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Dog Dementia: How To Help Your Senior Dog

Dog Dementia: How To Help Your Senior Dog

Aging can affect dogs in many of the same ways it affects people. Older dogs may slow down. They may gain a little weight. Their joints may be a little uncomfortable from time to time. These are all normal parts of aging. 

If your senior dog exhibits stranger behavior like disorientation, pacing, or staring, you may be dealing with dog dementia. Sometimes described as sundowning, often these symptoms of cognitive decline present in the later part of the day — particularly signs of stress and confusion. 

Here’s what pet parents need to know about helping their old dogs deal with the symptoms of dog dementia.

What Is Canine Dementia?

Dog dementia, known formally as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (often using the acronym CCD), is a cognitive condition that can affect older dogs. The effects on the brain and the symptoms of the condition closely mimic Alzheimer’s disease or the symptoms of dementia in humans. 

Canine cognitive dysfunction can manifest in many ways, that you may or may not notice right away. 

What Causes Canine Dementia?

Veterinary research hasn’t uncovered the cause of canine dementia. Changes in cognitive function in the brain happen as a dog ages; sometimes, these changes can cause health problems like cognitive dysfunction. Dogs who have experienced brain injuries or brain tumors may be more prone to developing cognitive dysfunction as they age.

Canine cognitive dysfunction seems to be more common in smaller dogs. This correlation likely has less to do with the breed and more with a small dog’s lifespan. 

Small dogs can live twice as long as larger breeds of dogs. The longer a dog lives, the more extensive their aging process will be. This lifespan can increase the chances of a dog developing an age-related illness.

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Dog Dementia?

Symptoms of dog dementia aren’t always obvious at first. Sometimes, they’re so mild that pet parents don’t notice their dog’s behavioral changes in the early stages. Symptoms of dog dementia tend to come on slowly, progressing with time.

  • Your dog may forget basic things, like tricks and house training
  • Your dog might stop responding to their name
  • Your dog may become disoriented or seem lost in familiar places
  • Your dog can not seem to recognize you or your family
  • Your dog may wander around without a clear purpose
  • Your dog might seem irritable or anxious without a reason
  • Your dog may frequently bark or vocalize without any clear cause
  • Your dog might stare at a wall or an inanimate object for long periods
  • Your dog’s eating, sleep-wake cycle, activity levels, and playing patterns can change

About half of dogs over 11 years old will have some degree of cognitive dysfunction due to aging. It’s similar to how older adults may open the refrigerator and forget what they wanted to grab or lose the TV remote for a little while. 

If a dog owner notices very mild signs of cognitive dysfunction, they should address them with their veterinarian before they become serious. Early intervention will ensure that your dog receives the best care possible. 

When Should I See a Veterinarian About Canine Dementia?

Senior dogs should regularly attend checkups with their veterinarian. Most veterinarians recommend two wellness checks a year. 

Your veterinarian may recommend more checkups to assure your dog’s health as they age. It’s important to take symptoms and signs of potential health conditions very seriously for dogs of any age, but seniors are often more vulnerable. 

If you believe your dog is showing signs of canine cognitive dysfunction, treat the situation like an emergency. Don’t wait until your dog’s next scheduled veterinarian appointment to bring it up. 

Call your veterinarian as soon as possible and explain the situation. Your veterinarian will tell you how to proceed. 

Can Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Be Prevented?

There is no surefire way to prevent canine cognitive dysfunction because veterinarians still don’t know what causes it. Without a known cause, it’s hard to say what may prevent the condition from developing. 

Using the best dog care practices can reduce your dog’s risk of becoming ill or developing a serious condition. Your dog needs to eat a well-balanced diet, get plenty of exercise, and live without excessive stress. 

You can incorporate neuroprotective antioxidants into your dog’s diet if you’re concerned about promoting brain health. There are antioxidant supplements for dogs that can be mixed into their food. 

You can also make homemade dog treats with antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries, blackberries, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Just be sure you’re only using dog-safe foods, and you aren’t giving your dog too many treats.

How Is Dog Dementia Diagnosed?

Dog dementia is often diagnosed through a process of elimination. Some conditions, like separation anxiety or generalized anxiety, manifest in many of the same ways mild canine cognitive dysfunction presents. 

An anxious dog may be irritable, wander aimlessly, or have accidents in the house. They could be terrified of your neighbor’s dog on the other side of the fence or fearful of thunder from an incoming storm.

Your veterinarian must rule out other causes for your dog’s symptoms. The more information you provide, the easier it will be for your veterinarian. If you have videos or photos of your dog’s strange behavior, show them to your veterinarian.

Your veterinarian can use diagnostic tools like an MRI of your dog’s brain to verify a diagnosis of canine cognitive dysfunction. If your dog has canine cognitive dysfunction, they can begin treatment. 

How Is Dog Dementia Treated?

Veterinarians cannot cure dementia, but they can treat it. Dogs with canine dementia won’t experience a significant turnaround, but you may be able to stop or slow its progression. Early intervention is key for improving your dog’s outcome and helping them enjoy a better quality of life in their senior years.


Dogs can take a drug called selegiline to treat symptoms of cognitive decline. This drug can treat Parkinson’s disease in humans, and it’s FDA-approved to treat similar conditions in dogs. Selegiline is sold under the brand name Anipryl.

This medication requires a prescription. Ask your veterinarian if medication is the right choice for your dog. 

Giving Your Dog a Healthy Lifestyle

Eliminating sources of stress and encouraging exercise are very important for dogs experiencing cognitive dysfunction. Avoid making any major changes around your home. 

Keep your dog’s bed and dishes in the same place to avoid further confusion. Avoid bringing your dog to unfamiliar places and support their sleep patterns. Giving your dog opportunities for mental stimulation, enrichment, and social interaction can help keep them sharp, similar to humans. 

Diet Changes

Your dog needs to eat a nutrient-rich diet. Switch to high-quality dog food and consider incorporating fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid supplements into your dog’s nutritional diet to support brain health. MCT oil, or medium chain triglycerides, are thought to help support brain function. 

Promoting Comfort

Dogs with dementia or symptoms of sundowning may have difficulty getting comfortable or going to sleep. Make sure your dog’s bed is comfortable and keep your house calm when your dog needs a nap. If your dog still has trouble getting comfortable, you can try ElleVet CBD + CBDA.

ElleVet CBD + CBDA is clinically proven to soothe the stress response in dogs. It can also help to support quality sleep and soothe joint discomfort. ElleVet has been shown to help with sundowning behaviors and when given twice a day can help an older dog to settle down and get a good, restful sleep at night, setting them up for success.

ElleVet can help with a variety of senior dog issues, including cognitive support so adding CBD + CBDA to your old dog’s daily regimen can help them enjoy the best possible quality of life in their golden years. 

Caring for My Dog With Canine Dementia

Many dogs with canine dementia can enjoy a good quality of life in their senior years if you intervene when you spot the signs in your dog’s behavior and follow your veterinarian’s advice. Your veterinarian will be able to give you the information you need to make important decisions regarding your dog’s health.


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