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Recognising and Treating Doggy Dementia

3 min read

Recognising and Treating Doggy Dementia

Just like humans, dogs are living longer thanks to modern medicine. The plus side is we get more time with our beloved pets, but one of the downsides is a higher chance they will experience a multitude of health issues including cognitive decline. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), colloquially known as ‘doggy dementia’ is common in senior pets. Not all dogs will experience CDS, but statistics show it will affect one-third of dogs aged 12, and 40 per cent over the age of 14.

Signs of cognitive decline

Symptoms of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome can include:

  • Sleep disturbance (particularly wandering and unsettled behaviour at night)
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive vocalisation (howling, barking or whining)
  • Repetitive behaviour such as pacing or circling
  • Staring into space
  • Declining interest in social interactions (with humans and other animals)
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Loss of learnt behaviours such as toilet training
  • Changes in appetite

Owners of pets with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome have reported their dogs forgetting how to use doggy doors, getting stuck behind furniture, becoming lost, and displaying signs of anxiety particularly when their routines are changed.

Cognitive decline is a normal part of ageing, but can be treated and managed to help dogs thrive in their golden years.


If you notice your pet displaying signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, it’s important to take them to your vet for a check-up. The first thing your vet will do is rule out other potential complications that include similar symptoms to Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. For example:

  • Disturbed sleep can be a sign of pain or anxiety
  • Other illnesses such as diabetes, liver and kidney disease can also result in reduced mental capacity
  • Vision or hearing loss can exist separately from Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome
  • Dental infections or gum disease can cause loss of appetite
  • Urinary tract infections can cause incontinence
  • Many diseases can cause bowel issues
  • Arthritis may result in declining interest in social interactions or exercise

Your vet can perform a physical examination and tests to rule out any other causes of the behavioural changes and symptoms that also align with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.

Prevention and treatment of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Physical activity is the number one preventative measure against Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome and helps your dog to maintain good mental health as well as physical health.

Mental stimulation can also help slow cognitive decline. Mental stimulation can include walks, games, food puzzles, and playing with toys.

Maintaining routines, such as timing of exercise, meals and rest, can also assist your dog when Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome begins to develop. Routines help create a sense of safety and order which gives comfort to dogs experiencing confusion and disorientation.

Behavioural therapy such as practise of previously learnt training commands, crate sleeping, and rewards for positive behaviour, can also help dogs maintain confidence and comfort while experiencing symptoms of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.

Nutrition can also play a role managing cognitive decline in senior dogs. Some studies have shown a diet high in antioxidants can lead to an improvement in cognition and memory. Naturopaths also spruik several supplements as having properties that promote mental health. Ask your Just For Pets Independent pet store about food products or natural remedies specially formulated for senior dogs.

Your vet may also recommend specific medications to ease your dog’s individual symptoms.


Overall, Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is not a condition that usually causes loss of vital functions in dogs, such as their ability to eat and drink. Therefore, dogs with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome have similar lifespans to dogs without CDS.

If your dog’s symptoms are being effectively managed and you’re both happy with their quality of life, all that’s left is to provide them with the care, compassion and love deserved by all our elders as they progress into their final years.

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