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Senior Dementia in Dogs

Common Signs of Canine Senility

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Have you noticed odd behaviors in your senior dog that you can't explain? Do dogs get Alzheimer's? Here is a list of the most common signs seen with senior dementia in dogs.

Related: Senior Dementia in Cats

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.

1. Getting "lost" in corners or on the wrong side of a door

Photo: Old Dog © BobMacInnes on Flickr
© BobMacInnes on Flickr
This is a common complaint with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in dogs. Some dogs may stand head-first 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.

2. Pacing or anxiousness

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

3. 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.

4. 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: no longer greets family members upon arrival.

5. 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.

6. Loss of appetite

Senior dog 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. If you notice some of these signs with your pet

Keep a log of what behaviors you have noticed, the timeframe or 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 wil 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.

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