How to Tell If a Dog Has Dementia

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Common signs of dementia or canine cognitive dysfunction in aging dogs include changes in sleeping patterns, confusion and inappropriate elimination. Canine cognitive syndrome is a serious thought processing issue in dogs that has a lot in common with Alzheimer's disease in people.

Behavioral Changes

Older dogs who develop dementia often display conspicuous changes in behavior. Some examples of these changes include:

  • Reduced interest in playtime.
  • Severe irritability.
  • Fidgety behavior.
  • Nervousness.
  • Increased licking.
  • Withdrawn behavior.
  • Decreased desire for attention from people.
  • Reduced enthusiasm around people.
  • Absence of greeting behaviors. 
  • Reluctance to consume water, food and treats.
  • Excessive vocalization such as nighttime barking. 

Sleep and Activity Changes

Shifts in sleep patterns and activity levels are also common in dogs who have canine cognitive dysfunction. Signs to look out for are:

  • Excessive daytime sleeping.
  • Lack of nighttime sleeping.
  • Reduced purposeful activities.
  • More purposeless activities such as pacing. 

Confusion and Disorientation

Confusion and disorientation are both often characteristic of dogs suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction. Typical symptoms of disorientation include:

  • Pointless wandering.
  • Trouble locating the door.
  • Getting trapped in the back of furniture.
  • Gazing blankly off into the distance.
  • Seeming lost in familiar settings.
  • Lack of recognition of familiar individuals.
  • Lack of responsiveness to names and old commands.
  • Problems remembering new routes and commands.  

Other Common Symptoms

Other key signs of canine cognitive dysfunction are:

  • Trouble hearing.
  • Trembling.
  • Feebleness.
  • Rigidity.
  • Panting.
  • Urinary incontinence.
  • Fecal incontinence.
  • Excessive water intake.
  • Frequent urination. 

Note that not all canines who have canine cognitive dysfunction necessarily exhibit all of these symptoms.

Veterinary Evaluations

Never make assumptions about your dog's symptoms. If your older dog's activity levels have dropped, for example, severe arthritis could be the cause rather than canine cognitive dysfunction. If he seems to pay less attention to you and to his surroundings, problems with hearing or eyesight could be to blame. Schedule an appointment with the veterinarian as soon as you notice potential symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction. Your veterinarian will diagnose canine cognitive dysfunction by performing complete a physical examination and suitable laboratory tests such as urine and blood tests.

Although canine cognitive dysfunction is rarely life-threatening in dogs, the condition can greatly influence the relationships pets share with their owners. If your dog is elderly, take him to the veterinarian twice annually to check for the condition regardless of whether or not he's showing symptoms. This is important because the disease can advance rapidly.

Common Treatments

Common options for managing canine cognitive dysfunction include dopamine-boosting medication, behavioral therapy, diets that are designed to enhance cognitive function, increased physical activity and increased mental enrichment in the forms of agility training and stimulating food puzzles.

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