Dog Dementia: A Guide to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

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confused dog with dog dementiaToday many senior dogs may succumb to the effects of dog dementia. Dogs with dementia is truly a devastating condition that can change the personality of a loved pet.
While there is no cure for this condition, pet owners who educate themselves about the disease can improve the quality of their pets life. So, in this article, we’ll cover all you need to know about dementia in dogs.

What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?

Dog dementia is scientifically known as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCD). Roughly defined, this cognitive disorder tends to affect the perception, memory, and general awareness of a dog. So, in other words, it’s a lot similar to human dementia.

What Causes Dog Dementia?

So, how do senior dogs get canine cognitive dysfunction? Well, to date scientists and veterinarians have noted various possible pathophysiological causes for the cognitive decline in dogs.

Various factors will contribute to dementia in dogs. To begin with, as a dog ages, the following pathological lesions and changes are going to occur:

  • A decrease in the brain mass
  • An increase in ventricular space and size
  • Changes in the meninges, choroid plexus, and cerebral vasculature
  • And more!

While these are just a few factors that play a role in causes canine cognitive decline. The major cause is going to be an accumulation of a protein called amyloid. Properly known as βA peptide, this protein with age, will begin to accumulate on the neurons present within the brain.

As a result, this causes neurotoxic effects which will further induce the degeneration of cholinergic neurons. It is this very accumulation of the beta-amyloid plaques on the cerebral cortex which leads to cognitive impairment in dogs.

Now, oxidative damage is also said to be a cause of dementia in dogs. As a dog ages, the production of excessive free radicals can lead to oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is what will lead to neuronal death! Now it’s important to remember, that the body is always creating free radicals, but to compensate, the body will also have systems in place to prevent free radical build-up.

However, in an older dog, these mechanisms that prevent the accumulation of free radicals can fail. And so oxidative damage will ultimately lead to neuronal dysfunction.

A Confused Dog? Here’s How Dementia in Dogs Presents Itself!

Pet owners and in fact even veterinarians may sometimes misdiagnose a dog with dementia. The reality is, dementia in dogs often goes underdiagnosed but is in fact quite prevalent in the pet population.

The acronym used to diagnose dementia patients is DISHA. Where D denotes to disorientation, I denotes to social interaction changes, S denotes to changes in the sleep cycle, H denotes to house soiling, and finally, A would stand for changes in activity.

dementia in dogs symptoms, sleeping cognitive disorder

So, older dogs with canine dementia will show signs like:


  • Older dogs walking into objects although not blind
  • Head-pressing: such that pets cannot maneuver around objects
  • Aimless wandering
  • Staring into space

Social Interactions

  • Dogs and cats may become either aggressive or friendly
  • Some dogs may even fail to recognize family members or other pets they reside with

Changes in sleep patterns

  • Dogs and cats with this dysfunction syndrome will not have regular sleep patterns; such that pets may wake up a lot during the night and may begin to wander around the house
  • During a period of wakefulness, the dogs may seem a lot more clingy and may whine or whimper for no apparent reason

Accidents in the house

  • It is very common for trained dogs to begin soiling in the house. While medical evaluation may rule out underlying metabolic causes for house soiling, dog dementia tends to cause forgetfulness and thus house soiling.

Changes in Activity level

  • All older dogs are prone to joint problems, and these joint problems such as Osteoarthritis can definitely be a cause for decreased activity levels
  • A dog with dementia will experience increased activity levels but this is seen as increases in wandering time

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Treatment

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome cannot be cured. But, the symptoms and severity of this disease can be reduced through nutritional and drug therapy.

As we already mentioned above, oxidative stress may be a primary cause of declined cognitive function. So, your vet may recommend changing your dog’s diet to foods rich in antioxidants. For example, the Hills Science Diet B/D formula is designed for enhancing brain function.

These diets are often rich in vitamin E and C, as well as selenium, flavonoids, carotenoids, and omega 3 fatty acids. In addition to changes in diet, your vet may recommend supplementing your dog’s food with salmon oil, as well as increasing the fruit and vegetable intake of the animal.

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How Long do Dogs with Dementia Live for?

Studies have shown that age-related cognitive decline in dogs does not necessary decrease their lifespan. A dog with CCD can truly live a long life. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that dementia itself will not decrease a pet’s lifespan. It is rather important to consider more primary medical concerns common in senior pets that could lead to a decrease in longevity.


Dogs with Dementia: It Can be Hard for Pet Owners to Live with

Owners who own a dog with dementia may be a lot more affected by their dog’s condition. There are cases where a beloved family dog may no longer recognizing a close family member, caretaker, or owner.

And, for some owners, these changes in their loved dog’s personality can truly be quite difficult to walk. After all—a once young, playful, and alert pooch may now begin to wander aimlessly and may seem to simply be unaware of their surroundings.

Remember, as our beloved pups age, things will get difficult both emotionally and physically. So, it is always important to consider the quality of your dog’s life and how you can continue to better their lives.

Common Questions on Dog Dementia

Can Dogs Get Alzihermers disease or Dementia?

What are the signs of canine dementia?

What is the life expectancy of dogs with dementia?

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