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Dog Dementia: How to spot symptoms and when to visit the vet

Is your dog getting older? Have you noticed that they seem anxious or confused? It could simply be that your dog is showing normal signs of ageing, but these could also be early symptoms of dog dementia. So what is dog dementia, and when should you visit your vet?

Can dogs get dementia?

The short answer is yes, they can, and researchers writing in the journal Scientific Reports found that the chances of a dog developing doggy dementia increased by 52% for every year of a dog’s life.

What is dog dementia?

While it’s commonly referred to as dog dementia, the official term for this cognitive disorder is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). It causes symptoms that are similar to Alzheimer’s in humans, such as anxiety, lack of comprehension or confusion.
To begin with, symptoms are fairly mild, but they will worsen over time beyond what you might expect with normal ageing for your dog. It’s thought that 68% of dogs will have developed dementia by the age of 15.

What are the symptoms of dog dementia?

Symptoms will vary from dog to dog, as will the severity of them, but there are some common ones to look out for:

Disorientation and confusion. This could present as getting lost in familiar environments, staring blankly at a wall or walking into things.

Anxiety. Your dog may experience increased separation anxiety or be fearful of people or situations that they used to be comfortable with.

Reduced memory. They may experience difficulty remembering their name or familiar commands and may forget their routines, house rules or training.

Changes to activity levels. You might notice your dog wandering aimlessly, licking obsessively or not wanting to go out as much.

Changes to their sleep/wake cycle. Your dog may start to sleep more during the day while becoming more restless at night, which can include whining and barking.

Changes to their mood. You may find that your dog starts to suffer from extreme irritability, becomes more clingy, or may stop greeting you how they used to.

Going to the bathroom in the house. Your dog may stop asking to go out when they need to, which can result in them going to the toilet indoors instead.
Decrease in desires. You could see the things that were important to your dog become less so. For example, they might have a loss of appetite or less of a desire to play.

Keeping an eye out for these symptoms as your dog ages is great practice, as the earlier your dog is diagnosed, the more effective treatments are likely to be. But the difficulty with these symptoms is a lot of them can be attributed to your dog simply getting older, so it’s useful to have data to be able to recognise changes in their routines.

Our PitPat GPS Tracker and PitPat Dog Activity Monitor will track all the walking, running, playing and pottering your dog does each day. Importantly you’ll be able to directly compare their day and nighttime activity, so you can pick up on increased restlessness when you’ve gone to bed or whether they’ve started sleeping more during the day.

These insights are really helpful to both you and your vet when assessing your dog and allow you to notice any changes, however small, quickly and easily.

woman walking golden retriever

What should I do if I think my dog has dementia?

The first thing you should do, yes, even before Googling, is to contact your vet. They’ll be able to advise you, and even though dementia can’t be cured, they may be able to prescribe your dog some medication or supplements to help with the symptoms. And if you’re a PitPat LIFE™️ member you can speed up the process by calling FirstVet free of charge any time of the day or night.

But talking to your vet and medication isn’t the only thing you can do to make things easier for your dog. Here are some small changes you can make at home to make your dog more comfortable:

Keep their spaces familiar. Make sure the spaces that your dog likes to be in are kept as similar as possible – from the positioning of the furniture to where their bed or food is located. 

Make sure they have regular, gentle exercise. Try shorter walks in places that your dog knows and loves, and pop a PitPat GPS on their collar so you can find them if they get lost.

Make the most of the sunshine. Making sure your dog is getting sunlight every day is a great way to help regulate their sleep/wake cycle.

Keep playing. Play is a great way to get your dog moving. It stimulates their mental muscles and is a great option for days when a walk just isn’t possible. Why not take this opportunity to try some new games or a puzzle toy?

Try some simple training. Focus on a few easy commands that your dog knows and start to reintroduce their basic training using a positive reward-based method.

Keep your dog and others safe. Your dog might forget commands like their recall, or their mood may suddenly change, which can be dangerous for them and others, so keep them away from situations that make them nervous and consider having them on a lead for their walks.

Try not to get cross. This can be a challenging time for you both, but try to keep your reactions positive and not to get cross if they get confused or have an accident.
Have lots of quality time. The more time you spend with your best pal, the more likely they are to remember you. You’ll find that quality time helps them feel happier and more confident too.

When do I know if euthanasia’s the right choice?

It’s never easy to decide when it’s time to say goodbye, but if you notice your dog’s quality of life has deteriorated or they’re a danger to themselves or others, it might be time to have a chat with your vet. They’ll be able to talk to you about the decision and answer any questions you may have.

If you’re looking for more insight into your dog’s day to help you better understand how to help them, don’t forget to pick up a PitPat GPS. From helping you to get the exercise balance just right to knowing where your dog is at all times, it’s the pawfect way to give you peace of mind. Then all you need to focus on is showering your pup with love. Easy.

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