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Dog Dementia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Life Expectancy

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCD or CDS) refers to a condition associated with the aging of a dog’s brain, resulting in changes in awareness, learning and memory deficits, and reduced responsiveness to stimuli. This syndrome is akin to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

While the initial symptoms of the disorder are mild, they progressively worsen over time, surpassing the effects of normal aging. Dogs affected by CCD undergo a “cognitive decline,” characterized by a gradual decrease in the brain’s ability to perform typical tasks. Indeed, clinical indications of cognitive dysfunction syndrome are present in nearly one in three dogs over the age of 11, and by the age of 16, almost all dogs exhibit at least one sign.

Here’s a comprehensive overview of dog dementia, covering symptoms, causes, life expectancy, treatment, and prevention.


These are the most common signs of dementia in dogs:

Disorientation or confusion

  • Getting stuck when moving around objects
  • Failure to recognize familiar people or pets
  • Staring blankly at walls
  • Pacing

Changes in behavior

  • Heightened irritability
  • Reduced interest in playing
  • Excessive licking
  • Decreased self-grooming
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)

Anxiety, restlessness, or impaired memory

  • Disregard for previously learned training or house rules
  • Slow to learn new tasks
  • Inability to follow familiar routes
  • Fecal and urinary accidents in the home

Changes in sleep patterns

  • Waking up at night
  • Vocalizing at night
  • Pacing at night


The precise causes of CCD remain unknown, but many of the same aging-related changes observed in humans are likely contributors to cognitive decline in our canine companions. Researchers are investigating CCD and its parallels with Alzheimer’s disease, continuously uncovering new insights as they delve into the aging processes of dogs. Here’s what we currently understand:

As dogs age, their brains undergo atrophy, resulting in the death of cells. This deterioration notably impacts the cerebral cortex, responsible for learning and memory, as well as the cerebellum, which governs coordination.

Studies have revealed that dogs affected by CCD exhibit an accumulation of abnormal protein (beta amyloid) in their brains. This buildup of protein has been linked to reduced nerve signaling within the brain. Additionally, in dogs with CCD, neurotransmitters essential for brain signaling are degraded due to elevated levels of a compound known as monoamine oxidase B (MAOB).

Furthermore, dogs with epilepsy and those leading sedentary lifestyles are found to be at a heightened risk of developing CCD.


To diagnose dementia in dogs, it’s crucial to provide your veterinarian with a detailed history of your dog’s health, including the onset and nature of symptoms, as well as any potential triggering incidents.

Following this, your veterinarian will conduct a comprehensive physical examination to assess your dog’s overall health and cognitive functions. Routine blood tests, thyroid evaluations, ultrasounds, and X-rays may be conducted to exclude other illnesses that could contribute to behavioral changes associated with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Additionally, advanced imaging such as MRI or CT scans might be recommended by your veterinarian for further evaluation.


Dogs diagnosed with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome necessitate ongoing therapy and assistance throughout their lives. While there is no cure, there are several strategies you can implement at home to support your dog’s cognitive functions.

Creating a healthy and engaging environment can help slow down the progression of cognitive decline. This typically involves establishing a daily routine of exercise, play, and mental stimulation. Consistency in routines, especially at bedtime, can help alleviate symptoms of CCD.

Adapting your home to be more accessible and safe for your senior dog is also beneficial:

  • Night lights aid your senior dog in navigating dark spaces.
  • Placing potty pads near doors provides your dog with a designated area if they can’t hold it until you return home or wake up.
  • Orthopedic foam beds with washable covers enhance sleeping comfort.

Additionally, medication and behavioral therapy can help maintain your dog’s comfort and activity levels. Your veterinarian might recommend a specialized, balanced diet to enhance your dog’s cognitive function, focusing on memory and learning abilities. Prescription diets like Hills’ b/d, Royal Canin’s Mature Consult, and Purina Pro Plan’s Neurocare are rich in antioxidants, vitamins B, E, and C, selenium, flavonoids, beta carotene, carotenoids, and carnitine, all beneficial for cognitive functions.

Supplementation with omega fatty acids can also greatly benefit dogs with CCD. Other supplements such as melatonin, additional vitamin B, and s-adenosylmethionine (sam-e) may be helpful. Some dogs may benefit from anti-anxiety medications if anxiety-related symptoms are significant in CCD. Anipryl (selegeline) is a prescription medication specifically for dogs with CCD, inhibiting MAOB to retain neurotransmitters in the brain where they’re needed.

Treatment for CCD varies depending on symptoms, necessitating thorough discussion with your dog’s veterinarian before beginning treatment. Regular evaluations by your veterinarian are important to monitor your dog’s response to therapy and symptom progression. Any behavioral changes observed in your dog should be promptly reported to the vet.

In geriatric dogs, any change could be significant, so it’s crucial to consult your veterinarian at the first sign. For stable patients, biannual checkups may suffice unless new issues arise.

Life Expectancy of Dogs With Dementia

Predicting the life expectancy of dogs with dementia can be challenging due to the degenerative nature of canine cognitive dysfunction, akin to Alzheimer’s in humans. If a dog remains otherwise healthy, dementia will gradually impact their quality of life, yet establishing a specific timeframe is difficult.

The most effective approach to gauge your dog’s health and cognitive abilities is to collaborate with your veterinarian and assess your dog’s quality of life. This proactive monitoring will enable you to recognize when your dog indicates it’s time to make decisions regarding their care.

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