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Dementia in Dogs

Updated on March 27, 2012

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

As dogs age, their senses begin to decline and they can no longer see, hear or smell with the same sharpness as before. These are the normal signs of aging, however if these are accompanied by noticable behaviourable changes, there may be something extra at play. Dementia in dogs is not uncommon and manifests in a similar way to human dementia.

Just as human lifespans are increasing due to better nutrition, health education and advances in medicine, so too are dogs and, as with humans, an increase in lifespan corresponds with a general increase in dementia.

Around 4 percent of dogs are diagnosed each year with dementia but veterinarians estimate the real figure is closer to 16 percent -not all pet owners will take their animals to a clinic for diagnosis.


  • dogs may become disoriented, and fail to recognize familiar people, animals and territory
  • general vagueness
  • change of personality
  • changes in barking, ie; at inappropriate times
  • confusing indoors and outside
  • getting confused on the wrong side of a door
  • anxiety
  • failure to respond to voice commands
  • aggression
  • changes in sleeping habits

There are other conditions which can cause these symptoms so it's always best to have behavioural changes checked out by a veterinarian. Research into animal dementia is still way behind research into the same condition in humans, although it is increasing as more and more cases emerge. There is some evidence that large dog breeds tend to be more prone to the condition than small breeds though it is unclear why this should be the case.


What Causes Dementia in dogs?

Canine cognitive disorder is a progressive disease and although the cause is largely unknown, autopsies have revealed very similar degenerative brain lesions between dogs who have had the condition. As the brain ages it naturally accumulate deposits of beta amyloid, a starchy, nerve-damaging protein that builds up, becomes waxy, and forms plaque. In turn, as plaque accumulates, it clogs the brain and inhibits the transmission of signals. In both human Alzheimers and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, the greater amounts of senile plaque -the greater the cognitive impairment.

Dementia can also be cause by hypoxia -ie; not enough blood getting to the brain.

Will you still feed me when I'm 64...?


In humans, exercise and a good diet rich in anti-oxidants has been shown to have positive effects in preventing the onset of age-related dementia and most likely the same applies to dogs. Although there is as yet no cure, there are treatments available for canine cognitive disorder which may help alleviate the symptoms.


Some of the drugs used to treat dementia in humans are being used to treat dementia in dogs. Anipryl is the most commonly used but its effects seem to vary, with some dog owners reporting significant improvements in their animals and others noticing little or no change. As with most drugs, there can occasionally be side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness. hyperactivity. appetite loss and in severe cases, seizure.

Apart from drug therapy there are behavior modification strategies that can make life easier for both dog and owner. Behavioural/personality changes are never easy to deal with, in dogs or humans and the condition can be devastating... but pets afflicted with dementia have a greater chance of still retaining some enjoyment from life if the condition is understood and they can be cared for appropriately.



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