Skip to main content

PawTracks may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

How to treat dog dementia for a happy pet

As pets age, you’re bound to encounter some new experiences, including evolving medical needs like incontinence and dementia. Although one may be familiar with the way dementia works in people, it’s not as straightforward when you can’t communicate with your pet in words. Caring for a dog with dementia might seem overwhelming, but both you and your pet are more than capable of adapting.

Of course, your best resource for dementia-related needs is your dog’s trusted veterinarian. They’ll have the most appropriate guidance based on your dog’s specific experiences, which will make your work much easier. But until then, here’s what you need to know about taking care of a dog with dementia.

What is dog dementia?

Dog dementia — also known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) — is a degenerative neurological disorder that affects many geriatric pets, including dogs. It can cause confusion, anxiety, and a shift in your pup’s circadian rhythm (what helps her sleep at night and stay awake during daylight hours). These are many of the same symptoms seen in people with dementia.

Here’s the difference — one that often catches owners by surprise: CCD is often fast acting. Veterinarian Cameron Fay explains to ABC Australia, “With dogs and cats, everything is in fast-forward. You’ve got a puppy, then an adult dog … a senior, and finally the geriatric. And that happens in a short space of time. Sometimes it’s a matter of months [where] you can see that mental decline in them.”

a senior black french bulldog lies in a fluffy gray bed

Symptoms of canine dementia

Hill’s Pet provides a helpful list of symptoms and signs to look out for as your dog ages: DISH.

  • Disorientation. This can include wandering, pacing, becoming lost in familiar places, getting stuck in or around furniture, and not responding to name or commands.
  • Interaction. This can include unfamiliarity with people and animals they know, less interested in interaction, and no longer greeting family members.
  • Sleep/Activity. This can include more frequent sleep, sleeping during the daytime, reduced activity, lack of interest in play, barking or howling at night, and increased confusion in the late afternoon and evening (sundowning).
  • House training. This can include accidents in inappropriate places, or wanting to go outside quickly after coming inside.

Some pet parents like to add another A to the end of the acronym to symbolize increased anxiety and changes in daily activities (via Hill’s Pet).

Is dementia stressful for dogs?

Unfortunately, canine cognitive dysfunction can be highly stressful for both pets and owners. It doesn’t help that many of the symptoms are misattributed to normal, age-related decline, which then results in a lack of proper care (unknowingly, of course).

Imagine how you might feel if you were suddenly stuck in an unfamiliar place with no clue of how to get out, where to go, or what to do — this can be the reality for pets with severe forms of dementia. For others, CCD might seem more like inconvenient “senior moments” or anywhere in between.

a senior cocker spaniel lies in the grass outside
Angyalosi Beata/Shutterstock / Shutterstock

Caring for a dog with dementia

Ultimately, there is no cure for dementia in dogs. However, there are many options you can take to keep your pup happy and healthy, though your vet can advise you which is your best route.

  • A drug called selegiline may help ease the progression of the symptoms, while anti-anxiety medications can help pups who are already in distress.
  • To keep your senior fur baby as stress-free as possible, try to stick to a daily schedule as much as you can. Life happens sometimes, so it’s okay if you’re not perfect, but this will help ensure all your dog’s needs are met. This can reduce anxiety greatly — for both of you!
  • Possibly most importantly, make sure your dog has plenty of mental stimulation. Puzzle toys and treat-releasing Kongs are great for this. Nothing can replace interaction, though, so make sure to have some light playtime and training if and when you can. A little can go a long way!
  • Even if you can’t go for long walks anymore, letting your pup wander and take in the smells of the neighborhood can be great for her mental and physical health. It will also help make the bathroom accessible for your pet, whether through a potty pad or doggy door.

A diagnosis of CCD is by no means an end-of-life sentence, especially with top-notch care like yours, but you also should never dismiss any of your dog’s symptoms or sudden behavior changes. By keeping a close eye and making some mindful changes, you can keep your dog feeling confident, calm, and like herself for much longer. It’s the least you would do for your best friend, after all.

Editors' Recommendations

Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
Why is my dog drooling? Here’s when to be concerned about sudden or excessive dog salivation
This is why your dog slobbers all over you and themselves
A drooling Irish Setter looks to the side

Although St. Bernards, Mastiffs, and several other large breeds are known for their tendency to drool, it may be quite a shock if your usually drool-free pup suddenly starts to salivate. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place if you find yourself asking, "Why is my dog drooling?"
We’ve looked into many causes of excessive and sudden salivation, from the easy fixes to the more concerning problems. Most likely, drooling is nothing to worry about, but it never hurts to take a more careful look — especially if your pup is behaving oddly. Here’s everything you’ll want to know about canine salivation.

Why is my dog drooling and is sudden or excessive drooling a cause for concern?
Though drooling has many harmless causes, which we'll cover later in this article, you may want to keep a closer eye on your pet if you notice sudden salivation — especially if it’s a large amount.
Nausea and stomachaches are common causes of sudden drooling for dogs, although they will be temporary. If you think about it, many humans experience the very same thing! You may also notice vomiting or lethargy if your pet has ingested something they’re not supposed to, so don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you’re concerned about your best buddy’s wellbeing.
On a more urgent note, dogs may also salivate if a foreign object becomes lodged anywhere in the mouth or throat. This can become a dangerous situation if the object blocks their airways, so you should waste no time in getting your fur baby to your closest veterinarian’s office if this could be the case.
Excessive, sudden drooling can also occur when a dog is overheated. Ashely Gallagher, DVM, explains that although salivation can act as a way of cooling off, just like panting, dogs don’t usually resort to this technique unless they are having trouble regulating their temperature through panting alone.
One last cause of sudden drooling is an upper respiratory infection. An illness of the nose, throat, or sinuses is more likely for pups who have been in group settings, such as shelters or kennels, but any dog can catch one, according to Amy Flowers, DVM. Luckily, your veterinarian will be able to guide you toward the best treatment for your furry friend. In most cases, it's a quick fix!

Read more
Gentle giants: 6 big dog breeds that make great family pets
Family dogs: Large dog breeds perfect for families with children
A Bernese mountain dog stands in the middle of a wooded trail

Large dogs can be intimidating to some, but the truth is that many of them are as sweet as can be -- especially with children! Although it may sound surprising, we've all heard the term "gentle giant" used to describe large dog breeds like Great Danes and Saint Bernards. It should come as no surprise that they can be great with kids with a reputation like that, but they're not the only family dogs out there!

These five big dog breeds make wonderful pets for anyone with kids. They have a history of being patient and gentle with children, and they all respond well to positive reinforcement training. With the right amount of attention and love, any of these dogs can be your child's best friend.

Read more
How long do dachshunds live? The truth might surprise you
Two brown and black Dachshunds stand at the driver's door of a car

If you’ve spent enough time around dog people, you’ve probably heard it said that the smaller the dog, the longer the lifespan. While this idea does have some scientific basis to it, it’s not everything. Some breeds decided to throw us a curveball in regards to the dog’s life expectancy and geriatric needs, while others are totally predictable. And some of it comes down to the individual, including their lifestyle factors. How long do dachshunds live? Do any other breeds live as long? Keep on reading these helpful pointers to find out.

How long do dachshunds live?
According to the American Kennel Club — one of the leading expert sources on canine life — standard dachshunds have a life expectancy of 12 to 16 years on average. Though their miniature-sized brothers and sisters are smaller (this can sometimes be an indicator of a longer lifespan) their average life expectancy is not different from that of standard dachshunds.
Here’s the good news: the wiener dog's life expectancy is already longer than most dogs! While large dogs live an average of 8 to 12 years, Doxies and other smaller dogs can stay with us for many more, with Chihuahuas often making it to their late teens.

Read more