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Health & Wellness

Dogs can develop dementia, but there are ways to stall it

Look out for these dog-dementia symptoms.

As we grow older, we begin to think about the what-ifs of our health. We visit the doctor to learn more about our hereditary conditions, take vitamins to boost our immune system and listen to our bodies regarding diet and exercise.

If you’re a dog parent, you’ll also want to consider your pup’s future health. As dogs get older, it’s not just their joints or appetites that change. Senior dogs are also at risk for developing neurological disorders like dementia. 

Even though dementia is a serious disorder, there are vet-approved ways to make your pup as comfortable and happy as possible as they age. 

Can dogs get dementia? 

Unfortunately, yes — dementia can affect senior dogs (usually over the age of 9, but it can happen as young as 7 years old), Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, explains. And spayed female pups are more likely to develop dementia when they become older because of a hormonal or genetic factor. 

“Dementia, aka cognitive dysfunction, is a neurological disorder of senior dogs, which causes a decline in their mental capabilities,” she adds. 

According to Dr. McCullough, as dogs grow older, their brains become weaker, and a protein that amasses in the organ can make it harder for them to think, reason and remember. 

What are the symptoms of dog dementia? 

Dogs with dementia might not act the same as they used to. You can spot this disorder by picking up on changes like: 

  • Confusion
  • Wandering (especially to unusual places)
  • Staring
  • Going to the bathroom indoors
  • Slower responses to learned commands
  • Lethargy
  • Mood shifts toward family members (like decreased responsiveness or aggression)
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Disinterest in everyday activities like eating, walking or playing
  • Excessive vocalization

Unfortunately, these symptoms worsen over time, Dr. McCullough shares. So talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog is struggling with dementia. “It may be helpful to keep a diary or take videos of abnormal behaviors to show your veterinarian,” she adds. 

RELATED: Understanding your dog’s body language

What are treatment options for dementia in dogs? 

There isn’t a cure for dementia in dogs, but there are ways to slow the progression and make your pup’s life as comfortable and happy as possible, Dr. McCullough says. 

If your pup is diagnosed with dementia, ask your veterinarian about changing their diet. “Prescription diets for dementia are fortified with antioxidants, vitamins, essential fatty acids and mitochondrial cofactors, which are helper molecules that assist in the body’s biological processes,” Dr. McCullough explains. 

Vet-approved medications can also make your dog feel more comfortable. These are aimed at helping them sleep, lowering any stress or anxiety and boosting their awareness. 

Making your home a safe, stable and stress-free space for your dog will benefit them during this time. Dementia causes dogs to be forgetful, which can create added stress and anxiety to their everyday life. The goal is to limit these emotions by not making any significant changes in the house (think: moving furniture). 

“Pet parents can also increase their dog’s mental stimulation through social interactions, exercise and introducing new toys, which can improve cognitive function and delay dementia progression,” Dr. McCullough shares. 

There isn’t a way to prevent dementia from affecting your dog, but having regular conversations with your veterinarian about their risk of developing the disorder and sticking to your vet’s recommended preventive care schedule can help.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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