It’s the cruel disorder that people associate with memory problems in the elderly – but dogs can also be affected by dementia.
If your pet is over seven years old and has experienced a sudden change in behavior, this could be a sign of canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD).
Dog whisperer Lorna Winter said: “Dementia in dogs is not the same as in humans and there are a variety of dietary changes, medications and behavioral therapies that can help.” Always seek the help of a professional first.
Winter, co-founder of dog training app Zigzag, added: “As a dog owner, you don’t always have to focus on friendly cuddles and long walks, because just like people, dogs go through different stages of life that come with special challenges, new behaviors and changing moods.
You should pay attention to these warning signs:
Lorna Winter is Winter, co-founder of dog training app Zigzag and director of the UK Dog Behavior Training Charter (Zigzag).
Stare into space
Winter said, “All dogs stare into space at some point, and you’ve probably asked yourself, ‘What are they looking at?’
“Dogs have different eyesight than us and are very sensitive to smells. So when they’re staring into nothingness, they may be trying to pay attention to a particular smell that can make it seem like they’re staring.”
But in older dogs, staring into space can be a sign of CCD.
Winter said: “If you have an older dog, prolonged staring at nothing or at the ground could be an indication of CCD.”
“As dogs get older, they tend to slow down, and cognitive and sensory impairments can occur. “They’re not trying to be naughty and ignore you – that’s just part of getting older.”
Difficulty with basic tasks that they once could easily complete
If your older dog is struggling with simple things he used to be able to do, this could be a sign of dementia.
Winter said: “Imagine a door that is slightly open. Normally a dog might think to nudge it open with its nose or paw to get in.”
“However, a dog suffering from cognitive decline will likely just end up staring at the door because he can’t think of the next step to open the door.”
“You may have been opening doors for years, but cognitive decline means your dog’s brain is no longer fueled and he may forget how to complete simple tasks like this.”
“Another classic is ‘forgetting’ how to reverse out of corners.”
Suddenly disinterested in eating – or forgetting to eat
When dogs suffer from dementia, they experience anxiety and stress because they are less confident about their environment and the people around them, Winter said.
This could lead to a loss of interest in food, Winter said.
Winter said, “A dog with CCD may also forget to eat.”
“However, there are some examples of dogs with CCD who eat more than usual because they have forgotten that they have already eaten.”
“In any case, keeping a close eye on your older dogs’ eating habits is a good way to spot signs that something is wrong.”
Restlessness and barking at night
In young dogs, nighttime barking can be a sign of anxiety, but in older animals (seven years or older, depending on the breed), restlessness and nighttime barking can be a warning sign of dementia, Winter warned.
Winter said: “If an older dog becomes restless and barks at night, it could be a sign of age-related dementia.”
Go to the toilet inside
Older dogs often “suffer accidents” indoors when they have canine dementia, Winter said.