As we work to appreciate and respect brain awareness month in March, I want you to understand that it also affects our four-legged friends! Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) syndrome is a condition related to the aging of a dog’s brain, which ultimately leads to changes in awareness, deficits in learning and memory, and decreased responsiveness to stimuli.

Although the initial symptoms of the disorder are mild, they gradually worsen over time, which is referred to as “cognitive decline.”

In fact, clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome are found in nearly one in three dogs over the age of 11, and by the age of 16, nearly all dogs display at least one sign.

Here’s everything you need to know about dog dementia, from the symptoms, causes and life expectancy to treatment and prevention.

Symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

These are the most common symptoms of dementia in dogs:

  • Disorientation/confusion
  • Anxiety/restlessness
  • Extreme irritability
  • Decreased desire to play
  • Excessive licking
  • Seeming disregard for previously learned training or house rules
  • Slow to learn new tasks
  • Inability to follow familiar routes
  • Excessive barking
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • Fecal and urinary incontinence or potty accidents
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in sleep (sleeping during the day? Active at night?)
  • Causes of Dog Dementia

As dogs age, the brain atrophies, meaning that the cells die. This likely impacts brain function. Small strokes (also referred to as a cerebrovascular accident) and other accumulation of damage may also have a role in canine cognitive decline. The exact causes are not known, but many of the same changes that cause problems as people age are likely to also cause problems as our pets age.


You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health to your veterinarian, including the onset and nature of the symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated the unusual behaviors or complications. I’m a big fan of having my pet owners record their pet’s behavior so that we both can appreciate the differences and behaviors of concern.

Routine blood tests, ultrasounds and X-rays are also employed to rule out other diseases that may lead to behavioral changes associated with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

Treatment of Dog Dementia

Dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome require lifelong therapy and support. However, you can make a world of difference when it comes to improving your dog’s cognitive functions.

For example, although it will not “cure” your dog, maintaining a healthy and stimulating environment will help slow the progression of cognitive decline. This typically involves imposing a daily routine of exercise, play and training (re-training). Ask your veterinarian about fatty acid supplements and therapeutic diets that are tailored to the aging pet. These diets are typically supplemented with antioxidants, vitamin E and C, selenium, flavonoids, beta carotene, carotenoids, omega-3, and carnitine—all considered excellent for improving a dog’s cognitive functions.

Making your home more accessible and safer for your senior dog can also help:

  • Night lights can help your senior dog navigate in the dark.
  • Potty pads near doors give your pup a place to go if she can’t make it until you come home or wake up.
  • Orthopedic foam beds (with washable covers) can make sleep more comfortable. Big Barker USA has fantastic orthopedic dog bed.

Life Expectancy of Dogs With Dementia

Since canine cognitive dysfunction is a degenerative process that occurs in a dog’s senior years, similar to Alzheimer’s in humans, life expectancy can be a tricky prognosis to make.

If a dog is otherwise healthy, then the dementia will eventually diminish your dog’s quality of life, but there has not been a specific timeframe established.

The best way to monitor your dog’s health and cognitive functioning is to work with your veterinarian and track your dog’s quality of life. This will help you determine when your dog is letting you know it’s time. Journal their behaviors and be present with them every day. We are their whole lives.

Adam Christman, DVM, MBA

Chief Veterinary Officer
MJH Life Sciences