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Dog Dementia Symptoms and Treatment

By Colleen Williams
February 14, 2012 • 3 min. read
Old pug

Reviewed for accuracy on March 21, 2020 by Sarah Wallace, DVM

If your older dog seems confused, stops following routines and shows signs of anxiety and irritability, you may be wondering if he’s developing dog dementia, also known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) or “arfheimers” in more casual parlance.  It’s possible – dementia is fairly common in senior dogs. Of course, you’ll want to take your dog to the vet to rule out any other possible health conditions that might be causing changes in behavior.

How do I know if my dog has dementia?

Common signs may include:

  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Not following normal routines
  • Staring off into space
  • Barking for no reason
  • Changes in sleep/wake cycle
  • Pacing
  • Lack of grooming
  • Fecal or urinary incontinence
  • Increased irritability and anxiety

What causes dog dementia?

As in humans, dementia is a geriatric condition – it typically affects only “senior” dogs. Larger dogs are considered seniors when they reach around seven years old, while smaller breeds aren’t seniors until they’re 10 or 11 years old. Use a dog age calculator to determine how old your pet is in human years. The American Kennel Club estimates that about 62 percent of dogs that are age 10 and older will show some sign of mental decline.

Some breeds are thought to be more genetically predisposed to developing dog dementia, but this has not been scientifically proven. There is some evidence that it’s more common in smaller breeds, but that could be because they tend to live longer, giving the condition more time to develop.

The science on senility in dogs is still fairly new – it wasn’t until the early 1990s that scientists were able to identify brain changes in older dogs that were similar to brain changes seen in humans with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Laboratory tests were then developed to detect learning and memory deficits in older dogs.

Dog dementia diagnosis and treatment

Your vet will need a thorough description of your pet’s symptoms, including when they began. Routine tests, such as ultrasounds, x-rays, and a blood count profile will be completed to rule out other potential diseases. There is no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction, but with the proper management, your dog can have a good quality of life for many more years. The good news is that one study indicated that life spans for dogs with dementia are no different than for those without.

Treatment is mainly focused on reducing the speed of mental decline by imposing a strict daily regimen of a specially formulated diet, exercise, and bathroom breaks. Vitamin- and antioxidant-rich foods may also help protect against memory loss; your veterinarian may recommend a specific type or brand of food for your pet.

Drugs such as selegiline hydrochloride are now available for the management of cognitive dysfunction in dogs, AVMA reports. Studies are also examining other drugs that enhance the nervous system and help keep the mind and memory functioning.

Managing your dog’s condition

Make sure to stick to your vet-approved daily routine and diet; any changes may confuse your pet further. Try to keep your dog’s environment virtually the same – bed, food, and water in the same place, and if possible, avoid moving furniture around. Check-ups with your veterinarian twice a year will help your veterinarian monitor your pet’s condition and determine if the disease is progressing, has stabilized or if further intervention is needed. Keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior, and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if you notice any sudden changes.


Dog dementia can be a difficult illness for a pet parent to come to terms with. There is no cure, but dietary changes, a stable routine and medication can make it easier for your pet and prevent CCD from progressing. Keep loving and enjoying the company of your best friend; with the proper care, you both can still look forward to more time together.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical diagnosis, condition, or treatment options.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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