Senior Dementia in Dogs

Common Signs to Look For

Senior dog
Paff/Stocksy United

Have you noticed odd behaviors in your senior dog that you can't explain? You may wonder if it's possible for dogs to have Alzheimer's. Here is a list of the most common signs seen with senior dementia in dogs. (A feline pet may also exhibit similar symptoms.)

As with all behavior changes, please see your veterinarian first to rule out a medical problem first, as many diseases can have the same signs.

illustration of signs of dementia in dogs
Illustration: Elnora Turner. © The Spruce, 2019
  • 01 of 09

    Getting "Lost" in Corners or on the Wrong Side of a Door

    This is a common complaint with cognitive dysfunction syndrome in dogs. Some dogs may stand headfirst in a corner or at the hinge side of a door, waiting for it to open or standing helplessly, unable to figure out the next step.

  • 02 of 09

    Pacing or Anxiousness

    This symptom involves a loss of purposeful activity -- pacing and wandering around the house, often anxious, with no other symptoms (i.e. overactive bowel or bladder).

  • 03 of 09

    Loss of Housetraining

    Canine seniors with dementia may forget about going outside to do their business as they always used to. A medical problem -- urinary tract infection, gastrointestinal problems -- must always be ruled out first before assuming it is a behavioral (dementia) problem.

    Your dog may not be aware that they are 'leaking' or may purposely seek out places to void in the house, unaware that this is not normal behavior.

  • 04 of 09

    Doesn't Greet Family Members as Before

    A dog with cognitive dysfunction often will not seek out human companionship, sometimes walking away while being petted. Also noted behavior is no longer greets family members upon arrival.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Barking for No Reason

    This may be because they no longer recognize family members or because they are "lost" in the yard or behind a door. There is an element of general confusion too, which could cause barking, especially at night.

  • 06 of 09

    Loss of Appetite

    Senior dogs may "forget" to eat and lose interest in food. Geriatric animals have little reserves; please see your vet if your pet is not eating or has a decreased appetite.

  • 07 of 09

    Sleep Irregularities

    A dog with cognitive dysfunction may sleep more than normal ​or have night and day reversed: sleeping in the day and awake (and confused) at night.

  • 08 of 09

    Doesn't Respond to Voice Commands as Before

    The first thing to rule out here is hearing loss, which is quite common in senior dogs. In the case of cognitive dysfunction, the dog cannot process the command and act on it as before. The dog may even be confused about his or her name when called.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    If You Notice Some of These Signs With Your Pet

    Keep a log of what behaviors you have noticed, including timeframes and how often you notice these behaviors, and make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss. As noted above, the first step for any behavior problem is to rule out any medical causes first.

    For example, if your dog is urinating in the house and never did this before, your vet will want to rule out urinary problems before addressing senior dementia changes.

    For dogs suspected of having senior dementia, your veterinarian may prescribe medications, such as Anipryl, that may be helpful with common signs of dementia. Some dogs are helped with ​DAP to reduce senior dementia-anxiety.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.