sleep more during the day. Then they remain awake, disoriented, and agitated during the night. The dog may pace or wander throughout the home. You may notice:

  • Lack of interest in surroundings
  • Sleeps more during the day
  • Awake at night
  • Barking or howling at night
  • Pacing, restlessness, or circling at sunset
  • Reduced activity during the day


House Soiling

Unfortunately, one of the more common ways CCD is detected, is when a house-trained dog starts urinating or defecating inside the home.

Typical behaviors are:

  • Urinating or defecating indoors
  • Urinating or defecating indoors after having been taken outdoors
  • Urinating or defecating indoors in front of their people
  • Does not indicate a need to go outside

Your dog will need a veterinary examination to make sure he doesn’t have kidney or bladder problems or diabetes.


Activity Levels Change

Dogs who have CCD may have decreased desire for exploring. They may also have a decreased response to people, things, and even sounds. Their response to stimuli may be altered.

More Signs of Dog Dementia Include:

Difficulty Eating And Drinking

If a dog doesn’t have issues with their vision or hearing and they can’t locate their food bowls, this can be a clear sign of CCD. They may also have trouble with eating and drinking

Restless Or Repetitive Movements

As dogs age, there is a natural decline in activity. But they may also experience repetitive motion activities. This could include things like leg shaking, pacing in circles, or head bobbing. Activity such as this can indicate CCD.


CCD Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will need a full history of your dog’s health, the symptoms and when the symptoms began. Your dog will need a complete physical and an evaluation of his cognitive functioning. You should also expect bloodwork, x-rays, and ultrasounds as other diseases will need to be ruled out.


Treatment of CCD

A dog with CCD will need lifelong therapy and support. Just like with people who have Alzheimer’s, there is no cure for CCD. But you can make a difference in improving your dog’s mental functions and his quality of life. You may be able to slow the progression of his mental decline by providing a stimulating environment. His daily routine should include exercise, playtime, and retraining. Make your home as safe and accessible for him as possible. This can include things like:

  • The softest bed possible to help him sleep
  • Potty pads to help prevent accidents
  • Night lights to help get around safely
  • Gates for any areas where he could hurt himself
  • Removal of anything causing unneeded stress
  • Ramps if needed

Your dog may also benefit from prescribed medication and a prescribed diet supplemented with vitamin C and E, beta carotene, antioxidants, selenium, carnitine, carotenoids, flavonoids, omega-3, and beta carotene. You will want to work with your dog’s veterinarian to monitor your dog’s health. In an otherwise healthy dog, while there is no timeframe, CCD is a degenerative process and your dog’s quality of life will diminish over time.

You and your veterinarian will need to monitor his health and cognitive functioning to determine when his quality of life is at a point when you know it’s time to humanely let him go.

French Bulldog puppy sitting down and leaning to the side. He's wearing a blue rhinestone collar and looking to the side.



Dog dementia is real. If your dog has been acting oddly, have him evaluated and if he’s suffering from CCD, work with your veterinarian to manage his illness. Like in mentally declining humans, dog dementia is progressive and there is no cure. Working with your veterinarian is the best way to ensure your dog is able to have the best life quality for as long as possible.