Does my dog have dementia?

Dog dementia is referred to as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) syndrome. This disease is caused by the dog’s brain ageing and brain cells dying off. This can cause behavioural changes and loss of memory and learning.

Initially the symptoms start out mild, but tend to gradually worsen over time (cognitive decline). 1 in 3 dogs from the age of 11 can start showing signs, and by the time they are 16, nearly all dogs show symptoms.

Symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Most common symptoms of dementia in dogs:

  • Disorientation/confusion
  • Excessive licking
  • Anxiety/restlessness/pacing (note: can also be due pain)
  • Loss of house training (toilet accidents in the house)
  • Extreme irritability (note: can also be a pain response)
  • Decreased desire to play
  • Slow to learn new tasks
  • Inability to follow familiar routes
  • Changes in their sleep cycle e.g awake at night and sleeping more during the day
  • Excessive barking
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • Incontinence – faecal and urinary
  • Loss of appetite

Causes of Dog Dementia

The exact cause is unknown, but is mainly due to brain cells dying, which can affect brain function.  Dogs can also have small strokes which can also damage the brain.


The diagnosis is made, once other options/causes are eliminated. Your vet will want to take a full history on when the symptoms started, what the symptoms are, and if any events could have triggered these behaviours.  A complete physical exam of your dog will also be needed.  It is often recommended that routine blood tests, ultrasounds and x-rays are performed to rule out other diseases that can cause signs of dementia.

A lot of the symptoms of dementia can also be similar to arthritis and pain, and so is important that this is checked for and treated if present.

Treatment of Dog Dementia

There are no treatments available to ‘cure’ dementia, but there are lots of therapy’s and support that can be given to your pet to help maintain a healthy and stimulating environment, and slow the progression and decline of the brain.

Things that can help include:

  • Daily routine of exercise, play and training (or re-training)
  • Night lights can help your dog navigate in the dark
  • Puppy pads near doors give your dog a place to go if he/she can’t make it outside in time
  • Orthopedic foam beds (with washable covers) can make sleep more comfortable.
  • Medication to help keep your pet be comfortable and active (if for example has arthritis)
  • Balanced diets and supplements containing antioxidants, vitamin E and C, selenium, flavonoids, beta carotene, carotenoids, omega-3, and carnitine can help improve cognitive function

Life Expectancy of Dogs With Dementia

It is tricky to establish a specific timeframe and prognosis with this disease.  This disease is degenerative, and occurs in older dog’s which eventually reduces their quality of life.

It is important to monitor you dog’s quality of life and ensure that they are not starting to suffer. If new symptoms occur, please contact your vet for a check up, incase these symptoms are due to a different disease.