Understanding Dog Dementia

Posted on: 24 November 2015

Many people begin to show the symptoms of dementia as they get older, but did you know that dementia can affect dogs too?  So, how do you know if your dog has dementia and how can your vet clinic offer any treatment for your pet?  Read on to find out more.

Dementia and dogs

Elderly dogs can suffer from a condition known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), commonly referred to as animal dementia.  The signs of CDS usually begin to appear in dogs over 11 years of age and vary in intensity from minor to life altering.  Common behavioural signs of CDS include:

  • random barking or whining, often during the night
  • repeatedly pacing back and forth
  • forgetting toilet-training
  • not responding when you call their name
  • appearing confused, staring into space or at the wall in front of them
  • squeezing into small spaces and staying there
  • being easily startled or displaying signs of anxiety
  • getting lost in familiar places
  • falling off things or struggling to climb stairs
  • sleeping heavily during the day and being wakeful at nights
  • losing interest in play and games

Fortunately, CDS doesn't cause your pet any pain, and unlike human dementia sufferers who find losing their independence upsetting, your dog already relies on you for food, comfort and routine.

Can your vet treat your dog's CDS?

If your dog begins to show any of the symptoms listed above, you should take him to see your vet; there are other medical conditions that could cause some of these problems and it's important that these are ruled out as soon as possible by an expert.

Although there is no cure for CDS, there are drugs available that your vet can prescribe to help your pet cope with the condition and to manage it.  For example, medication is available that can slow down the progression of CDS, or manage single symptoms like anxiety or insomnia.

What can you do to help your dog cope with CDS?

Keeping your pet mentally active can help to slow down the onset of CDS.  It's important to exercise your dog regularly and to engage him in gentle games.  Simple obedience training reinforced positively with treat rewards can be useful too, for example sit, stay and come to heel.  Even if your dog's senses of hearing and sight are not as good as they once were, his sense of smell will still be acute.  You can utilise this to stimulate him by including food puzzle toys and nose-work into his playtime, like hiding treats for him to find by scent, for example.

Try to keep your dog's daily routine regular, and be careful not to startle him.  Keep visits to strange places to a minimum so that your dog doesn't become stressed, and if possible, avoid placing him in boarding kennels. 

Give your dog plenty of opportunity to relieve himself during the day, and don't become annoyed with him if he has an occasional accident.  At night, line your dog's bed and protect the area around it with absorbent puppy pads, (available from pet stores or from your vet), just in case of accidents. 

In conclusion

Although the signs of CDS in dogs can be upsetting for owners, there's no reason your pet can't continue to enjoy a good quality of life as he gets older.  If you're concerned that your dog might be displaying signs of CDS, have a chat with your vet for further advice.