Dementia in dogs

Have you started to notice some changes in your old furry friend’s behaviour? Maybe they’re starting to walk into furniture or startle easily. You might think these actions simply come with old age, but think again. 

As domesticated dogs are living much longer than their wild counterparts, dementia in dogs is becoming better understood thanks to modern medicine and vet intervention.

What is dog dementia?

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is a cognitive disorder similar to dementia in humans. Better known as dog dementia, it is a condition related to the ageing of a dog’s brain that leads to changes in behaviour and affects memory, learning, and comprehension.

The stats vary depending on where you look, but it’s estimated that by the time your pooch is 15 years old, they have a 68% chance of suffering with CCD.

What are the signs to look out for?

The lifespan of a dog is incredibly sped up in comparison to humans and their 4 stages of life (puppy, adolescent, adult and senior) move so quickly. The onset of dementia in dogs is much faster compared to humans, so it can sometimes feel as if these symptoms have popped up overnight.

Many of these signs and symptoms are synonymous with old age, so it can be hard to determine whether it is dog dementia. Early detection is important, so if you notice these symptoms going from mild to severe in a short amount of time, it’s best to reach out to your vet.

Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Disorientation and confusion - your dog may appear lost or confused in familiar surroundings
  • Anxiety - crying out and unable to be consoled
  • Failing to remember routines, rules and training - such as incontinence accidents
  • Not responding to their name or familiar commands
  • Extreme irritability
  • Reduced desire to play
  • Wandering aimlessly
  • Staring blankly at walls or at nothing
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in sleep cycle such as night waking and/or sleeping during the day

Awareness of dementia in dogs

Most of us are aware of and understand dementia and Alzheimer’s in humans, but there is a huge lack of awareness about CCD in the canine community, meaning many pooches go undiagnosed.

Physical diseases such as diabetes or liver disease are more obvious with their physical symptoms, so they’re easier for dog owners to understand. It’s almost more difficult when your furry friend’s mind is unwell, as sometimes they might be completely themselves, but other times they’ll act like a totally different dog who’s scared, confused and reactive. 

Caring for your dog with dementia

Unfortunately there isn’t a cure for CCD. Some vets may prescribe medication, lifestyle changes or supplements as treatment to help manage the symptoms.

Caring for your pooch with dementia is essentially making their life as easy and comfortable, as well as keeping them engaged and occupied. Try to keep their mind stimulated by getting them outside and playing games. Use short and simple commands so they’re easy to understand. Sticking to the same routines can be an essential part of their treatment, as well as providing lots of love, pats and cuddles.

When is the right time to say goodbye?

Putting your dog down is an excruciating decision to make, however may be necessary during the severe stages of CCD. If your dog no longer recognises you and is constantly distraught or reactive, these may be signs of how much pain and suffering their mind is in and they're losing their quality of life. It is devastating and difficult to say goodbye, but it may be the best decision for them. 

It’s time to contact your vet if you start to notice these warning signs. It’s also 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. We can even provide you a specialist animal loss counsellor to help you through this difficult time.