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Dog Dementia: 17 Signs, Treatment Options and How to Help Your Dog   

dog dementia

Did you know that studies show 28% of dogs aged between 11 and 12 years have at least one symptom of dog dementia? That figure rises to 68% in dogs over 15. Just like humans, dementia affects dogs as they age, but what are the symptoms? How does dog dementia differ from the signs of old age or illness?

In this article, we discuss the signs of dog dementia, treatment options and how you can help your dog deal with the symptoms.   

Dog Dementia  

What is dog dementia?  

Sometimes called canine cognitive dysfunction, dog dementia affects all breeds of dog. It is associated with a continuing decrease in brain function. It affects memory, thinking, and awareness of the environment. As a result, dogs with dementia behave differently. They may become restless or anxious because they’re confused, some forget their training and others may bark more than usual or sleep for longer periods during the day.   

You can’t cure dog dementia, but there are things you can do to help your dog to stop the symptoms worsening. But first, what are the signs?  

17 Symptoms of Dementia in Dogs  

Experts use the acronym DISHAAL to describe symptoms of dog dementia:  

  • Disorientation  

  • Interaction changes  

  • Sleep/Wake Cycle Disturbances  

  • House soiling  

  • Activity changes  

  • Anxiety  

  • Learning/Memory changes  


These symptoms manifest in different ways:


  1. Stares into space when there’s nothing there  

  2. Shows repetitive behaviours (chasing tail)  

  3. Forgets the way home from regular walks  

  4. Barks more without an obvious cause  

  5. Gets anxious and whines more for no reason  

  6. Struggles to navigate around the house  

  7. Doesn’t respond to commands  

  8. Is restless at night and cannot settle down  

  9. Doesn’t recognise you or familiar people  

  10. Doesn’t recognise familiar animals  

  11. Gets aggressive when they are usually placid  

  12. Gets fearful when they are usually confident  

  13. Does not ask to go out  

  14. Urinates or defecates inside  

  15. More anxious when owners leave them alone  

  16. Wants to sleep for longer  

  17. Doesn’t want to go for walks  

What causes dog dementia?  

Changes in the brain, which lead to a decline in brain function, cause dementia. Typically, ageing is associated with dementia. In a functioning brain, nerve cells fire off signals that relay information throughout our brain and different parts of our body. With dementia, these signals get blocked, and our brain cannot work as efficiently.   

Treatment options if your dog has dementia  

Dementia is not curable, as the disease will progress. However, there are several treatment options which may halt the speed of the disease.  


A vet can prescribe selegiline hydrochloride. This reduces the formation of free radicals and increases antioxidant activity. Dogs taking this medication had raised activity levels, better control over their toileting and improvement in sleep-wake cycles.  


There are supplements available which contain antioxidants, essential fatty acids, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) vitamins and amino acids. Again, your vet will help you choose the best one for your dog.   


A pheromone pump, spray or collar can help with anxious dogs. You can buy these online or from pet stores.   


Choose a diet high in antioxidants (to reduce the production of harmful oxidants) and high in nutrients (helps clear oxidants).   

Food high in antioxidants:   

Beta Carotene (helps reduce free radicals): sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy green vegetables, butternut squash, broccoli   

Polyphenols (helps reduce free radicals): blueberries, turmeric, apples, spinach  

Vitamin B (Helps blood flow to the brain): salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, liver  

Vitamin C (protects against memory loss): kale, broccoli, red peppers  

Vitamin E (protects against harmful oxidants): salmon, cod, butternut squash, red peppers, broccoli, spinach   

How to care for a dog with dementia  

If you suspect your dog has dementia, take them to a vet to get a proper diagnosis. Many symptoms of dog dementia can be confused with old age or illness. However, there are things you can do to relieve their symptoms and make them more comfortable. 

Stick to a routine  

Dogs with dementia find comfort in what’s familiar. You can make sure you feed them at a regular time during the day, take them for walks and settle them at night at the same time.   

Don’t make sudden changes  

Dogs may get confused if you suddenly change their environment without warning. For instance, don’t change room layouts unless you must (do it gradually) or their sleeping area.   

Spend quality time with your dog  

Most dogs love being fussed over, so stroking or massaging a dog with dementia is a lovely way of remaining close to your pet. It strengthens your bond and helps the dog at the same time.   

Don’t have strangers coming to the house  

As dogs age, their eyesight and hearing may go, but their sense of smell is still working. They’ll be used to your smell, but unusual ones may make them anxious. Keep visitors to the house at a minimum.   

Make a safe place for your dog  

Create a safe place for your dog if they get anxious. Crates covered with a blanket with a soft bed inside and something that smells of you will help relax your dog.   

Don’t get angry if they become incontinent  

Incontinence is upsetting for you and your dog, but they are not responsible and they’re not doing it on purpose. Don’t get upset if they have an accident indoors. Clean it thoroughly and leave a training pad where they’ve soiled the floor.   

Take them outside regularly for their toilet  

You can aid a dog who is incontinent by taking them outside at regular intervals so they can relieve themselves.   

Try short, regular walks on a lead  

Anxious dogs feel more secure when their owner attaches a lead to them. This builds their confidence. Walk slowly with your dog, allowing them to sniff out interesting smells as you walk. This mental stimulation is just as important as diet.   

Understand your dog may act differently  

Dogs with dementia can be unpredictable and show signs of aggression where previously they were placid. Be aware there’s a potential for a sudden change in behaviour and keep yourself and others safe.   


It’s distressing for the dog and the owner when their dog has dementia. Our advice is to be patient and kind, pamper your dog and make its final years as stress-free and comfortable as possible.   




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