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  • Seeking attention less; getting withdrawn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.

376 Comments

  1. Brooke J White says:

    My pekingese was a rescue and he must be at least 15 years old as we’ve had him for 14. He’s never been “high energy” – but he’s exhibiting all the symptoms. How long can a dog live with dementia? He is still very enthusiastic about eating but he seems to forget he already ate a lot of the time. I think his hearing and vision are also impaired but the behavior ticks all the boxes for dementia. He spends all his time in my husband’s home office but my husband is traveling and the dog seems more disoriented than usual. We just can’t figure out what sort of time we are looking at for his remaining days. He sleeps 90% of the time and it’s been that way for the past year or so.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      It’s really hard to know about the time. I know that one of the studies says that dogs are generally considerably worse in a year, but that doesn’t mean the end. My Cricket lived a good life for two years after her diagnosis, and probably had dementia before she was diagnosed. Have you talked to the vet?Good luck with your little fellow.

  2. Kellye says:

    My almost 16 year old English cocker is hearing impaired. She has ccd and has become a bit aggressive with giving her food and startling…i understand all that
    She thinks I have food in my hand ALL the time…that is strange to me

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hi Kellye,
      I’ve never heard of that peculiarity before. But anything can happen when things start going wrong in the brain, I guess.. I hope you still have some good days with your cocker.

  3. My dog is pacing a lot, has been house trained for years and now goes in the house, what can I do to make it easier for him? Very limited hearing and does not see well either, hes about 16 yrs old, I just feel helpless on what to do.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hi Karen,
      Have you been to the vet about this, to make sure what is going on and to discuss any treatment options? Losing house training is a common symptom of dementia, but it can be connected to other things as well.

      When my little dog lost her house training, I made her a room in the house where she couldn’t get stuck or run into things but which was also easy to clean up. Lots of little rugs, bathmats, and yoga mats, and a little cache of the cleaning supplies I needed most often. And I took her outside a lot. that didn’t guarantee she wouldn’t go inside as well, of course, but it helped with the quantities, I think. Good luck, Karen.

  4. Stephanie Garrett says:

    My 12 1/2 year old Pie Bald dachshund has taken to groaning &/or cooing (like a pigeon). He doesn’t seem to be in pain though; could it be dementia?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hi Stephanie,
      I really don’t know. Changes in barking habits are on the symptoms list, but I don’t know about other vocalizations. Have you checked with your vet on this? Sorry I don’t have a better answer.

  5. Andy says:

    Hi, I have a 14 year old rescue Jack Russel who has most of the symptoms. Unlike your dog he hasn’t forgotten to drink but seems to have forgotten to Stop drinking! As he has lost his house training this has become a real problem. Do you know of anyone experiencing a similar problem that has restricted the amount of water available?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hi Andy,
      I could see where that would be a real problem! Since that can be a symptom of other medical conditions, I would recommend a trip to the vet. If it turns out to be behavioral, that is, there is no underlying medical condition, ask your vet about whether it’s OK to restrict water and how to do so. It can be tricky and we don’t want your old fellow to get dehydrated. Good luck! In the meantime, you can experiment with a belly band or diapers, but they have to be changed often.

  6. My dog 10 year old jack russell has suddenly started protecting his food, this happens mostly in the evening, he will stay in his bed and i can hear him growling or barking to himself. My son brings his younger Jack Russell up who eats husvgood. Wondering if there is a connection

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Christine, I hope you can see your vet about that. Any kind of odd behavior change like that can happen from different kinds of medical conditions. This includes dementia but some others, too.

      Good luck. That must be distressing.

      Eileen

  7. Samantha says:

    We are dealing with this with our 15 1/2 year old JR/Yorkie mix and it is breaking my heart. He has his good days and his bad days. Tonight is one of his bad days. He is just walking aimlessly around the house and nothing we do for him helps on his evenings like this. In the last year his hearing has declined as well as his vision.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Hi Samantha,
      I’m so sorry you are going through this with your terrier. It sounds like you have been to the vet about this. I hope you still have some good times with your fellow. Take care,

      Eileen

  8. April says:

    I am heart broken to say that I had to say goodbye to my baby girl Rein January 30th 2019. After my childhood dog of 17 years passed away in May 2003 I was heart broken and had a very hard time with it. It was weird not having her sleep with me or feeding her first thin in the morning. I had seen this little black puppy running around with some neighbor kids a short time after that I usually went out to pet it and I was always so amazed how crazy small it was.

    The young girl who first got it told him it was a boy and that his name was TJ. She wasn’t taking care of him so she gave him to a friend who also wasn’t taking care of him so she gave him to another friend and around October he turned up at my neighbors house. The kids called him “maggot” left him outside alone all day, no food or water and just hoping someone would take him or he would run away. After school one day I had gone inside and grabbed a nutty bar like usual and went to sit outside to enjoy the weather. I tried to pet it but it was so scared that it whimpered and ran away.

    So I went to the sidewalk and sat down than tossed a piece of my snack. He sniffed, grabbed the little piece and ran off again. I felt so bad for this poor baby so I went to my neighbors that lived next to his owner and asked some questions. What I learned was that they were told he was a pitbull, they had been heard being very mean to it kicking it downstairs and such for having accidents in the house. They also had a very mean older dog that I assumed they wanted to fight him with but for some reason or another they tossed him out.

    Which was the best thing for him I thought but I didn’t want to leave him in that situation. So I took it upon myself to go outside everyday after school and toss little bits of food to him. I talked sweet to him and slowly got him closer. It took me a week, roughly 2 or 3 hours during the week and about 6 hours on the weekend broken up to finally get him close enough to pet. When he crawled into my lap I was very surprised by the fact that he was not a he at all but a she.

    I guess the “owners” were watching me at some point and the next day I was out with her a boy came over and asked if I wanted her. I didn’t even think about it I automatically said yes and he grabbed rope tied it around her neck and handed it to me. I took her home, took the rope off and than realized that I never asked my parents. I had my girl Eevon at home who was 2 years old and my sisters dalmatian who was 7 years old. I explained everything to my parents and they said as long as she was ok with our dalmatian than she could stay.

    That first night I got into bed, Eevon curled up on the floor and the new little girl got into bed with me. She wiggled under the blanket, lifted my shirt and balled herself up to my back and that’s how we slept that first night. It took a few days to think of a good name for her but I settled on Rein. Eevon was happy to have a play mate and Rein was happy to have a home. They chased each other around the backyard and wrestled in the house.

    Rein became my shadow, when I went to school she wouldn’t drink until I got home and she wouldn’t eat if I stayed the night anywhere. So it became easier to take her with me when I stayed with friends and I ended up usually swapping between the two girls because it was usually too hard to take both. When it snowed I gave her a big ice cream bucket to play with she would grab the handle run, fill it with snow and than dump the bucket over her head. I threw snowballs for them to catch and the snow would explode in their faces leaving them rather confused. Very early on she started to lay on her back for me and wanting belly rubs.

    She would roll on her back and wiggle until I came over and rubbed her belly. She joined me and Eevon on our weekend animal planet binge and our movie snack nights. She was less than a year old when my dad passed away and so she didn’t know him all that well but she was a big source of comfort to me during that time. Moving to Texas was another huge adjustment for us but as long as I was there she was happy. She got to meet more of my family and became great friends with my niece and nephew.

    We would run down the hill in the new backyard and race each other back up. I’d throw toys and she would tuck her tail between her legs and be off like a rocket zooming around the yard (usually leaving the toy.) When I would get up in the morning she woke me up with slobbery kisses and would pull on my pants leg all the way down the stairs knocking me on my butt more than once. She was a wonderful protector, she monitored everything out the window but if someone knocked on the door she would use her booming voice and let them know they were being watched. She taught my mom’s chihuahua how to roll in the dirt and curled up with my chihuahua in her big cuddle cup bed on cold days.

    Time went by far too fast and before I knew it she was grey. When her sister Eevon passed in 2017, she immediately stopped wanting belly rubs and started sleeping more. We curled up together and missed her sister. She had teeth cleaning and tooth extractions in January 2018 which thankfully all went well with it. In April 2018 we moved again, she had carpet so she wouldn’t slip and we got her a big barker orthopedic bed that she absolutely loved. I covered it with a sheet so it wasn’t hot and she slept on it all the time.

    She got another mouth infection in September and had to be on antibiotics. She was diagnosed with arthritis and given gabapentin which worked wonders for her. At the beginning of 2019 we were planning another dental cleaning because she kept getting infections but because of her age they wanted her to see a specialist. We made the appointment for February 11th for a consult and possibly for the procedure. The morning of January 30th I got up like usual gave her her pill pocket and gabapentin and antibiotic. Than about 30 minutes later I went to get her up to go outside and get a drink.

    She couldn’t stand at all which wasn’t that uncommon first thing in the morning so i carried her outside and brought her in for her breakfast. She wouldn’t eat and I realized that she couldn’t sit up. I brought her chicken broth water and gave her a cookie. I kept a close eye on her the rest of the day hoping maybe she was just tired but by that evening we knew she needed to be seen. Her back legs had started to cross the last few weeks but once I uncrossed them she walked fine so I didn’t think much about it.

    We were told that was a symptom of a neurological issue and that she could no longer feel her back legs. It could’ve been a slipped disc or a tumor on her spine but without an MRI they wouldn’t know and with her age that would cause her a lot of stress. Depending on what it was surgery would be an option but with her age the recovery might not have been possible. The other option was to take her home and do home care until I was ready but that seemed very cruel and I could tell she was suffering. For a girl as wonderful as her to love me and protect me for 15 years that would be selfish of me to make her stay in pain just so that I could have more time with her and so I told her I loved her, gave her kisses and that I’d see her again.

    It’s hard to put into words what she was to me, my baby, my security, my best friend but still more than all of those things. For the second time in a little over a year I have a hole inside me but now it’s Rein shaped. I find myself fumbling for words to explain how losing her has felt but I don’t think there are any. That last day is haunting, it was so sudden and to come home without her tail thumping in greeting is a deafening silence. I’ll miss you forever my baby Rein.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Dear April,
      I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s so nice to hear from you again; I’m just sorry it had to be when you lost yet another dear companion.

      Your tribute to Rein is beautiful. I wish all dogs were so well loved and cared for. Thank you for sharing her story with us.

      To other readers: April wrote a lovely tribute to her other dog, Eevon, who had dementia, and allowed me to publish it here.

      Take care, April. I’ll be thinking of you.

  9. Cynthia Sterling says:

    MY poodle almost 16 has the past week wanted to start eating in the morning, afternoon & evening. Usually he would eat around dinner & never finished his food. His hearing has been affected & he has cataracts but if you make loud noises he pays attention. He can see, only not too far. He runs, plays etc. We just can’t understand the extra food!

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