A guide to…Understanding dementia in pets

We all hope that our pets will have a long and healthy life. Unfortunately, like humans, some dogs and cats can experience a decline in cognitive function as they age.

Dementia in pets is also known as Cognitive Dysfunction, a cognitive disorder in dogs associated with effects similar to those of Alzheimer’s in humans. Just like their owners, as pets age, they can have senile moments, with changes in behaviour, memory, learning and comprehension. The causes of dementia in pets are unknown, however the fact that the brain function is affected by physical and chemical changes that occur along with the aging process. But age- related cognitive decline is not the only condition that causes dementia in pets.

Signs of dementia in pets can include:

Confusion or disorientation

Confused behaviour in the house and wandering around aimlessly. Pets may regularly get lost on walks or perhaps go to the wrong side when opening doors. They may also lose the ability to recognise people they are frequently in contact with, or other pets.

Reduced social interaction

Pets may hide away more, especially if there are new people in the home. There may be reduced greeting behaviour, and this may just be perceived by pet owners as their pets being tired or less interested or excited. There may also be increased vocalisation, or rarely, aggression towards particular situations.

Loss of prior house training

One of the most noticeable signs for pet owners and is distressing for all involved. Toilet training is a key, learned behaviour, and so can be one of the first behaviours lost with cognitive dysfunction.

Disturbance in sleep

There is an increase in total sleep, but this can often be broken in shorter periods and often pets can be awake at night, when previously they did not disturb the pet owner.

Decreased activity

Dogs and cats can be less keen to exercise and less excited by toys and other previously rewarding events. Owners will sometimes describe their pets as depressed.

Tips to support your pet’s brain health

Dementia in pets cannot be cured, but there are some positive things you can do to help reduce some of the symptoms and slow the progression of the illness. These include:


Keeping your pet’s body and mind active is important. Regular exercise, which is appropriate for your pet’s age and physical condition can help to keep their mind and body healthy.

Monitor their weight

Keep your pet a healthy size. Overweight dogs and cats require more support for cognitive function. A proper diet will help your pet to have an optimal life. Make sure that the food you are giving your pet contains the essential vitamins and nutrients that they need as they age.

Retrain your dog

It’s true – you can teach an old dog new tricks! This can be done using the same techniques as you would with a puppy. Training helps to keep your pet’s brain active. Be creative to keep your pet occupied like using puzzle games. For more problematic behaviour issues, you should consult your vet.

Positive reinforcement

Behaviour training should include treats and praise. Do not punish your pet for bad behaviour, they don’t know that they have to done something until they are told.

Socialise your pet

Allow your dog to socialise with other pets and people. Take your dog to socialisation classes to learn how to behave around people and other dogs.

Omega 3s

Omega 3s have been shown to aid learning abilities in young puppies. Other studies linked low blood Omega-3 with dog aggression, which indicates beneficial applications of Omega-3s throughout your pet’s life to help maintain brain health.

Natural supplements

Supplementing your pet’s diet could help maintain health cognitive function. There are a number of products on the market that can help including Vetpro and Senior Aid, whilst Vets will often recommend Nutramind which provides high strength nutritional support and includes the key nutrients for supporting cognitive function in ageing pets.


If you are worried about your pet’s health or behavioural changes you should speak to your vet who will be able to offer the best advice dependant on their age and breed.