Dementia in Dogs (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction): Symptoms, Causes, Management, Treatment

Feb 10, 2021

Dementia in Dogs (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction): Symptoms, Causes, Management, Treatment

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) / Dementia in dogs is an age-related condition affecting the brain of senior dogs. With time, affected dogs will experience cognitive decline and experience deficits in memory and learning, decreased perception, changes in sleeping patterns, poor response to stimuli, and lack of spatial awareness.

In the early stage of the dog dementia disorder, the symptoms are mild but gradually progresses over time. Signs of cognitive dysfunction, such as a decline in memory and learning ability, usually start to manifest in affected dogs at about 7 years of age.

Causes of Dog Dementia

The exact causes of dog dementia have not been fully established. Mostt experts believe that with aging, the brain cells die leading to atrophy of the brain. As brain cells die, there is a significant effect on brain function. Dementia may also be caused by small strokes suffered by the dog.

Symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

The symptoms of dog dementia are typically grouped into 5 categories using the acronym DISHAA which refers to:


Dogs with dementia tend to get lost even in places that are familiar to them. Also, they may not recognize familiar people.


There is a distinct change in the social interactions between the affected dog and members of the household or between the dog and other household pets. 

Sleep-wake Cycle Changes

A dog with dementia may have changes to their sleep-wake cycles which can lead to them sleeping more during the daytime, being awake at nighttime, or experiencing irregular sleep-wake cycles.

House Soiling

Dogs that have been very well housetrained may start to commit potty accidents around the home because of the cognitive dysfunction.

Activity Level Changes

During the early stages of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, the dog may have a decreased interest in play and he may not be as active as before. However some dogs can become restless and may wander aimlessly. They may also engage in repetitive compulsive behaviors, such as licking.

Anxiety and Agitation

Some dogs may express their anxiety by vocalizing and barking more. Some dogs become more clingy to their pet parent. There may be the emergence of new fears or phobias exhibited by a dog with dementia.

Dogs with dementia may also experience a decline in memory and learning. They may be unable to remember and do tasks that they have been previously taught. They also have a decreased ability to adjust. Thus, if there are changes in the household’s daily routine, the senior dog may be unable to adapt or learn quickly.

Management & Treatment of Dog Dementia

Once a dog has been diagnosed with canine cognitive dysfunction, he will need lifelong therapy and support. While these won’t cure or reverse the condition, they can help improve the dog’s cognitive functions, help to slow down cognitive decline and improve their quality of life.

It’s important to note that early CCD managment / treatment tends to be most effective at slowing down the cognitive decline when started early.

Aside from medical intervention, pet owners play an important role in helping slow down the progression of their dogs’ cognitive decline. This typically involves regular physical activity, play, and re-training. Some ways to maintain a healthy and stimulating environment for dogs with cognitive dysfunction include the following:

  •  Invest in a comfortable orthopedic foam bed to promote better sleep.
  • Potty pads provide alternative places to go if your pet needs a sudden urge to go.
  • Dog memory play puzzels 


Selegiline (Anipryl® Pfizer Animal Health) is a drug that has been FDA licensed for the treatment of cognitive decline in dogs in North America. It functions to help reduce the breakdown of dopamine in the brain thus making dopamine more effective. The drug has been shown to improve symptoms of CCD in most dogs however not all.

Therapeutic Prescription Diets

Special prescription diets are formulated to contain ingredients that can protect against and possibly reverse brain damage caused by free radicals. Special diets prescribed by veterinarians have been shown to improve the senior dog’s learning ability and memory and alleviate many of the symptoms of CCD. These diets usually contain antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium, choline, Omega-3 EPA & DHA essential fatty acids, and a variety of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables.


Nutritional supplements have also been used to help improve symptoms and slow down the decline of CCD. Supplements that are commonly recommended for dogs diagnosed with the condition include:

  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin C
  • Selenium
  • Flavonoids
  • Beta carotene
  • Carotenoids
  • Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids EPA & DHA
  • L-Carnitine
  • Pyridoxine
  • Gingko Biloba
  • Co-enzyme Q10
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
  • SAMe ( S-adenosyl-L-methionine)

Dietary Nutritional Supplements such as WellyTails Senior Dog Care complement the use of behavioral enrichment, medication, diet, and environmental management to treat CCD or dog dementia. Supplements that contain several ingredients tend to provide more benefit because of the additive or synergistic effects of the ingredients.

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