Dog dementia risk rises each year after age 10, but there are ways to ease it, study says - (2022)

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Just like people, dogs can get dementia as they age. The spry speedster that used to zoom out the door may one day amble unsteadily to the closet to be let out.

It’s an unfortunate reality many dog owners might have to face, especially if their dog’s breed lives 10 years or more. A new study that is part of the Dog Aging Project found the risk of developing cognitive issues rises by 52% each year after age 10 in many dogs.

But there’s no reason to despair if your furry best friend is showing signs of canine cognitive decline, or CCD, said veterinarian Dr. Dana Varble, chief veterinary officer for the North American Veterinary Community.

“Too often, pet owners think their dogs are just ‘slowing down’ and don’t realize there are things they can do to ease, slow or even stave off cognitive decline as dogs age,” Varble said.

“Studies show that mental activity and exercise are important for a dog’s mental well-being just as it is in humans. Stimulating the brain is important and this can be done easily with food puzzles for example,” she said.

Food puzzles are toys in which owners hide treats, and it’s up to the dog to push, jiggle or jog the treats out of them. Such activities help keep both dogs’ and cats’ brains engaged, experts say.

In addition, “nutritional supplements have been shown to improve signs and slow the decline of CCD. There are also special foods for aging dogs,” Varble said.

Age and activity levels are key

In the new study, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers asked over 15,000 dog owners to complete two surveys between December 2019 and 2020 on their dogs’ health and cognitive status. Then the scientists grouped the dogs by age and analyzed the results.

Based on age alone, a dog’s odds of developing CCD increased by 68% for each year after a decade of life. But when other factors were taken into account, such as the breed of dog, existing health problems, sterilization and physical activity, the risk fell to 52% per extra year of life.

Inactive dogs of the same breed, health status, age and sterilization status were nearly seven times more likely to get doggie dementia than comparable active dogs. Whether it’s the inactivity that leads to the dementia or vice versa is unclear, the study authors said.

In addition, dogs with a history of neurological, eye or ear disorders had a higher risk of cognitive decline, according to the study.

There was good news as well: The study found almost no cognitive decline in dogs below the age of 10.

What to look for

Veterinarians have been studying the signs and symptoms of doggie dementia for years, trying to better understand and help the pets in their care. Here is what to look for, according to experts:

Disorientation: Dogs with cognitive issues can begin to have trouble getting around the house or start wandering around as if lost. They can get stuck behind furniture and not know how to get out or stare without a purpose at the floor, walls or out into space. They may even fail to recognize family members.

Changes in sleep cycles: Dementia can cause dogs to confuse day and night, and your pet could wake during the night and begin pacing the house, barking or whining. The sleeplessness at night may lead to excessive sleeping during the day.

House training: Some dogs forget years of house training and begin relieving themselves inside, which can make them anxious. They may forget to alert you when they need to go out, or even forget to do their business while outside and soil the home when they return.

Changes in social behavior: Interactions with you and other people in their lives can change. A dog could become extra clingy, fearful or needy. Or the dog might become antisocial, withdrawing from interactions and spending time alone.

Changes in physical activity: A dog with cognitive decline may lose interest in favorite toys, other dogs and people or start pacing aimlessly with no ability to settle down.

Take your dog to the vet if you see any of these signs, and the sooner the better, Varble suggested. “Early intervention can extend and improve the quality of life for our pets,” she said.

First, the vet will check the dog for other causes of the symptoms, eliminating such things as diabetes, loss of vision and hearing, kidney or urinary issues, arthritis, hypertension, and Cushing’s disease, caused by an excess of the stress hormone cortisol.

If you and your vet catch the signs of dementia early, the doctor may suggest a behavior-altering drug approved for dogs by the US Food and Drug Administration which works on the neurotransmitter dopamine to help the decline.

The vet may also put your dog on a brain-healthy diet and encourage more physical activity, socialization and brain-stimulation via food puzzles, teaching new tricks and encouraging snuffles and sniffs on walks.


Can a 10 year old dog have dementia? ›

Like humans, older dogs are susceptible to developing age-related illnesses like dementia. You may have noticed changes in your pet that indicate that they are suffering from some form of cognitive decline.

Can a 12-year-old dog get dementia? ›

Is it old age or is it dementia? Older dogs can suffer from dementia, also known as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. It's thought to affect nearly a third of 11 to 12-year-old dogs and over two-thirds of dogs aged 15 to 16 years.

Can an 11 year old dog have dementia? ›

Your dog's chance of developing dementia increases with age. Twenty-eight percent of 11- to 12-year-old dogs have CCD, while 68 percent of 15- to 16-year-old dogs have the disorder, according to Today's Veterinary Practice. Signs and symptoms of dementia may include: Restlessness.

Will your dog get dementia a large new study offers clues? ›

The risk of canine cognitive dysfunction, a.k.a. “doggy dementia,” is far greater in dogs who don't get enough exercise, researchers found. Their risk factors echo some in humans, whose homes they share.

Should you euthanize a dog with dementia? ›

When to euthanize a dog with dementia? If your dog seems to be rapidly deteriorating (mentally and physically), shows unusual behaviors and overall appears to be having a poor quality of life, consult your vet for professional advice. This could be the right time to consider euthanization or putting them to sleep.

Does dog dementia come on suddenly? ›

He says while people are aware of dementia in humans, the problem with identifying it in animals is that it can happen quickly.

Do dogs with dementia suffer? ›

Dogs with canine dementia often show strange behaviors. They may become less responsive to commands, lose their house-training, or find it difficult to eat and drink. Dogs suffering from CCD also often bark more when they feel anxious. It's vital that you're patient with your dog through these changes.

How fast does dog dementia progress? ›

The study also found that progress from mild to moderate cognitive dysfunction was rapid. About a quarter of the dogs who had initially been diagnosed with mild cognitive dysfunction had progressed to moderate dysfunction in six months. This portion rose to half the dogs at the one-year mark.

How can I tell if my dog has dementia? ›

Below are the most common symptoms of dog dementia:
  • Disorientation and confusion – Appearing lost or confused in familiar surroundings.
  • Anxiety.
  • Failing to remember routines and previously learned training or house rules.
  • No longer responding to their name or familiar commands.
  • Extreme irritability.
  • Decreased desire to play.
20 Mar 2022

What are the stages of doggie dementia? ›

Dementia in dogs has three stages of symptoms—mild, moderate, and severe. There are typical patterns that appear within each stage. However, it's important to note that not every dog follows these exact patterns or stages.

How quickly does dog dementia progress? ›

About a quarter of the dogs who had initially been diagnosed with mild cognitive dysfunction had progressed to moderate dysfunction in six months. This portion rose to half the dogs at the one-year mark. This is roughly five times faster than the progression of human Alzheimer's.

How long does a dog live with dementia? ›

Approximately two years, but since it's a diagnosis of exclusion, it's always possible that cognitive dysfunction is both under-diagnosed and over-diagnosed. For instance, some dogs with symptoms of cognitive dysfunction will improve markedly with great dental work and pain medication.

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