Symptoms of Dementia in Dogs

Types of Dementia Symptoms in Dogs

There are many behavior changes in your dog that can be signs of canine cognitive dysfunction (dementia in dogs or “doggie Alzheimer’s”). These are the types of symptoms you may see:

Disorientation
Changes in social interactions
Sleep disorders
Loss of house training
Changes in activity level
Memory loss
Inability to learn
Anxiety

Specific Dementia Symptoms in Dogs

Here are some of the specific symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction :

  • Pacing back and forth or in circles (often turning consistently in one direction)
  • Terrier with dementia standing with head under chairGetting lost in familiar places
  • Staring into space or walls
  • Walking into corners or other tight spaces and staying there
  • Appearing lost or confused
  • Waiting at the “hinge” side of the door to go out
  • Failing to get out of the way when someone opens a door
  • Failing to remember routines, or starting them and getting only partway through
  • Barking for no apparent reason and/or for long periods
  • Ceasing to bark when the dog used to be very noisy
  • Forgetting cues and trained behaviors she once knew
  • Exhibiting motor difficulties like difficulty backing up (aside from physical problems)
  • Startling easily
  • Getting less enthusiastic about toys or stopping playing altogether
  • Performing repetitive behaviors
  • Having trouble with eating or drinking (finding the bowls, aiming the mouth, keeping food in mouth)
  • Losing appetitePhoto shows 4 different dog dementia symptoms: the dog standing with her head in the corner, wedged in a tight space, and two photos where she is perched sitting in odd places
  • Failing to respond to her name
  • Having difficulty getting all the way into bed
  • Trembling for seemingly no reason
  • Falling off things
  • Getting trapped under or behind furniture
  • Sleeping more during the day and less at night
  • Forgetting house training
  • Having difficulty learning anything new
  • Seeking attention less; getting withdrawn
  • Acting frightened of people she once knew
  • Having trouble with stairs
  • Getting generally more fearful and anxious

 

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2015

This symptom list was carefully researched and professionally edited. It is under copyright, both on this page and on the printable PDF. Please don’t copy and paste the list or parts of it into blog posts, articles, or other documents. That’s a violation of copyright. Instead, please link to one of the versions at this website.  

Sources of the information on this page can be found on this symptoms reference list.

414 Comments

  1. Lesley Phillips says:

    My 14 year old western has been diagnosed with dog dementia and just recently when in the garden has started walking into the plants chairs table or trees she seems very disoriented like she doesn’t know they are there. Her sight is OK she manages indoors only bumping in to corners. We now have to be with her constantly in the garden. It is frightening for us so it must be for her my poor baby

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I’m so sorry, Lesley. She may adjust to it better than you think. But bless you for loving and caring for her so well.

      • Kathy says:

        I have two dogs going through this atm, one is 18 and other is 15. Hate seeing them like this. My Springer Teal has adjusted well. My wee jrt Tobys is more recent and he seems a lot worse. It’s Heart breaking. Wish I could take it away from them. Toby seems to be really struggling with it all, whereas Teal just sleeps a lot x

        • Eileen Anderson says:

          I’m sorry you are going through this with your two seniors. I sure know what you mean about making it all go away. It’s so unfair. Take care of yourself–I know you are taking great care of your dogs.

          Eileen

          • John Ingram says:

            My Bassett is 15 in December. His behavior has change over the last year. He gets stuck in places and cannot get out. This happens almost every week 1 to 2 times. When he gets stuck he barks constantly to let me know I guess. Also he barks for long periods of time for no reason at all. He will lay on his back under my boat in the garage and look up and bark. He paces the floors. He also can’t see well. He doesn’t yelp or whine do I don’t think he is in pain. Any advise?

          • Eileen Anderson says:

            Hi John,
            Only advice I can give about the possible dementia is to ask your vet about it. There are some medications that can help. In the meantime, make your house as safe for him as possible. Non-skid surfaces, be careful about his access to steps, that sort of thing. Sorry you are going through this. I never heard anything like the lying under the boat behavior before, but it kind of fits with other ways of getting in odd places that they do sometimes. Good luck.

            Eileen

  2. Donna says:

    Eileen, I’m selfish. I can’t let her go. I’m up all night with her, so she doesn’t wake the rest of the house. I hand feed her and bring her to the water bowl. I hold her for hours, trying to keep her calm. (sometimes it works) My room mate & I have had many discussions with the vet. She is a little over 20 years old, blind, deaf and has kidney disease. She is a mini dachshund. Her last bloodwork in April, showed all her numbers stable. She has had CCD for over 2 years now. She doesn’t appear to be in pain. I’m noticing, the last day or 2 she is only sleeping 1 to 2 hours at a time, whereas she would sleep 4 to 6 hours at a time. How much worse will it get? Do I kill my little girl because she is an inconvenience?

    • Joe says:

      I am so sorry about your dog. I just don’t think she is happy at this point. Ultimately, isn’t it about her quality of life? I don’t know what I would do in your situation.

    • Theresa says:

      Hi Donna,
      I so feel for you, I truly do. Clearly, you are hurting and at wit’s end. I hear the resentment in your voice and rightfully so, as CCD is a kill joy, a robber of personalities, a sneaky invader who creeps into our lives and steals our best friends from us.

      I want to share my experience with you in hopes that it will help guide you in your search of an answer. I had a GSD since he was a pup. I loved him immensely. He developed cancer in his senior years unbeknownst to us, and one night, he unexpectedly died at home. Aside from my mother’s passing, it was the most traumatic experience of my life. Natural death is not an easy process, and it will be with me the rest of my days.

      A few years later, my beloved senior black lab was diagnosed with CCD and then cancer. This time, I knew what had to be done without delay. While my girl’s euthanasia was heartbreaking for us, she went to sleep in peace and without pain. I gave her that as my last act of love, and while I did wrestle with guilt, I knew in my heart that I was sparing her from the ravages of an incurable disease that had robbed her of her sense of self. And from the pain of a natural death.Trust me when I say you do not want that to the last memory you have of her.

      While I am in it for the long haul with my newest senior rescue dog (why I’m on this site to begin with), I will know when it’s time for both of us to call it quits. I’m just thankful euthanasia is an option for pet parents when it’s chosen out of respect and love – not inconvenience.

      I wish the best for you and your beloved dog whatever your choice.

  3. Heather says:

    I have read though much of this. Our 14.5 year old Chihuahua is exhibiting signs of something. He startles and gets scared when I cough. He will shake and run away. He is spending time alone in his crate, which he never used to do. We had to put down his big sister earlier this year. However, he just started to act this way less than a week ago. We have him scheduled to see his vet. Wondering if it might be early stages of CCD. He still eats and appears fine, otherwise.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Heather,
      I’m so glad you made plans to take your chi to the vet. Let us know what the vet says. I hope you can find out what is going on. Most important, I hope your little guy has a lot of good time left.

      Eileen

  4. Anja says:

    Thank you for the clarity Eileen. I’m afraid my old boy, 17 yrs old mix, is going through this, and there might be other problems, but at this age I’m not gonna make him suffer by dragging him into the vet’s office for tests, because it’s very likely, seen his age, there isn’t much I can do for him anymore. He all of the sudden started pulling the leash, thinking he has to pee, but then doesn’t and comes back next to me to repeat the same behavior a few steps further. He’s also drinking a lot, he’s blind on one eye, deaf, and he’s got tremors and often seems disoriented indeed. It hurts me and deep inside I feel he’s walking his last miles so to speak. I definitely go for the quality of his life, which means I’m not going to let him suffer. He still enjoys his meals, drinks and cookies and belly rubs as well 🙂 He sleeps a lot. So it’s border line… I might go take him to the vet next week (Friday here) to have his heart and lungs checked out and ask the vet’s opinion. Certainly wish he could be with me for many more years, but yet we have to face the fact as well that no life on earth lasts forever. All I can do now is make him feel as comfortable as possible. My heart cries. He’s not my first dog or so, so I know and sense when the end has come near. Yikes… Gonna stop writing before I start crying. Thank you for your great work!

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Anja,
      I’m so sorry you are having to get ready to say goodbye. I really like how you wrote about it, though, and it’s so clear you have your boy’s best interest at heart, front and center. I’m glad you’re going to talk to your vet. Take care, and give your fellow a cookie from me.

      Eileen

  5. Michele says:

    Hi I’ve had my Chihuahua For 15 years I rescue her off the streets so she could be about 16/17 years old for the past 2 months she’s been showing signs of doggy Dementia. Took her to the vet blood work came back fine everything looks good with her health it’s just the pacing in circles for hours. I have some good days and then bad days I don’t know what to do she eats and I help her drink water cause she’s blind so she needs me help it’s the circling that’s making me scared how long can a dog circle for will they get tired and go to sleep?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Michele, I know it’s a month since you commented, so anything can have happened in this time. Dogs seem to be able to pace and circle for very long periods if they are physically capable. If your Chi is still with you, you could ask your vet about safe drugs to help. Take care, and I’m so sorry I took so long to respond.

  6. Marcie Rogers says:

    My sweet Maggie is 17 1/2. Maggie is experiencing pacing, walking into tight places she had never gone before and standing there, she stops and is having tremors and practically falling over. As I write this she is continually pacing going back and forth in the same direction. And she just stopped and tremor. What could this be is it a brain tumor, dementia or old age. Me and my husband hand feed her, snuggle her, anything we can do to make her comfortable and safe. I don’t want to make the choice of letting her go. Can this go away on its own will she go away on her own. How long does this last. It’s ripping our hearts out 😭

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Marcie,
      First, I am so sorry that Maggie and you and your husband are going through this. Also, I’m so sorry for the delay in responding. I know time is of the essence with this type of problem, but sometimes I get behind on responding to everybody. If she is still with you, be sure and check with your vet. We can’t diagnose those kinds of problems ourselves. If it is CCD, it can last a long time, but usually people choose to ease their dog out of this world if they seem to be suffering. Hugs to you.

  7. Emily Weiser says:

    Eileen,
    I have a 13 year old beagle who is in the severe stage of CCD. I love her to death but she has turned into a dog I don’t recognize. She’s absolutely not who she used to be and its heartbreaking. I’m doing my best to be educated and care for her. I’ve been struggling with the decision of euthanasia for awhile due to the fact that she still eats and drinks so well. Your article about euthanizing made me cry because I’m starting to really consider it. She has become a biter, and her moments of lucidity are few and far between. Unfortunately for me, the thought of not having her is devastating. But, I think she left me a long time ago. I know you focus on quality of life, but I genuinely cant tell if she’s not happy, if she’s really even aware or suffering. That’s been the hardest part for me. How can you KNOW when its time to let go

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I’m so sorry you are going through this, Emily. I wish I had some good advice, but you know your dog best. I understand about the devastating part. It is unthinkable at first. I wish you peace in your decision.

    • Amy says:

      I am sorry that you are going through this. I recently had this experience with my 11 year old Boston terrier. Unfortunately my husband and I made the most difficult decision.
      Our Harley would constantly walk in circles. He would barely sleep. He would walk in circles all day while we were at work. He would only be comforted if one of us was holding him. We tried to make him as comfortable as possible but in the end he starting hurting himself. He would walk into things as he became blind.
      I understand your hurt but as with you our Harley left us and wasn’t even the same dog.
      I find some comfort in knowing that we did everything we could for him and he knew how much we loved him.
      We also have a 10 year old beagle who is lost without his brother.

  8. Amanda says:

    I have a chihuahua, Paris, that I have had since she was a puppy, which is 15 years now. Last year, she went blind AND out of nowhere started displaying extreme signs of CCD. My other dog that she had been with her whole life, passed after 17 years with us on her own just before all of this. At this point, I am struggling and have no support or idea of how she is feeling of what to do. We went to the vet who said, since food/treats have always been her big motivator, that is our marker. When she won’t eat, it’s time. But how far progressed would she be before THAT happens?! She switched her food which did nothing and she doesn’t recommend any medication because she said the side effects on these specific ones are usually worse than the disease itself. The problem is the combo of blindness AND CCD. She doesn’t come to me anymore and has kissed me once in nine months. She doesn’t get excited except for treats. She was never big on walks really but now can’t go at all. I try to take her to the park or outside and she just paces, often in circles (always same direction I think.) Some nights I put her in a baby carrier just to cuddle me while I walk our husky. She won’t go to the bathroom outside (admittedly she was never perfectly potty trained) and will walk in her own poop/pee and track it EVERYWHERE in the house. She still sleeps okay, but she will wake up and pace for hours because she can’t find her way back to her bed. We tried a gated off area but she would just walk in or fall in her own waste. Any feedback or support is appreciated. I always said if she stopped eating or was in pain, those would be my indicators and neither are present, but this is painful to watch and, admittedly, very hard to deal with. I love her so much, she is my best friend. And I don’t want her to go out feeling betrayed.

    • Amanda Webster says:

      She also gets stuck in tight spaces sometimes, though I have tried to dog proof. The saddest thing is she used to be such a proud dog, wouldn’t even get her feet wet. Now she is walking around in her own pee and poop.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Amanda,
      I’m so sorry you are going through this. Dementia tends to devastate any plans we have made for handling our dogs’ future. Did you check out the Quality of Life calculators on the “When to Say Goodbye” page? I know that sounds almost cold, but I do think they can help us consider things we hadn’t thought of before. One of our readers here helped her dog find her way back to her bed by putting a nightlight there. And Cricket did the walking in poop thing. I just coped as best I could, staying on top of when she pooped and having a setup for cleaning her feet when I didn’t get there before she had walked around in it.

      Again, sorry you are going through this.

      Hugs,
      Eileen

  9. Samantha Worley says:

    I have a friend whom i live with her two year old pit started walking in circles this even fallen down scooting on her belly acting scared and painting heavily can young dog get dementia or Could this be something she has gotten in cause this is not a normal behavior for her it started outof the blue and fast and she is still a young dog

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I’m sorry this is happening to your friend’s dog. This is a veterinary question, and I hope she can get the dog to her vet soon.

      Eileen

  10. Angela Merrick says:

    My little 13 year old Jack Russell is showing significant signs of doggy dementia. He circles a lot, starts when we cough or sneeze, , he sleeps a lot more, stares at my other two dogs as if he doesn’t know them, does not really answer to calling his name and tends to look around when we do to see who or what is calling him. He is on his circuit at the moment but keeps stopping to look at my other two dogs sat on the chair trying to ascertain who they are. He stops very often and states into space normally looking at a sideboard we have near his bed. He is still my Rudge though despite his behaviour. He eats and drinks (more water than he should really) and can have a bouncy moment when food is announced. His toilet habits are fine. He has always had some OCD tendency with licking himself but this has stopped in the main. (He has just jumped up on my chair to look at me then jumped down commencing his circuit again) He does not seem to be in pain or stressed even when vacant in manner or walking his circuit. I treat him the same as I always have as I strongly believe this routine and normality is keeping him grounded. We took him away on holiday and the little man walked and walked on the sandy beach, just plodded along and seemed to enjoy it though poor man was as stiff as a board the day after. Has a gammy knee. We think it maybe his last holiday. However we will continue to love him and care for him despite his odd behaviour and if I have to sleep close to him every night I will do so willingly. He is so much a part of the family that I will work with him to the end. My prayer is that he falls asleep naturally but we have prepared ourselves for making a decision later but only if Rudge appears to be suffering. Our little man seems to be happy at this time and my fingers remain crossed that he continues to do so. Rudge’s Mum

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Thank you for sharing about Rudge. He sounds like a great little guy. I like that you are accepting of his “circuit.” I think some dogs are not distressed when they do that; I know my Cricket wasn’t. He’s lucky to have you. Hugs.

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