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Canine Dementia: everything you need to know about senility in dogs

Dogs with dementia often become disorientated or confused. Its common for them to wander out of the back yard or get lost on a walk during these episodes.

For these reasons, a dog with dementia should never be left unattended. This is particularly important in yards that arent fully secure, new places, or on walks. Always ensure your dog is microchipped with up-to-date information and wearing a collar with his name and contact number.

What Is Senior Dementia

Senior dementia, formally known as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome , is a collection of symptoms resulting from progressive brain degeneration that causes changes in a dog’s mood, behavior, and memory.

The Behavior Clinic at the University of California at Davis states that 28% of dogs aged 11 to 12 years display signs of dementia and that likelihood increases to 68% of dogs when they reach ages 15 or 16.

The Signs Of Dementia In Dogs


One of the easiest to recognize symptoms of dog dementia is disorientation. Your furbaby can appear lost or approach the wrong door in an attempt to go outside. Other symptoms of dog disorientation include blankly staring at a specific thing like the ground, walls, or the sky. You might notice that your furbaby is losing coordination or not recognizing familiar faces as signs of dementia.

Accidents & Memory Loss

Your dogs house training may begin to fail where they stop letting you know when they need to potty. They might also start to slobber and have accidents inside the house. Dogs with dementia will affect their memory, so it is common for training to be lost. Additionally, dogs suffering from dementia may no longer obey commands or perform tricks. You may find it more challenging to get their attention.

Sleep Cycle Changes

The sleep/wake cycle caused by dementia in your dog is among the most uncomfortable. Your dog may have difficulties sleeping through the night and may wind up pacing the house while barking or howling. So, if your dog is suddenly awake at night, it can be one of the dog dementia symptoms. Additionally, due to their lack of sleep at night, your dog may end up resting a lot more during the day.

Changes in Interactions

Changes in Activity Levels

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How Is Dog Dementia Treated

According to Fanucchi, Canine Cognitive Dysfunction treatment involves management of behavior and environment, enhanced diet, and medication. Its dual goals are slowing the diseaseâs progress and improving quality of life for dogs and their people.

âBehavior can be effectively managed by providing daytime activities and opportunities for play, as well as structured social interaction for physical and mental stimulation,â says Fanucchi. âExposure to sunlight will help regulate the sleep-wake cycle. If they canât walk anymore, use a wagon or a stroller. Managing the environment is also very important. Make it more predictable. Pet-proof the house just as youâd toddler-proof it.â Providing adequate toileting opportunities is essential as well, as old dogs canât âhold itâ as they did when they were younger diapers, pads, and waterproof bed and furniture covers may be helpful.

Prognosis For Dogs With Dementia

Does your senior pup have dog dementia?

The unfortunate reality of dementia is that since this progressive disease does not have a cure, dogs diagnosed with canine cognitive dysfunction will eventually succumb to the illness. Thankfully, dementia tends to affect senior dogs , and the available treatment options can help these dogs live comfortably for some time. Owners of dogs diagnosed with this disease should talk to their veterinarians about the prognosis for their specific dog, which treatments are preferable, and what to expect moving forward.

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Is There A Cure For Dog Dementia

At this time, there is no known cure for dog dementia. The condition leads to the physical deterioration of the brain, and therefore, there is no simple corrective measure that can regenerate these tissues. However, research into this subject is already being conducted, with potential cures involving stem cell therapy² as well as pharmaceuticals³.

Can Dog Dementia Be Prevented

Because an exact cause is unknown, it is difficult to determine exactly how to prevent dementia in dogs. However, keeping your dog physically and mentally active may help to prevent dementia. It is recommended to do the following with your dog to keep their mind sharp and healthy:

  • Make sure they get regular exercise
  • Allow them to have new experiences & regular socialization
  • Avoid putting your dog in stressful situations
  • Eliminate exposure to toxins

Studies have found that regular, moderate physical activity and mental stimulation with interactive toys may help maintain your dogs mental health.

Additionally, it is recommended that senior dogs receive a health checkup every 6 months¹.

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Can Dogs Get Alzheimers


While a diagnosis of Alzheimers Disease may not be made, a similar disorder occurs in dogs that is referred to as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, CCDS. Characterized by a decline in cognitive and physical functioning, occurring as your dog ages, it also has many of the same neurological markers as Alzheimer’s in humans, including chemical changes and neural lesions. However, this disease often goes undiagnosed as many pet owners are not aware that a canine equivalent to Alzheimer’s exists and since your dog does not communicate verbally.

Due to differences in how dogs and people interact, symptoms of the disease may not be as apparent. For instance, how do yo know your dog does not remember a person or place, or is confused by what is happening around them? Until dramatic behavioral symptoms manifest, CCDS may not be diagnosed. Fortunately, as more is being uncovered about CCDS, more dogs are being diagnosed and receiving treatment which can improve their quality of life, much as is the case in human patients.

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People often wonder if their elderly dog is developing Alzheimers disease when they notice that they are slowing down and appearing more forgetful. Many people will say this with a chuckle, thinking they are being silly ascribing a human condition to their canine companion, but in reality, they may be correct.

Elderly dogs, usually over 8 years of age, can develop canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. In fact, it is reported that 14-35% of dogs over 8 years of age are affected by it. This syndrome is very similar to Alzheimers disease, with similar brain changes noted. Also, just as with Alzheimers disease, we are not really sure what causes it.

Signs of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome can initially be very subtle and may worsen over time.

Some signs of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome include:

  • Having trouble recognizing familiar people
  • Changes in normal social relationships
  • Waking up in the middle of the night or sleeping more during the day
  • Becoming anxious
  • Abnormal vocalization

Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be highly suspected based on history alone. However, we often perform some tests, like blood work and an MRI of the brain, to make sure that the changes are not due to another reason.

If you are ever concerned that your older dog may be showing signs of canine cognitive dysfunction and want to chat about further tests or treatment options to help slow down the progression of disease, we are always here to help!

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Causes Of Dementia In Dogs

No specific cause for Dog Dementia has been found yet. Even with the progression in veterinary medicine, all we have is theories upon theories.

However, we certainly do know that dogs experience a mental decline as they grow older.

As dogs age, their brain cells start to die, which can lead to a drop in their mental health.

Aside from the age factor, some other medical conditions mentioned earlier put your animal at risk of developing dementia.

Anxiety And Fear Are Some Of The Most Subtle Signs Of Dementia That Can Be Missed As Well As Barking At Night And Housesoiling Take Notice Of These Changes And Contact Your Veterinarian Eileen Recommends

Tulip, a beautiful 16 year old tabby first showed signs of dementia with changes in her eating and cuddling. She always loved to lay on her mom and dads lap and purr- however this began to change when she wouldnt approach them for cuddles. When her family placed her on their lap she enjoyed it and would purr loudly but it seemed forgot and she needed help getting to their laps. Her appetite also changed and she was much more interested in new foods, including dog treat and whatever her family was eating. A little while later she began urinating outside the box, often times near to the box. The family tried new boxes with easier entrances in case arthritis was contributing to this, but the housesoiling persisted. Another important step in ruling out other medical issues is having blood work run by your Veterinarian. Her family had her bloodwork and urine checked and both were normal leading to a dementia diagnosis.

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The Neuropathology In The Brain Parenchyma

The most prominent neuropathological signs of AD are accumulation of A in a form of extracellular plaques in the brain parenchyma and also in the walls of blood vessels , and abnormally phosphorylated protein TAU that accumulates in NFTs . These pathological features are believed to cause cognitive and behavioral changes. The amino acid sequence of APP and of the enzymes involved in the processing of A peptides from APP, are highly homologous between humans and dogs . Major canine APP isoforms are APP-770, APP-751, APP-714, and APP-695 . The alignment of the longest canine amyloid-beta precursor protein isoform sequence with protein sequence of human amyloid-beta precursor protein show 96.9% amino acid identity and 98.3% similarity , making them almost identical. The expression patterns of canine APP isoforms are almost similar to the patterns previously detected for human APP isoforms . APP is a single-pass transmembrane protein with a large extracellular domain and a short cytoplasmic tail. The domain structure of APP-770 is shown in Figure 1B, the neuronal isoform APP-695 lacks the KPI domain . In contrary to APP, there is a difference in the TAU protein sequence between dogs and humans. Figure 1C shows the longest TAU isoform alignment between dog and human protein sequences with 84% similarity. Interestingly, the four microtubule-binding regions and the C-terminal regions are identical.

Table 1. Affected brain regions and underlying cognitive deficits in dogs.

Tips On Helping Dogs With Dementia

Dog Dementia: Help and Support

While there is no cure for dog dementia, there are things you can do to make your petâs life easier. Ask your veterinarian about steps you can take to support your dog. Medications that can be helpful to dogs with dementia include:

  • Selegiline â This drug can help your dog control many of the symptoms that come with canine dementia.
  • Antidepressants â Provides relief from the anxiety that often manifests in dogs with dementia.
  • Anipryl â A psychoactive drug approved for use in treating CCD.

Your vet may also recommend fortifying your dogâs diet with nutritional supplements. Other suggestions for helping canines with CCD include getting them to exercise more, buying interactive toys, and teaching your dog new skills to help with their memory and learning.

You can do other things to help your dog, like taking them on walks that encourage them to smell and avoiding any sudden schedule changes. Sticking to a routine can help relieve the anxiety often experienced by senior dogs with CCD. You should adjust your pace to match that of your dog and not force them to walk faster.

Many owners mistake the symptoms of canine dementia for âbad dog behaviorâ before getting them diagnosed. Try to remain calm and exercise patience when your dog does things like soiling the carpet or waking you up in the middle of the night with their barking. You want to avoid making them more nervous and scared.

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What Causes Dementia In Dogs

Dementia in dogs, also called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction , is often compared to Alzheimers in peoplethere are many shared symptoms. Canine dementia typically appears in senior dogs, though dogs with brain trauma are also predisposed to developing this condition. As dogs age, their brain and chemical functions change, including the breakdown of neurons and the accumulation of proteins. Each of these items can disrupt the normal transmission of information in a dogs brain, which can lead to dementia.

Beyond head trauma and the natural aging process, there is no other known complete root cause to dementia.

How Is Alzheimer’s Similar In Dogs And Humans

There are several similarities between human Alzheimer’s and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome:

  • Autopsies in dogs With CCDS and humans with Alzheimer’s show similar degenerative brain anomalies and chemical changes.

  • Both diseases are degenerative and are characterized by memory loss and disorientation.

  • Alzheimer’s and CCDS usually manifest in older humans and dogs.

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Sleeping More Or At Odd Hours

Dogs sleep a lot, especially as they get older. And that’s OK. With dog dementia, though, you may notice that they sleep more often than usual or at odd hours. Or that they have a different sleep/wake cycle than usual.

“It is important to pay attention to this since it can also be an early sign of CCDS,” Dr. Wilson says. “Some dogs will start to sleep more during the day and then be restless with increased wakefulness during the night either due to increased anxiety or decreased awareness of their regular routine.”

Animal Models For Developing Novel Treatments

Dog Dementia – Gemma’s Story | Vets4Pets

In comparison to transgenic mouse models, natural animal models better represent the pathophysiology of AD. Models of physiologically aged rats, degus and dogs are useful for studying mechanistic aspects of AD, which are also very valuable in the development of therapeutics that would alleviate age-related declines in cognitive function. Mouse models for AD research carry mutations, found in familial AD, and are artificially accumulating A plaques and NFTs. Whether mice are good models have been thoroughly discussed elsewhere . Several drugs have cleared the amyloid load in mice but failed to do so in people with AD. Recently the genetic background and environmental factors have been demonstrated as the variability in AD development, which was partially recognized by incorporating genetic diversity into mouse models of AD . Transgenic minipigs expressing APP695 or PSEN1 have also been developed but have not shown the histopathological nor the cognitive impairment signs . Therefore, natural animal models of species with spontaneously occurring neurodegeneration are potentially more useful in developing and testing novel treatments for such diseases.

Table 3. Pharmacological interventions tested in dogs with cognitive decline.

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What Should I Do If I Suspect My Dog Has Dementia

If your dog is showing any of the above signs of dementia, it is important that you visit your veterinarian for a check-up. Your vet will go over your dogs history with you in great detail and perform a complete physical examination to evaluate the overall health status and cognitive functions of your dog. Your vet may also recommend some diagnostic tests, like blood tests, ultrasounds, and X-rays, to check for other health problems. If your vet determines that your dog has dementia, he or she will then discuss the various options with you.

Signs To Watch For With Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Owners should be aware of the signs of CCDS and differentiate them from normal aging. Any deviation from what is normal should be brought to your veterinarians attention. Increased sleep can be one of the first signs seen. This is often followed by the dog being awake more during the nighttime. If observed at night, the owner will often notice that the dog is pacing, aimlessly wandering or vocalizing . Disorientation is quite common as well and is a sign of CCDS. This manifests as the dog getting lost in once-familiar places, getting stuck in corners or between the toilet and the wall or having a hard time finding the door to go outside. It is also common for dogs that were once housetrained to begin urinating and defecating in the house. Some dogs suddenly seem not to recognize people they used to know or forget commands and tricks they once knew. The dog may seem less enthusiastic about daily activities such as playing and walking or may sleep more. Dogs with CCDS may also exhibit excessive circling, shaking or pacing. These are all signs of CCDS, but some can be signs of other diseases as well, including urinary tract infections, brain lesions, cancer and many others, so it is imperative that the dog be fully evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out all other medical issues.

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Tips For Caring For A Dog With Canine Dementia

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post on the Grey Matters Blog and not written by anyone affiliated with Grey Muzzle. We allow guest contributors from time to time in order to provide our supporters with a wide range of topics pertaining to senior dogs.

Dogs, like humans, can suffer from degenerative brain conditions in their senior years. These conditions are called canine dementia or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction .

There are many symptoms of canine dementia. The warning signs can be slow to develop, which is why dementia is often undiagnosed.

Common symptoms include disorientation, less interaction with family, interrupted sleep, and house-training issues. Dementia can also cause a dog to not recognize a familiar person or fail to respond to commands.

While canine dementia is a progressive condition cant be cured, there are many things you can do to improve your dogs quality of life. Here are seven easy examples.

Note: Its important to visit a vet if you suspect your dog has CCD. Medication can relieve symptoms and slow the progression.


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