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  • Seeking attention less; getting withdrawn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.

365 Comments

  1. Christine Welling says:

    Hi my Sammy is 13 he has started pacing at night unsettled and stands and stares into space we lost beaux beaux last August she was 17 to doggie dementia oh and Sammy sits and licks his paw continuously just like beauxbeaux did
    Does this also sound like dementia to you please

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hi Christine,
      I’m sorry this is happening with Sammy. Only a vet can tell you for sure about dementia, since there are other conditions that have the same symptoms. Can you get Sammy to the vet? Good luck.

  2. Nicky Buckley says:

    My 16 & a half year old Daisy has most of the symptoms on your check list. Can dementia be slowed down with medication? She seems so much worse now we are away from home visiting relatives even though she’s stayed here a lot throughout her life.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      It can be slowed down for some dogs. I hope you can talk to your vet about it. He or she can make sure of the diagnosis and talk to you about medication recommendations. Good luck.

  3. Kathy aloniu says:

    I think my 15 yr old Jack Russell has a lot of these symptoms which I have thought to be arthritis. he’s on meds for it. The last year he’s either starving or no interest in food. He has trouble with stairs, recent things misjudges jumping on the bed, just lately seems to be restless at night, is better running off lead but no longer follows us he seems to sniff at things and then go off in another direction when I call him he doesn’t look up or come, when we enter the house he goes the wrong way. Some days he greets me loudly others he doesn’t appear. Some days when I walk around the house he walks with me with his body against my leg. I’ve been thinking his sight and hearing is going.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      It’s hard when several things are going wrong at once, as does happen with our oldsters. I hope things go as well as possible for your Jack Russell. My little Cricket used to stay very close to me as well.

    • Bev says:

      Hello, I have a 15 yr old Jack Russell named Faith who is my heart ❤️.. Kathy what arthritis med do you have ur JR on. I am concerned my JR might be getting early stages of demita. I had no clue this is what it could.. My JR lost her hearing about a year so I contributed a lot of her issues to that. She has been hiding under bed sometimes about that long. She also misses sometimes when she jumps on couch. I got her dog stairs for the bench at end of my bed. She stares at it long time before trying them. I reward her with training treat. Started doing a circle around table wanting outside then circle on deck then wants back in. This is on going all morn. She lost her appetite so I switched to a petite wet food during day and dry at night. She barks for no apparent reason. Worse when I leave. But for long periods of time. New thing is she grinds her teeth’s. She has a lot of anxiety.. She started waking me up at 4am to roam downstairs. She had a vet ck 3 months ago they gave her a allergy shot since she was biting constantly her feet and checked for urinary track. Came back borderline but gave her meds for it and that did wonders for her eating. And energy again. However she does space out. Not sure if the grinding is anxiety or since we lost our cat a week ago as she just started it again. However since I found this info I’m going to make a vet appt and bring up these concerns.

  4. Nora says:

    This is rather bizarre. My Pappilon is 14 and has been a delightful, loving dog. Lately when I put his leash on or off, he goes into a rage. Tries to (and has) bite me. He snarls and is relentless to me putting on his leash. Other than that, he is OK. Yes, I had him checked about 3 months previous for any physical ailments and the vet states he is fine and in great shape.
    Anyone else out there that has experienced this situation?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I’m not a medical person, but I would consider another vet check for pain. That’s a really common reason for behavior change in our oldsters. But there are so many other medical problems that can cause this kind of change. A good vet is your best resource for this and don’t be shy about going to another for a second opinion if you have to. Good luck.

  5. Denise Middap says:

    My 11 year old Jack Russell is showing some signs of dementia, he sleeps a lot, toilets anywhere which is very unusual for him, not interested in going for walks and gets a bit aggressive. The vet put him on vivitonin but I haven’t noticed a lot of difference in him.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I hope he does get better, or at least has some good days. Is that the only medication your vet wants to try? Keep us posted.

  6. I have a 16-1/2 year old Shih Tzu who is now exhibiting all the symptoms of dementia.

  7. Michael Bartlett says:

    Our little dog, Fluffy (toy and miniature poodle mix), will be 16 in October. She has declined very quickly over the past year. She is now exhibiting all of the symptoms listed. She eats very well and is physically fine except for her back legs getting weak on her now and then. We’ve had to baby-proof the house because of her aimless wandering. She spends hours whining during the day. At night she barks and howls until about 4am. We don’t get much sleep anymore! We’ve tried melatonin, but it doesn’t do much. I don’t want her to be suffering. Is the whining, barking and howling the anxiety? Is that a sign that she is scared and frightened? Or does she just want to be heard or is she releasing stored up energy?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      I don’t know if anyone can say why Fluffy is barking and howling at night, but I can tell you that it is a listed symptom of canine cognitive dysfunction. (And it can be a symptom of other conditions, too. Only a vet can diagnose your dog. Can you ask your vet about other meds? I’m sorry you are going through this. Sleep disturbances are the worst part of old dog problems in my opinion. Hang in there.

    • Scherie Drewa says:

      My dog is 15, and also has dementia, howls and barks only at night. He also seems to be extremely hungry. I feed him again until he feels satisfied and he will go back to sleep. Thankful he is not overweight getting fed 3 -4 times a day. Most of the time this works, but there have been times I’m up with him until about 4am.

  8. Zondra says:

    My back Russell has dementia. My head breaks seeing him suffering the way he does, I’ve been told he will never get better, I love my little man so much it’s horrible to see. Should I have him put to sleep. Please help

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Zondra,
      I’m so sorry you are having to go through this heartbreaking decision. Does he still have pleasures in life? How many good days vs. bad days? Sometimes it helps to write things down.

      I personally keep in mind that dementia is a disease. It’s not natural aging. And if a dog is suffering from any illness, we have to weigh how much it is affecting their life.

      If it’s not to hard on you, here’s a post I wrote about how I made the decision for my little dog.

      Take care.

  9. […] of the pages I found to be the most helpful was on symptoms. Ms. Anderson lists types of symptoms as well as specific ones. (She includes pictures and a couple of videos to illustrate the […]

  10. Elliott Krakow says:

    Our girl has an issue with ‘sundowner’ syndrome (barking sporadically, especially at night). We’ve found that giving her Benadryl helps to calm her down and stop much of the barking. Has anyone else had success dealing with this problem?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Barking can be hard to address. You could talk to your vet about something a little stronger to help her sleep at night. Also, make sure she gets exercise (appropriate to her condition) during the day. One person wrote that it helped their dog’s night wandering and barking to have a nightlight next to her bed. The dog was getting lost. Sorry you are having this difficulty. Good luck.

  11. Lisa says:

    Our nine year old Maltese has started acting strangely; walking in circles backwards, very restless, wandering from room to room and growling. She was doing this just in the evening, but also did it in the morning today….

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Lisa, I hope you can see your vet. Lots of dogs with dementia do strange things like you describe, but there can be other illness that cause those, too. I hope you can find out what is up with your Maltese. Take care.

  12. heather mcknight says:

    My 15 y/o pit bull had many health issues, but she just stopped cleaning herself. This was a red flag since she suffered from severe allergies. She has since passed away but I wanted to add this since it isn’t on the list.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hi Heather,
      Thanks for this information. I had never heard that as a symptom, but it makes sense, and any big change in behavior is something to pay attention to. Thanks for sharing that. I’m sorry you lost your pit bull.

  13. belinda says:

    Emma my little dumpling is having a few behavior changes, one very serious one that is scaring me. I adopted Emma 6 years ago, we were told she was 12 then, my vet said he thought she may be a little younger, 8 or 10, we went with 10, in the middle. That would make Emma 16 or thereabouts. She has always been my dog, she picked me and I am her person, she wants to be with me ALWAYS, but in the last few months this has changed, she always lays next to me on the couch, but recently wants to lay on the bed across the room. Her appetite is not as good (Emma loves her food), and I know her eyes and hearing are getting worse.

    She has separation anxiety and goes with me or if she can’t, hubby or my sister have to stay with her. I have taken her to the vet several times in fact just a few days ago to get xrays of her lungs and heart because for the last couple of weeks, she has had this soft cough and then does some mouthing. Xrays showed her heart is very slightly enlarged compared to one from about a year ago but vet said her lungs are clear, no fluid or tumors and he isn’t worried about her heart, no murmurs or anything like that. He did mention dementia. She does have cushings and has been on trilostane for the last 6 years, along with metachloprimide for tummy issues and meletonin for her fur loss.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      How lucky Emma is to have you! And bless you for adopting a senior. I’m sorry things are hard right now. I do hope she doesn’t have dementia. Good luck and keep us posted. Hugs.

  14. Becky says:

    I found your site this morning after a particularly long night of being up with our 15-year-old dog Camden. He checks every box on the dementia list. My issue is knowing when it is severe enough to make the difficult decision. Right now he knows me MOST of the time and I would rather say good-bye when he knows who I am, not when he is completely gone. Your story has helped me but I am still unsure that I will know when the time is right. Last week at the vet he received a clean bill of health, sans dementia and a chronic heart issue he has had since birth.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear Becky,
      I’m so sorry that you are having to face this. About Camden knowing you–that is a feeling I shared with you. I didn’t want my little Cricket to be cast adrift, not knowing anybody. Between that and some other things that happened, I made the decision earlier than probably some people would have. Her heart, lungs, liver and kidneys were still strong, but she was physically frail and had forgotten how to drink water. But it’s different for every dog, and every family situation. Here is wishing you peace in whatever and whenever you decide.

  15. Linda says:

    My dog is a diabetic, she also has dementia. She is also blind. Not sure if she even knows me. I carry her outside and carry her back. When she is outside she walks in really tight circles. She does not stop until I go to get her. I really don’t know what to do.

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