Cognitive dysfunction in dogs

As dogs age, they may experience brain changes similar to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia in people. Other medical conditions can often mimic cognitive dysfunction or occur concurrently with the syndrome.

Cognitive dysfunction is often underdiagnosed because pet owners assume behaviour changes are a result of normal ageing.  

What are common cognitive dysfunction signs in dogs?

Early signs include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Increased barking or panting
  • Increased anxiety
  • Decreased or increased activity

Intermediate to advanced signs include: 

  • Unexplained vision loss, or sense of smell
  • Altered interactions with you or other pets
  • Disorientation and aimless wandering
  • Memory loss
  • Urination or defecation in the house

Barking can be a sign of cognitive dysfunction in dogs.


How is cognitive dysfunction managed in dogs?  

A combination of diet, medication and supplements can be effective in improving signs and slowing the progression of cognitive dysfunction. Mental stimulation, such as training, play, exercise, and puzzle toys, are also essential for maintaining brain health. 

Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist is important for the best outcome for your dog.

What is the prognosis for dogs with cognitive dysfunction?

Cognitive dysfunction is a progressive disease that will eventually lead to a decreased quality of life for your dog. The prognosis depends on early detection and intervention to slow further decline and your dog’s response to a multi-modal treatment plan. 

Management tips for dogs with cognitive dysfunction

At-home needs include:

  • Easy access to food, water, and a comfortable location
  • Consistency with medication and supplements
  • Prescription diets that promote brain function
  • Separation from other animals to avoid altercations or injury
  • Exercise and activities for brain stimulation
  • A predictable routine
  • Modified surfaces to increase traction
  • Night lights, ramps or stairs and safety gates
  • Dog nappies and potty pads, if needed

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog suddenly collapses, loses consciousness, has seizures or difficulty breathing, behaves aggressively, or vocalises in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable, or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services, and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be paid in installments to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website goodbyegoodboy.com.au.



This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.