Signs of Dementia in Older Dogs

Dementia can cause older dogs to nap all day and be restless at night.
Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

As canine companions age, their bodies and minds frequently start breaking down in ways similar to those of people. The aging process sometimes leads to senility or Alzheimer's in humans, but dogs develop a condition known as doggy dementia or canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, CDS or CCDS. Most frequently diagnosed in dogs over the age of 10, dementia affects how your dog learns, remembers, communicates, thinks and behaves.

Loss of Housetraining Skills

Older dogs may experience incontinence as their bladders weaken with age, but a sudden loss of house-training can indicate doggy dementia. A dog suffering from CDS might start having frequent accidents indoors after many years without incident. Your canine companion might not let you know when he needs to go outside to do his business, or he might urinate or defecate on your floor just after you let him back inside.


Dementia often causes dogs to become confused or disoriented in once-familiar surroundings. His own home and yard become hard to navigate, and he might suddenly have trouble navigating familiar obstacles. You might find your pet trapped behind furniture or standing with his head stuck in the corner, not realizing that all he has to do is simply back out. Some older dogs wander around aimlessly, while others stare into space for hours.

Interaction Changes

Doggy dementia can cause an older pet to change the way he interacts with his human pack members. Some dogs become aloof toward people they've always had a close bond with, while others become more clingy and follow their owners' every move. You might notice your pet no longer seeks out your attention or he may wander away from you instead of standing still for petting. He might stop greeting you at the door when you come home at the end of the day.

Changes in Sleep Patterns

Sudden changes in your pet's normal sleeping patterns might also point to dementia. Some dogs with CDS sleep a lot more than usual, while others suffer from frequent bouts of insomnia. Your dog might confuse day and night, sleeping away the daytime hours and then pacing, barking or whining in the wee hours of the morning.

Altered Activity Levels

Many older dogs naturally slow down physically as they age, but those with dementia often lose interest in favorite activities, such as performing tricks or playing fetch. When they do show an interest, they might lose focus quickly or become exhausted after just a short bout of physical activity. Other dogs don't explore their surroundings as often, or they may fail to respond to unusual sounds, people or activity in their home environments.


If your pet shows any signs of dementia, make an appointment with your vet to rule out other medical conditions. Many health issues, including infections, diabetes, thyroid disease and tumors can cause symptoms similar to CDS. Once your dog receives a dementia diagnosis, talk to your vet about treatment options. Medications containing selegiline have been somewhat effective in treating doggy dementia. Several holistic treatments might also help alleviate the symptoms. For example, giving your dog an antioxidant-rich diet and giving him fatty acid supplements can benefit by slowing down the degenerative process. The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine website suggests stimulating your dog's memory and learning skills by enriching his environment with interactive toys, introducing him to new types of games or exercises and teaching your old dog new tricks.