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How to Know If Your Dog Has Dementia

How to Know If Your Dog Has Dementia

Fondly known as the “golden years,” few seniors of the human species would agree that creaky bones, the effects of gravity, and memory lapses are the upside of growing old. And if they had their chance to weigh in on it, dogs would most likely agree with us.

Like people, dogs are living longer, and the reality of dealing with senior dogs and their potential health issues has arrived for dog owners. Only first diagnosed in the relatively recent 1990s, dogs with cognitive impairment are now common.People are often surprised that their pets can develop something like human Alzheimer’s. But really, our brains are not that different from dogs’.

A diagnosis of dementia for any member of the family is devastating. But when this disease affects your dog, it’s uniquely disturbing, because you may not have known that dogs could get dementia. In many cases, the onslaught of the disease is so subtle you won’t notice any change; then it creeps up gradually. Within six to 18 months, obvious signs of dementia appear incrementally.

Dog dementia symptoms

Many dog owners are not aware that dogs can even have dementia, since the disease in dogs is relatively under-researched, under-reported, and under-diagnosed. So when their dog starts acting oddly, they often don’t associate it with the symptoms of dementia, but instead chalk it up to behavioral issues, natural aging, or even senility.

Dementia does not go away or lessen in intensity; it only becomes progressively worse. Distinguished by dysfunction in memory, cognition, and behavior, it eventually culminates in the loss of all higher brain functions. Therefore, it’s crucial to have your dog examined by your veterinarian if you observe specific abnormal or bizarre behaviors. Once a diagnosis of dementia is confirmed, treatments are available that will help your dog enjoy a quality of life, but, sadly, there is no cure.

Once your dog becomes a senior — seven years old for medium- to large-size dogs, six for giant breeds, and about 10 years of age for small and toy dogs — they are more susceptible to dementia. Be on the lookout for any quirky behaviors and these signs of canine cognitive dysfunction, aka dog dementia:

  • Getting stuck behind furniture and needing help to get out.
  • Walking in circles.
  • Barking for no apparent reason.
  • Soiling in the house frequently or forgetting housetraining altogether.
  • Staring at the walls or into space.
  • Standing in a corner facing the wall.
  • When waiting on the other side of a door until you return, or needing to go out, your dog focuses on the hinge side of the door rather than where it opens.
  • Acting distant.
  • Forgetting what she is doing.
  • Forgetting where you, her favorite person, is — then finding you and greeting you — then forgetting again and wandering off to look for you in the kitchen, for instance, even though a moment before she was greeting you in the den. Then, finding and greeting you again, and so on.
  • Purposefully walking in one direction, say, down the hall, then stopping and standing in place wondering where she was headed.
  • Agitation.
  • Mood swings or disorders.
  • Anxiety.
  • Change in sleeping habits.
  • General disorientation.
  • Changed interactions with people and other pets. For example, your once-social butterfly becomes cranky, irritable, and less friendly with people she knows. Or she seems less interested in petting or affection or, conversely, overly affectionate.
  • Distinct personality changes.
  • Altered response to stimuli.
  • A ceasing of exploration of the world.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Trouble eating or drinking; for example, not able to find the bowl, aim the mouth, or hold food in her mouth.
  • Depression.
  • A seeming unfamiliarity with familiar people or other pets.
  • Not coming when called, or appearing to have forgotten her name.