Can Dog's Get Dementia?

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. August 29, 2019
Can Dog's Get Dementia?

See files for Dogs

Thanks to developments in veterinary medicine and better understanding of their care needs, dogs are living longer. While we can't expect every dog to reach this mark, it is becoming more common for dogs to live 18 years or longer. With this extended life expectancy comes some specific consequences. We can see that senior dogs are suffering from joint problems, energy depletion and other physical problems similar to those which occur in humans. However, not everyone has considered the neurological effects of aging on dogs. This leads us to the question, can dogs get dementia?

AnimalWised looks into dog dementia and other possible neurodegenerative problems in canines. If you have an older dog, it is important to look at all possible symptoms to ensure behavioral changes are not due to a different issue.

You may also be interested in: My Senior Dog Is Pacing and Won't Lie Down

What is canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD)?

Dementia is a broad term for many brain diseases which prevent the brain from functioning properly. The outcome is not only a problem with brain function, but also behavior and other bodily functions. Dog dementia is essentially the same. It is a neurological deterioration which leads to behavioral and health problems. However, how it manifests will be different.

Most humans communicate verbally, allowing for a certain clarity when talking to others. Behaviors are developed and very specific to the individual. Canines are also all individuals and have certain behaviors which can astound us. However, they do not have the advanced functions most humans are able to carry out. Nor do they have the ability to communicate verbally.

When a dog develops canine dementia, then it can be difficult to determine at first. Their confusion may not be as evident because we can struggle to see how their abnormal behaviors manifest themselves.

There are also many human studies which have been able to determine different types of dementia. This is why dog dementia is often referred to as Alzheimer's disease. However, this is not technically accurate. Veterinary medicine, therefore, refers to dog dementia as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) or canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).

When dogs age, they will naturally deteriorate in many different ways. This is why caring for a senior dog is different to younger animals. Dogs will enter old age after 7 years, depending on the breed and individual. However, the process of aging can be extended so CCD may not occur until they are significantly older. Dogs which develop dementia most commonly do so between the ages of 11 and 15 years. While it may not be as studied as human Alzheimer's disease, dog dementia will eventually provide detectable symptoms.

Can Dog's Get Dementia? - What is canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD)?

Symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction

As we state above, most of the problems associated with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome are related to behavior. However, there are physiological symptoms which affect the dogs also. Here is what to look out for if you worry your pet is suffering from dog dementia:

  • Behavioral changes: when you come home, it is common for dogs to get excited by our arrival. A dog suffering dementia may not do this as often or even be confused who we are. They may stop responding to calls, be confused by certain commands or forget how to do tricks which were once easy for them. This is different than behavioral changes which may occur simply due to aging.
  • Disorientation: your dog may walk around aimlessly, confused as to where they are supposed to be or where they are supposed to be going. When out walking, they may get lost as they are unsure where they are. Running away is not the only concern with dog dementia. When a dog is suffering CCD, they may bbe so confused they do not want to get up from one place. This is often due to the fear they experience as their cognitive function diminishes.
  • Abnormal sleep: dogs like routine, but dogs suffering from CCD may have theirs altered. They may not sleep as well as before or have different sleeping patterns.
  • Loose interest: dogs may enjoy certain activities such as playing with a ball or being groomed. Dogs with CCD may lose interest in these activities and reduce their general activity altogether. They may also not enjoy playing with certain toys they loved before or forget the social hierarchy of a family. This should not be confused with dog depression.
  • Incontinence: as dogs with canine dementia may forget certain commands, they may also forget their toilet training. This means they urinate or defecate in the home, something they haven't done since they were puppies. However, it is also very important to ensure incontinence is not a symptom of another medical problem, particularly lose exacerbated by old age.
  • Appetite changes: most dogs have a healthy appetite and enjoy eating. Dogs which suffer dementia may either eat too much food or too little. Again, loss of appetite can be a symptom of various physical and psychological problems.

Since we need to be careful not to mistake symptoms of one disease for another. For this reason, we need to take our do to a qualified veterinarian to achieve an accurate diagnosis. They will confirm the presence of canine cognitive dysfunction as well as provide treatment information.

Causes of canine cognitive dysfunction

As with human dementia such as Alzheimer's disease, the exact cause is difficult to determine. Researchers have suggested there may be some genetic factors in leading to CCD. What we do know is that CCD leads to the build of a protein known as beta-amyloid in the brain. These protein deposits are known as ‘plaque’, referencing how decay can build up on teeth. in addition, nerve cells die as the dog age. Both of these contribute to reduced cognitive function.

Diagnosing canine cognitive dysfunction in dogs

As the clinical research into CCD is relatively limited, diagnostic tests are similarly limited. A diagnosis of CCD will start with the dog guardian. Behavioral changes should be noted and relayed to a veterinarian who can associate these changes with correlating CCD symptoms. They will issue a questionnaire to ascertain whether the changes are abnormal in senior dogs.

Unfortunately this diagnosis relies on awareness of cognitive issues in dogs which is limited. According to the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, even many veterinary professionals are unaware of CCD and its extent[1]. The result is less than 2% of dogs with the disease being diagnosed[2]. This is one of the reasons many people still ask, “can dogs get dementia?”

There are also differing methods of diagnosis. Gauging behavioral changes will depend on the individual owner's ability to differentiate symptoms as well as the veterinarian's experience. Some veterinary clinics with more advanced knowledge might use neuropsychological tests to monitor motor and sensory responses to commands. Without some more in-depth analysis, it can be difficult to determine what is CCD and what is normal psychological and physiological decline due to aging[3].

Can Dog's Get Dementia? - Causes of canine cognitive dysfunction

Treatment of dog dementia or CCD

An accurate diagnosis can only be reached by a veterinarian, but even this may not be enough, so they should refer you to a specialist. Whoever the professional, it is important to know there is no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction. Treatment relies on managing and lessening the effects of symptoms.

One of the most important treatment methods is practical, something which is similar to Alzheimer's treatment in humans. As the dog will become more confused, you should make their environment less confusing. If you have a cluttered home, you should reduce the clutter as much as possible. This allows the dog to manoeuvre through the home more easily and reducing disorientation.

You should also reinforce their routine by sticking to meal times, taking them out for exercise at the same time and spending an appropriate amount of time with them. Although you need to keep to a routine, it is believed an increase in exercise and cognitive games (e.g. using toys or playing intelligence games) will help lessen the effects of CCD.

Another important treatment option which can positively influence dog dementia symptoms is diet. While some recommend the use of natural diets for dogs, this treatment does not have sufficient scientific backing to prove effectiveness. It also runs the risk of denying vital nutrition for the dog at a vulnerable stage in their life.

Some research has seen positive responses in the use of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) supplemented in a dog's diet. The amount added affected how appetizing the food was for the dogs in the study. The study[4] was carried out by the commercial dog food company Purina, but was done so in conjunction with CanCog Technologies, a Canadian research organization which carries out work in compliance with Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC)[5]. The result is at least the potential that diet can alleviate symptoms, although further research is required to know exactly what diet can benefit dogs with dementia.

The most important factor in caring for a dog with dementia is to provide lots of love. If they feel insecure or unsafe, then you will need to do your best to provide reassurance and comfort. To best care for dogs with CCD, you can look at the following articles on caring for senior dogs:

In these articles you can find important information about taking better care of your elderly dog. They provide practical tips to keep them stimulated and to help care for a body which is deteriorating.

How long can a dog live with dementia?

After knowing whether dogs can get dementia, one of the biggest questions involves life expectancy. Due to so many undiagnosed cases and a lack of conclusive research, this is a difficult question to answer. Each individual case will have its own factors determining dog dementia life expectancy. However, some reports suggest that dogs with diagnosed CCD may live longer thanks to the increased medical attention they receive.

Whether a dog lives longer with CCD, the big question involves quality of life. A dog with CCD may be disorientated or forgetful, but this does not mean they will have an unhappy life. Unfortunately, as the disease progresses, this quality of life is likely to diminish. This leads to guardians wanting to know when to put a dog with dementia down. As with any canine euthanasia issue, it will depend on the individual dog and the circumstances around it. This is particularly the case if aggression in the dog arises. If you are worried about life expectancy for a dog with dementia, speak to your veterinarian so you can consider the best options for them.

If you want to read similar articles to Can Dog's Get Dementia?, we recommend you visit our Geriatrics category.


1. Cain, S., & Cain, M. (n.d.) Dogs get dementia? Yes they do... Retrieved August 30, 2019, from

2. Benzal, A. S., & Rogríguez, A. G. (2016). Recent developments in Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. Pet Behavior Science, 1, 47-59.

3. Chapagain, D., et al. (2018). Cognitive Aging in Dogs. Gerontology, 64:2, 165-171.

4. Pan, Y., Landsberg, G., Mougeot, I., et al. (2018). Efficacy of a Therapeutic Diet on Dogs With Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS): A Prospective Double Blinded Placebo Controlled Clinical Study. Frontiers in Nutrition, Dec. 2018.

5. CanCog Technologies. (n.d.) About Us. Retrieved August 30, 2019, from

Write a comment

Add an image
Click to attach a photo related to your comment
What did you think of this article?
Can Dog's Get Dementia?
1 of 3
Can Dog's Get Dementia?

Back to top