Downeast Dog News

Does My Dog Have Dementia?

By Dr. Judith Herman | Jan 01, 2018

Q. My old dog, Buster, is acting strangely. He will go outside but then comes back in and pees! My friends think he has dementia. He seems okay otherwise. How do I tell if he is losing his mind?

A. Old dogs can develop dementia, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), but there are a set of criteria that the old boy must meet for that diagnosis. The other important point is because he is old other things could be happening to cause the symptoms you see.

Common signs of CCD are confusion or disorientation, pacing and / or wandering, restlessness at night, getting stuck in corners or small spaces, acting dazed or staring off into space, getting lost in familiar places, going to the wrong side of doors, becoming withdrawn, less playful, less enthusiastic about food, toys and/or playing, having accidents in the house in places he never did before, not responding to commands he once knew, changes in temperament that are uncharacteristic such as aggression, and any other behaviors that are unusual. These symptoms occur slowly over time.

As you can see, many of these symptoms can have causes other than CCD. If you are seeing changes in your old buddy, you need to take him to your veterinarian to rule out other causes that can be treated. Dementia’s definitive cause is unknown. It is suspected to involve physical and chemical changes related to aging. CCD has been associated with the depletion of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Because the exact causes are unknown, prevention may be difficult. What we do know is keeping Buster stimulated mentally and physically can help keep his mind sharp. This can be done by teaching new tricks, playing games, and active interaction between you and your dog.

Diagnosis of CCD is done by ruling out other possible causes. If you are seeing changes in your companion, go to your veterinarian. She will take a thorough history, physical exam, and will recommend tests to see if there are other causes for the symptoms you see in your dog. These tests may include: blood work, urine and fecal exams, radiographs, ultra sound, sometimes CT scans, MRI’s, and other tests.

CCD has no cure and the disease is a degenerative process. There are things that can be done to make you and your buddy more comfortable. Once other causes have been ruled out, your veterinarian will guide you with a plan. There are few treatments for CCD. One drug, Anipryl ( selegiline, L-deprenyl) has helped alleviate some symptoms in many dogs. It is a pill taken once a day. This drug does not work in all dogs, and it has mild and uncommon side effects. This drug replaces the dopamine that has been depleted over time in dogs with CCD. It is available by prescription only.

Other treatments that may be helpful are omega-3 fatty acids, SAMe, and melatonin. More possible treatments to help alleviate symptoms are homeopathic, nutritional, herbal, and Chinese medicines. Before using any of these, you need to see a veterinarian who specializes in these modalities.

Here are some other things you can do to help improve your dog’s environment, keep him comfortable, and help sharpen his mind. Develop a daily routine and stick to it. Avoid rearranging your furniture, keep clutter away from walkways and places where your dog spends a lot of time. Make sure Buster gets lots of exercise, but don’t over do it. Know his limitations. Play fun games, tug-of-war or fetch if he is up to it. Spend quality time together. Whatever you do with your dog, be sure to go slowly, be patient, use a high rate of reward, and if he gets frustrated, stop and give him a break. Overall, give him TLC.

Dementia will progress, but with the above recommendations and help from your veterinarian, you can help your best friend have wonderful golden years.


Judith K. Herman DVM,CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, ME