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  • Writer's pictureAlissa Anderson

"Doggy Dementia" - Yes, It Exists!

Updated: Mar 16

Have you ever wondered if your senior pet can get Alzheimer’s disease? Has their behavior been changing or do they seem to be getting confused? Dogs and cats can and do sometimes develop cognitive dysfunction, an age-related condition where changes in the brain can cause declines in perception, memory, and learning, similar to dementia in humans. In this blog I will focus on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), including a brief summary of symptoms and diagnosis, supplements/diets, medications, and management.


Below is a partial list of symptoms that can be associated with CCD:

- Restlessness/pacing (especially at night)

- Vocalizing

- Antisocial behavior

- Accidents in the house

- Anxiety

- Disorientation

- Getting stuck in corners, behind/under furniture, going to the wrong side of the door

- Not recognizing or behaving strangely towards people they know

CCD is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning we do not have a specific test for this condition and need to rule out other potential medical causes first whenever possible. Veterinarians consider history, symptoms, and may use specialized rating scales to assess your pet for CCD. They also perform physical exams (including orthopedic and neurologic components) and may perform diagnostic tests to rule out other possible causes (such as brain tumors or osteoarthritis).

The DISHAA tool available here through Purina is an excellent resource for assessing what level of cognitive decline your pet may be currently experiencing. As a hospice veterinarian I am a strong believer that as your pet's caregiver, you are the best judge because you know what their "normal"s are and you notice small changes first. Tools like DISHAA are a great way to help you know what to look for!


Antioxidants, medium-chain triglycerides, Vitamin E, omega 3 fatty acids, and multiple other ingredients have been shown to improve cognitive function in some senior pets. Supplements (please remember these are not regulated by the FDA and it can be difficult to assess their quality and efficacy) that may be beneficial for your pet include Senilife (, Neutricks (for dogs or cats), and SAMe (available in products like Denamarin,; available for dogs or cats). Because CCD affects the sleep-wake cycle and can be associated with anxiety, supplements focused on these signs can also be helpful. Some examples include Zylkene (; for dogs or cats), Vetriscience’s Composure (for dogs or cats), Solliquin, and Purina’s Calming Care (for dogs only at this time). You can also use melatonin, but check with your veterinarian for the correct dosing.

There are several diets on the market that are formulated for senior pets which include ingredients to improve brain health. Some examples include Purina ProPlan’s Bright Mind, Purina Neurocare (prescription required), or Hill’s Youthful Vitality. With cognitive dysfunction being so difficult to manage even through veterinary hospice care, I start my own dogs on Bright Minds at age 7-8 years as long as they do not have other specialized dietary needs.


Selegiline (Anipryl) is a prescription oral medication approved by the FDA for treatment of CCD symptoms in dogs. It has had variable efficacy anecdotally, and note that it can take up to 4 weeks to see improvement. If you want more information on if this medication could help your pet, please visit with your veterinarian.

Other medications can be used to treat the anxiety or sleep problems that may be secondary to CCD. These include trazodone, fluoxetine (cannot be used with selegline), sertraline, or clomipramine (Clomicalm).


Enviromental enrichment and mental stimulation are important in the maintenance of your older pet’s cognitive function. Puzzle and food toys, playtime, and exercise are some ways to keep your pet’s mind active. Following routines and adding in more frequent potty breaks can also help out geriatric pets.

You can also find simple ways to assist with management of your older pet’s anxiety. These can include use of compression garments like Thundershirt (, pheromones (such as Feliway or Adaptil), and a white noise machine for times when your pet is home alone. Acupuncture and/or massage therapy can also be helpful in reducing your pet’s stress. Addressing pain (such as arthritic pain) is also an important component of decreasing stress in your senior pet.

CCD is a progressive disease and symptoms will worsen over time, although it is difficult to create a timeline because every individual pet is different. After establishing a baseline, it is important to monitor your pet’s signs, as well as their response to treatment and management. Quality of life needs to be considered. The good news is that at this time we have many ways to help older pets live happier, healthier lives. Please visit with your veterinarian to learn more and to come up with the best treatment plan for your pet.

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