Your elderly dog is behaving strangely? Here’s how to prepare for canine dementia

Szénási Szimonetta

2024. May 3 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

As unpleasant as it is to face, your beloved pet is aging. And old age brings many changes, including the possibility of dementia.


Dogs, like humans, change according to their life stages. As your pet enters their senior years, you may notice several things that are cause for concern and could indicate neurological issues. One of these is canine cognitive dysfunction, or senility. Below, we’ll discuss its symptoms and appropriate management.

Dementia is not uncommon in dogs either

What is dementia?

In the brains of elderly dogs, numerous changes occur. Similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, canine senility – or less euphemistically termed “doggie dementia” – primarily affects memory, learning, and cognitive abilities.

Dementia is essentially an umbrella term encompassing various symptoms. These include:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Changes in the pet’s demeanor (reduced enthusiasm, aggression, apathy, etc.)

Causes of dementia

The definitive cause of canine dementia has not yet been determined by science, but two processes in the brain have been identified that may lead to the condition.

  1. Dopamine depletion: Cognitive dysfunction in dogs has been associated with depletion of the neurotransmitter dopamine, although the cause of this depletion has not been identified.
  2. Protein accumulation: Another possible cause is the accumulation of proteins (similar to Alzheimer’s disease), which disrupts nerve impulses.
Bond for a lifetime

Accidents in the Home

Due to senility, it’s common for dogs to become disoriented in their own homes. As a result, they often have accidents. For example, they may bump into furniture, try to enter through the wrong side of a doggy door, or wander aimlessly around the house. They may also simply stare into space.

This confusion affects the animal’s daily life. For instance, over time, they may forget the location of their food bowl or struggle to find their way home during walks. It’s typical for demented dogs to have accidents indoors again.

Over time, your pet’s vision deteriorates

Symptoms worsen over time

The symptoms listed above generally develop gradually, but they can also suddenly appear due to stress. Additionally, dementia symptoms in dogs are progressive, meaning they worsen over time.

Smaller dogs are more vulnerable

According to previous experiences, small breeds are more at risk of senility in old age compared to larger breeds.

Consult with a veterinarian

It’s important that if you notice any of these symptoms individually or in any combination, you should always take your pet to the vet, who can determine what’s behind them through appropriate tests. Besides dementia, old-age vision or hearing loss or impairment, as well as infections, inflammations, and tumors, could be potential causes.

Diagnosing dementia

If your dog shows signs of dementia, the vet will first conduct general examinations. They’ll review the medical history, perform blood and urine tests, and based on the results, may recommend further tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans.

Treatment of dementia

You should know that there is no cure for dementia. However, there are options such as medications that can make the patient’s life easier.

Additionally, establishing a new daily routine, getting the right amount of exercise, and balanced nutrition can also help your pet. Mental stimulation, in other words, providing tasks, can also have a beneficial effect on your pet. Making your home safe can also protect them from potential accidents.

Let’s emphasize that while the diagnosis may be frightening, many elderly dogs live happy, fulfilling lives despite dementia.

If you’re interested in learning about the disease that threatens large breed dogs, you can read our article by clicking here.

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