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Do All Senior Dogs Get Dementia?

Do All Senior Dogs Get Dementia?

Just like humans, as our pets continue to live longer lives than before the chances increase that they’ll develop age-related neurodegenerative diseases. An international survey showed approximately 14.2% of older dogs suffered from canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). Only 2% of dogs with clinical signs consistent with CCD get diagnosed as such by a veterinarian, however, which shows how many pet parents are unaware of their pets’ chances of getting the condition.

What is CCD?

Canine cognitive dysfunction is the dog world’s equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease. Beta-amyloid protein accumulates in older dogs’ brains, building up into plaque deposits. This usually happens in dogs of 10 years and older, and it’s caused by chemical changes that impact older dogs’ brain functions. Up to half of all dogs over 10 years show some CCD symptoms, but these are often mistaken for normal senior behavior. The condition is actually a progressive illness that shows worsening signs of dysfunction.

Risk Factors

There’s not a lot of point in waiting until your dog reaches his or her senior years to find out whether they develop canine cognitive dysfunction. Research shows that certain factors increase a dog’s risk of dementia, such as:

  • Size -  medium/Large dogs had a higher chance than small dogs, especially after 11 years old
  • Gender - Males have a slightly higher risk than female dogs
  • Nutrition - dogs with an uncontrolled diet had a higher level of risk than those whose nutrition was carefully controlled
  • Age - dogs over 8 years had a higher chance of getting CCD.

There was also a small amount of evidence that indoor pets had lower rates of cognitive decline than outdoor pets, but no signs that weight, housing or reproductive states mattered.

Signs and Symptoms

CCD in dogs comes with many of the same signs and symptoms as dementia in people, too. The condition is actually an umbrella term for four specific cognitive issues, each of which has its own characteristics.

Involutive depression, which typically develops in the dog’s later years, is similar to chronic depression in humans. Several factors may be involved, but untreated anxiety seems to play a major role. Some of the symptoms of this form of dementia include circling, wandering around, soiling in the house, lethargy, changes in their sleep-wake cycle, lower learning ability, and vocalizing.

Dysthymia, which is when the dog loses awareness of his body length and size, and gets stuck behind furniture in the corner. Owners also notice their dogs with dysthymia have sleeping issues, growl continually, whine, moan, or show other aggressive behavior. Causes of this include things like Cushing’s disease and long-term steroid therapy.

Hyper-aggression, associated with serotonin-related issues or cortical tumors. This causes dogs to lose the ability to communicate with others. They aren’t able to send a “peacekeeping” signal or to recognize one coming from another dog, which leads them to bite with very little provocation.

Confusional syndrome, which resembles human Alzheimer’s the most of all the categories. Dogs with this form of CCD forget familiar things like where their food bowls are, how to get in and out of the house, and other pets and people. In the later stages they may even forget who their owners are.

If you notice your pet is acting strangely and doing things that are out of character, ask your veterinarian to evaluate her during an appointment.


Prescription medications are many people’s go-to solution, but that doesn’t mean they are good. Manage your dog’s condition carefully by keeping on top of any medical issues. Bringing your 14-year-old pet to the veterinarian once a year is like taking a human to the doctor once every four to five years. That’s simply not enough for a geriatric patient.

Giving your senior pet antioxidants is important, too, whether it’s in the form of nutrition or dietary supplements. Vitamins A, C and E are particularly effective when they are given together. Fatty acids and L-carnitine are helpful for maintaining muscle tone in caring for senior dogs that are no longer as active.

Various specialized veterinary diets have a combination of supplements to help support older pets’ cognitive abilities, especially ones that contain medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). These help to improve the dog’s cognitive ability through the production of alternative energy sources. MCT’s are also available as a supplement which can be added to your pet’s current food.

Manage your dog’s anxiety and state of mind, and keep the environment secure and enriched with plenty to occupy her. Use aromatherapy, pheromone therapy, classical music, or white noise to help keep the surroundings relaxing, especially while she is sleeping. Regular exercise, no matter how minimal, can help dogs to avoid stress and sleep through the night. Frequent outings and travel go a long way to preventing dog dementia, and for those dogs are no longer able to do those, puzzle toys or scent games can work their brains without any physical strain.


Of course, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so you don’t need to wait until the dog needs treatment for CCD to implement many of these measures. A controlled eating plan, healthy exercise, daily enrichment through training and activities, and a good mix of the right supplements can ensure your furbaby is not only healthy and happy in the present, but that her future is going to be as good as it can be, too.

Consider the calming benefits of Dr. Garber’s Canine Calm & Happy bioformula 

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