Can Dogs Really Get Dementia? The short answer is, yes, but it’s called something different for dogs–canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD).
We can talk about our dogs all day long, but this is one topic that we don’t even want to think about. It’s the fact that our furry life partners are getting older. And we definitely don’t want to hear that on top of that, they can also get the doggy version of dementia.
You were probably in shock the first time you heard your vet say the words, “senior dog,” and you probably also stopped them to make sure they were talking about your precious pup. But now, you’ve started noticing a few changes, and you don’t know if this is normal aging or the whole doggy dementia thing.
We’ll answer all your questions about these changes in senior dogs, but first, let’s talk about what we even mean by “senior.”
Is My Dog Even a Senior Dog?
Everyone knows that dogs age faster than humans, but we’re kind of in denial about it when it comes to our own dog. When people ask us how old our pooch is, we keep saying “oh, around 8!” for about 4 years. And then you see their real age on the vet bill, and your vet is asking if they’re eating a senior diet.
So what is the age range for senior dogs? It depends on the size. Small dogs are considered seniors at around 10 or 11 years, medium-size dogs around age 9-10, and large breeds as early as 7-8.
Can Dogs Really Get Dementia?
The short answer is, yes, but it’s called something different for dogs–canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). It’s a cognitive disorder that relates to the aging of a dog’s brain. The signs in dogs are very similar to the signs you would see in a person with Alzheimer’s. You may notice changes in your dog’s behavior or ability to comprehend things they used to.
Studies have shown that around 23% of dogs over the age of 9 have signs of cognitive decline, and the percentage goes up to 28% when they hit age 11-12, and 68% at age 15-16. So unfortunately, you do have to consider the possibility that your dog could develop CCD.
Dog Dementia Symptoms
Let’s talk about the signs you should be looking for when it comes to doggy dementia. Here’s the general list, but you know your dog best, so if you think something’s wrong, you may be right.
- Wandering around with no purpose or destination
- Seeming disoriented or confused
- Forgetting commands they used to know
- Different sleeping habits
- Blank stare
- Not reacting when you call their name
- Loss of appetite
- Not keeping themselves groomed (if they used to)
- No interest in playtime or interaction with you
- Anxiety or increased anxiety
- Grouchiness (if they aren’t usually)
- Less active
- Forgetting their housetraining (accidents in the house)
- Barking more than usual
What to Do if You Think Your Dog Has Dementia
If you’re noticing some of these signs, you should get your dog checked out by your vet. The main reason is that while these could be signs of dementia, some are also signs of other illnesses or diseases that can be serious. The only way to know for sure is a thorough exam by a professional who can do some diagnostic tests to rule out other things.
Be patient with your pup, especially if they are having accidents in the house or forgetting commands.
Is There Treatment for Dog Dementia?
CCD can’t be cured, but there is an FDA-approved drug that can be used to improve the symptoms of it. It’s called Anipryl (generic name: selegiline or L-deprenyl), and it works by increasing dopamine levels, an essential neurotransmitter.
You can also ask your vet about specific prescription diets and supplements that are said to help support or improve sleep patterns, learning, and brain function in older dogs. Certain omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins B, C, and E, medium-chain triglycerides, and L-carnitine are just some of the nutrients that could help with CCD symptoms.
Keeping your dog mentally and physically active can also help. This gives you important bonding time with your pup and also helps keep them stimulated. Make sure that the exercises you choose are senior-dog-friendly and low-impact. It could also be as simple as setting up doggy playdates with other senior dogs (that they like!) or taking a walk in a new spot.
Another important note is that you should stick to routines and not make any drastic changes to their environment. This might be difficult, but try to resist rearranging furniture or moving around your dog’s things–even the location of the water bowl or their bed. Be sure to give them more frequent walks or let them out more often for potty breaks.
Can Doggy Dementia Be Prevented?
Sadly, you can’t really prevent CCD, but you can slow down the onset and progress. Here are some tips you can try:
- Get your dog plenty of mentally stimulating toys, like puzzle toys or treat-dispensing toys
- Set aside time to work on new tricks or play new games with your pup
- Take your dog on plenty of walks, and switch up the routes or locations
- Let your dog meet new dogs in the dog park or on playdates
- Ask your vet about a good diet for senior dogs that’s rich in omega-3, antioxidants, and other helpful nutrients
- Go to the vet twice a year for checkups