Dementia in Dogs – What Pet Owners Can Do

Our four-legged friends, whether dogs or cats are getting older due to the good medical care. In some cases, however, this can lead to the animals eventually becoming demented, i.e. suffering from cognitive dysfunction, or CDS for shortWhat can you do about it as an owner and how do you deal with your pet?

Symptoms of dementia are often difficult to interpret

In many cases, the symptoms of dementia are difficult for pet owners to interpret. The otherwise very cuddly dog may lose interest in its owner and in being stroked. It often seems as if the animal no longer recognizes its human. This experience is usually painful for the dog owner concerned.

In most cases, the demented dog appears disoriented. This means that even in a familiar environment, he seems to wander around aimlessly. It is not uncommon for the dog to remain in front of a door for minutes and stare straight ahead. But it can also happen that the dog is suddenly no longer housebroken or starts to bark violently for no reason. Things he knows and has loved up until now scare him. The affected dog suddenly seems anxious and jumpy, repeats – as if under compulsion – meaningless actions, or constantly nibbles and licks itself. 

How can the disease be diagnosed?

Most of the symptoms mentioned are non-specific and could also indicate another problem. So before the diagnosis of cognitive dysfunction (CDS) can be made, other organic diseases must be ruled out in advance. This can usually be done as part of a pension check-up by the veterinarian. In such an examination, the focus is placed on the dog’s sensory organs, since their impairment can be the cause of disorientation. However, sudden house uncleanliness can also occur with diseases of the bladder or kidneys as well as with diabetes mellitus. Due to the many non-specific symptoms, a careful anamnesis and a comprehensive clinical examination by the veterinarian are necessary. 

The signs of cognitive dysfunction

Dementia is also an age-related disease in animals. It usually comes insidiously. Dogs can show the first symptoms from around the age of 9. Depending on the size, breed, and weight of the dog, the first signs can appear sooner or later, which is why the disease must be assessed very individually. The following signs can indicate dementia in old age:

  • change in interactions 
  • alteration of the sleep-wake cycle 
  • increased disorientation even in familiar surroundings 
  • intense barking or meowing for no reason 
  • no longer clean and housebroken 
  • change in activities 
  • restlessness 
  • the increased appetite (begging for food) or loss of appetite 
  • listlessness and depression

In many cases, affected animals also see and hear less well and suddenly appear very idiosyncratic due to their delayed reactions. Certainly, many of the changes mentioned can also be seen in the normal aging process, so it does not necessarily have to be dementia. See also: The right way to deal with old and sick dogs.

What happens in cognitive dysfunction?

It is a progressive degenerative change in the brain that can certainly be compared to dementia in humans. This leads to deposits, the so-called plaques in the brain, which can lead to a restriction of the cognitive abilities of dogs and cats. Similar to humans, it is believed that a lack of mental activity and developmental stimulation in dogs and cats leads to the disease. So far, there are few research results on senile dementia in dogs and cats. Due to the higher life expectancies, however, scientists are required to continue researching this disease and to look for suitable help. 

Scolding is useless 

It is not uncommon for pet owners to scold their pets because they cannot understand the behavior and they cannot imagine that their beloved pet is ill. As a pet owner, you have to realize that if the animal has dementia, there is no point in scolding, because the animal will no longer know it later. 

What is therapy for dementia? 

Early diagnosis is extremely important for the disease to be treated successfully. As soon as older animals show more of the symptoms mentioned above, you should visit your veterinarian and ask for an examination. However, there are limits to therapy, and dementia in old age cannot be cured. However, the course of the disease can be alleviated with special drugs. CBD oil specially made for dogs can also be administered as a possible adjunctive therapy. CBD products for animals have not been on the market for long, but according to, good experiences have been made with them so far. The dog owner can support treatment by tailoring the food specifically to older animals. Sufficient exercise and light, non-overtaxing mental training also have a positive effect on the course of the disease. Stress should be avoided in any case. An animal with dementia needs a firmly structured daily routine so that its disorientation does not increase further. It is important to take many short walks throughout the day and not make any major changes in the home environment. 


For many pet owners, it may come as a shock at first when the animal suddenly can no longer control things and seems disoriented more and more often. The way to the veterinarian is essential when the first symptoms appear because they can make the right diagnosis after a careful clinical examination. As in humans, the disease of old age cannot be cured. With special medication, however, the symptoms can be alleviated and the course of the disease can be delayed.

Ava Williams

Written by Ava Williams

Hello, I'm Ava! I have been writing professionally for just over 15 years. I specialize in writing informative blog posts, breed profiles, pet care product reviews, and pet health and care articles. Prior to and during my work as a writer, I spent about 12 years in the pet care industry. I have experience as a kennel supervisor and professional groomer. I also compete in dog sports with my own dogs. I also have cats, guinea pigs, and rabbits.

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