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Alzheimer’s in Dogs vs Normal Signs of Aging

Concerned about Alzheimer’s in dogs? If you have an aging dog exhibiting unusual signs and symptoms, it could be a real concern. We worry about our dogs, especially when they start doing things that aren’t normal for them.

What we might call Alzheimer’s in dogs is actually known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS), a serious brain disorder that can develop in older dogs.

Like Alzheimer’s in people, CCDS is a chronic and progressive disease. If your dog is over the age of 9 and seems out of sorts, it’s important to know the warning signs.

This post will compare what’s normal for an aging dog versus what isn’t. Sometimes it’s a fine line between the two and – ultimately – only a veterinarian can make the absolute diagnosis. You’ll also discover new treatments available for dogs with cognitive dysfunction along with tips on diet.

What You Need to Know About Alzheimer’s in Dogs

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is a common condition typically seen in dogs over the age of 9.

The absolute cause of cognitive dysfunction in dogs isn’t fully understood; however, theories suggest that a protein called amyloid beta is deposited in the brain. The result is the formation of plaque.

Senile plaques are formed outside of cells and are deposited in grey matter of the brain. The “grey matter” of the brain makes up the majority of the central nervous system.

There’s no cure and no way to reverse damage that’s already occurred. However, quality of life can sometimes be sustained through the use of veterinarian approved nutritional supplements.

The “use it or lose it” attitude can be applied to dogs with the disease. In other words, the best way to help your dog maintain mental agility is to put him through his paces.

Puzzles, feeders, exercise, and even some behavioral re-training can help to keep the brain’s synapses firing longer than they would without those interventions.

*see sources at the bottom of this post.

There’s no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, but there are some recommended treatment options that have shown promise in keeping a dog’s mental acuity active for longer.

Novifit S

Novifit S is a supplement designed to improve the mental alertness/awareness of companion pets in the early stages of cognitive decline. The product is given as a tablet once a day for the rest of the pet’s life.

The supplement contains a naturally occurring compound in the body known as S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe). In humans, the supplement is thought to help alleviate the discomfort of osteoarthritis and possibly depression.

Dogs taking antidepressants like Prozac (a class of drug known as an SSRI) should not take Novifit S.

Discuss this option with your veterinarian.

For more information on Novifit read this.


Senilife is a nutraceutical with promising results. Senilife contains a unique blend of antioxidants including phosphatidylserine, pyridoxine, gingko biloba extract, resveratrol and d-alpha-tocopherol. These antioxidants work together to help reduce brain-aging behaviors in as little as 7 days, according to the makers of Senilife.

These supplements are available through many veterinarian clinics in the United States and online. See the link below.

Pet Care Costs – How to Manage The Bill With Ease.

There are many ways to save money on veterinarian bills including shopping around for the best price, talking to the veterinarian and asking about lower-priced prescription offers. There are countless options available for pet owners.

If you are worried about the cost of veterinarian bills, please read this post by Vet Bills: Should You Get a Personal Loan? The article is about much more than just personal loans. You’ll find secrets about CareCredit and other financial resources you probably never knew about. In addition, you’ll get a full list of typical veterinarian costs associated with various procedures.

Management of Cognitive Dysfunction in Dogs Through Diet

There’s a dietary trend among dog owners to feed dogs homemade dishes. The idea is that if the food is nutritionally sound for us, it must be okay for dogs. In reality, this might not be the best diet for a senior dog.

Senior dogs, like their younger counterparts, have specific dietary needs. When purchasing food for older dogs, look for formulas designed specifically for seniors. The top products come from Purina, Royal Canin, and Hill’s Science (see below)

What’s Normal for an Aging Dog?

Dogs age faster at the beginning of their lives than slow down towards the end. Contrary to popular belief, one dog year isn’t the absolute equivalent to 7 human years.

That said, dogs age very much like we do in a lot of ways. Here are a few examples of what to expect as your dog advances through the senior years.

Vision Loss

Although many dogs maintain excellent vision throughout the senior dogs, some may develop signs of glaucoma and/or cataracts. Both are treatable.

Is it vision loss or a sign of impending Alzheimer’s?

Dogs with vision loss due to glaucoma or cataracts may begin bumping into furniture, have difficulty locating a thrown ball, and may seem disoriented. It’s important to have your dog assessed by a veterinarian for this reason.

Hearing Loss

Dogs can experience mild to moderate hearing loss for any number of reasons and they don’t need to be seniors for it to happen. However, as a dog ages, the normal acuity of a dog’s hearing may begin to dim.

Is your dog going deaf or doesn’t he recognize his name?

This is another example where the wrong diagnosis can be made. Dogs are sometimes labelled with sudden behavioural problems when the problem is their hearing. In fact, it’s easy to misdiagnose a dog with dementia because of the similarity in signs.

Dogs with dementia may startle easily, bark excessively, experience personality changes, etc. These same signs can also happen if a dog is unable to hear properly.


Again, many senior dogs remain healthy and active (relative to their age) well into the senior years. Sudden increased fatigue is not normal in any age. However, you may find your senior dog wearing out after exercise a little faster than normal.

When you notice a combination of things like fatigue, disinterest in play, lack of appetite, personality changes, and/or sudden “accidents” in the house, it could be something more than just normal aging. As a dog owner, you’ll know when something isn’t quite right. Trust your instincts.


If you’re above a certain age, you might know what it’s like to be sitting for a long time only to experience stiffness when standing. Dogs are no different. Muscles and joints can seize, become painful, and may need time to recover from sitting to standing.

Alzheimer’s in dogs is a disease of the brain. The types of physical signs of dementia in dogs include things like constant head bobbing or leg shaking. Limping and lameness are likely due to joint, bone, or muscular issues.

Just How OLD is Your Dog?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association:

  • The first year of a medium-sized dog’s life is 15 years of a human’s life.
  • The second year of a dog’s life equals about nine years for a human.
  • And after that, very human year equals approximately five years for a dog

Source: American Veterinary Medical Association


Disorientation isn’t a normal part of aging for dogs. Senior dogs may become slower due to arthritis or other disease, but they still know where they are and what they’re doing.

If your aging dog suddenly seems lost in a familiar environment, it could be a sign of something more serious. Examples of dogs who become disoriented due to canine cognitive dysfunction include:

  • Walking into a corner and not knowing how to back out
  • Going to the wrong side of the door when asking to go outside
  • Doesn’t recognize his/her own treats
  • Suddenly doesn’t recognize or can’t find his/her food dish.

Memory Loss

Judging memory loss in aging dogs isn’t particularly easy to do. However, if your dog is suffering from a form of dementia, the following signs could be a clue.

  • Forgets basic commands
  • Forgets to go outside to pee or poop
  • Lack of interest in playing or interacting

The signs of memory loss are intrinsically linked to other signs of dementia in aging dogs. It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what’s happening with your dog, but your instincts should lead you to the conclusion that something isn’t right. If your dog seems out-of-sorts for any reason, a veterinarian visit is important.

Alzheimer's in Dogs is actually known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.
An older mixed breed Dog in their last years, being very attentive. Focus on the eyes.

Personality Changes in Dogs with Dementia

If your dog is naturally happy and suddenly becomes nippy and cranky, it could be a sign of cognitive decline. Personality and behavioral changes can also signify other diseases or conditions, including pain. It’s important to have your dog assessed by a licensed veterinarian to get an appropriate diagnosis.

Sleep Disturbance/Sundowner’s Syndrome in Dogs

Like people, dogs who develop dementia often experience what’s known as Sundowner’s Syndrome. This literally happens after the sun sets and more confusion and irritability sink in. A dog that used to sleep comfortably at night will suddenly pace the halls, whine, howl, bark, or cry.


Remember DISHA

DISHA is an acronym for:

  • Disorientation
  • Social INTERACTION Change
  • Sleep/wake disturbance
  • House Soiling
  • Activity Changes

The list above should be used when assessing whether your dog may be suffering from early dementia.


We love our dogs and will do anything to keep them with us for as long as possible. If you notice any of the signs noted above, don’t hesitate to get your dog to a veterinarian. Keep in mind that, although CCDS is common in senior dogs, it’s still thought to be under-diagnosed.

Report all unusual behavior to the veterinarian to give him/her a clear picture of what’s been happening. Through discussion, the veterinarian will be better able to rule out other possible causes, if any.

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Question? Does your dog have CCDS? Feel free to contact me at:

SOURCE: Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Companion Animals: Diagnosis & Treatment; Amy L. Pike, DVM, DACVB;

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Sundowner’s Syndrome in Dogs

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