It’s the cruel disorder people associate with memory issues in elderly people – but dementia can also strike dogs.
If your pet is more than seven years old and suffered a sudden shift in behavior, it could be a sign of Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD).
Dog whisperer Lorna Winter said: ‘Dementia in dogs is not the same as in humans and there are a variety of dietary changes, medications and behavior therapies that can help. Always seek help from a professional first.
Winter, the co-founder of dog-training app Zigzag, added: ‘Being a dog parent isn’t always friendly cuddles and long walks, as just like humans, dogs go through different stages of life which come with specific challenges, new behaviors and changing moods.’
These are the warning signs to look out for:
Lorna Winter is a Winter, co-founder of dog training app Zigzag and a director of Britain’s Dog Behaviour Training Charter (Zigzag)
Staring into space
Winter said: ‘All dogs stare into space at one point or another and you’ve probably thought to yourself, “What are they looking at?”
‘Dogs have different vision to us and are highly receptive to scent – so when they stare into nothing, it might be that they are trying to pay attention to a certain smell, which can look like they’re staring.
But with older dogs, staring into space can be a sign of CCD.
Winter said: ‘If you have an older dog, prolonged staring at nothing, or staring at the floor, could indicate CCD.
‘As dogs get older, they tend to slow down, and cognitive and sensory decline can happen. They’re not trying to be naughty and ignore you – it’s just part of old age.’
Struggling with basic tasks they used to do with ease
If your senior dog is struggling with simple things that they used to be able to do, this could be a sign of dementia.
Winter said: ‘Think about a door that is slightly ajar, usually a dog might think to nudge it open with their nose or paw to get inside.
‘However, a dog suffering from cognitive decline will likely end up just staring at the door because they are unable to think of the next step to get it open.
‘They might have been opening doors for years but cognitive decline means there is a lack of fuel going to your dog’s brain and they might forget how to complete simple tasks like this.
‘Another classic is “forgetting” how to back out of corners.’
Suddenly disinterested in food – or forgetting to eat
When dogs experience dementia, they have feelings of anxiety and stress because they are less sure of their surroundings and the people around them, said Winter.
This can lead to a loss of interest in food, Winter said,
Winter said: ‘A dog with CCD might also forget to eat.
‘However, there are some examples of dogs with CCD eating more than usual because they have forgotten that they’ve already eaten.
‘Either way, keeping a close eye on your senior dogs’ eating habits is a good way to spot any signs that something might be wrong.’
Restlessness and barking at night
In young dogs, barking at night can be a sign of anxiety, but in older animals (seven years old or more, depending on breed), being restless and barking at night can be a warning sign of dementia, Winter warned.
Winter said: ‘In a senior dog, becoming restless and barking at night could be a sign of age-related dementia.’
Going to the toilet indoors
Older dogs commonly ‘have accidents’ indoors if they are suffering from canine dementia, Winter said.