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Dogs are living longer and longer!

Dogs are living a heck of a lot longer than they used to.  Just as for humans, medical and surgical interventions for pets are advancing every day.  As our understanding of disease processes and our access to newer, better medications improve, we are able to not only lengthen the duration of our pets’ lives, but maintain a better quality of life, huzzah!  One of the consequences of this, however, is that there are a lot of geriatric canines around!

old dog and puppy, cognitive dysfunction syndrome

“When I was your age we had to walk 10 miles to school in the snow. We didn’t have no fancy coats or hilarious squeaky chew toys… And I slept in a cardboard box!”

As a small aside, I am always fascinated and a little bewildered when people point out that “dogs wouldn’t eat that diet/need dental work/get treatment for blah blah blah in the wild.” Yes sir, that is correct! However unless you wish for your dog to live 6 years, which is the average life expectancy of a grey wolf in the wild, I would not recommend you treat him like one (face palm).  Can you guess what the life expectancy of a pet dog is? Of course it depends on the breed, with smaller dogs living longer than giant breeds, but the average these days is 13.4 years.

domestic dogs

Our domesticated dogs come in an amazing array of shapes and sizes and are pretty different from their ancestors!

So you thought your dog was just ‘getting old,’ but is there more to it?

Many of the behavioral changes we see in older animals have a medical cause.  Geriatric dogs probably won’t want to walk as far and may start to have toilet accidents inside the house.  Some become more vocal, less tolerant of being handled, less obedient or just more irritable in general.  Many people think these things are just a normal part of the aging process, and assume nothing can be done, so they don’t seek veterinary help. They either live with the situation until the behavior becomes completely intolerable or euthanize the pet because it is ‘getting old’. It’s important for all the loving, kind owners out there to be aware that there may be other options for their furry friends!

A dog with arthritis might be seriously grumpy about being touched, or a dog that has developed cataracts and can no longer see may understandably be quite anxious.  As dogs (and cats, and people!) age physically, there is also going to be a deterioration of their other senses, such as hearing.  A dog that can’t hear very well may seem to be ignoring you, or may become increasingly reactive and anxious.  Just as with little old ladies (sorry little old ladies!) senior doggies may have troubles with incontinence that result in little puddles around the house.

Anything that causes chronic pain or discomfort is going to affect behavior.  I know I’d growl at someone if they tried to pick me up for a cuddle when my back was hurting! So keep in mind that there are many different options with medications and procedures that mean we can do more for these pets than you might think.

cognitive dysfunction syndrome

“You’ll have to shout in my good ear! Now where did I leave those darn car keys…”

So what is canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), and why am I writing an article on it? Well it has similarities to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.  Changes happen in the brain that affect thinking, recognition, memory and learned behavior. A huge fifty percent of dogs over the age of 10 years will show one or more symptoms of CDS, and it is progressive.  Many owners don’t recognize the signs and so don’t do anything about it.

Signs that your dog may have Cognitive dysfunction syndrome

  •  Disorientation is a big one.  These dogs may wander around the house aimlessly, stare into space, seem to get stuck in corners, or just look a little lost in a familiar environment. They might have trouble recognizing family members.
  • Altered sleep-wake cycles often go unnoticed unless they are disrupting the owner’s sleep.  These dogs may sleep more during the day and be restless or pace about during the night.  They may whine and bark at 2am only to look at you blankly when you let them outside.
  • Loss of learned behaviors such as house training, resulting in little accidents inside.
  • Compulsive behaviors such as vocalization for no apparent reason, or walking in circles.
  • Reduced social interaction with family members might be noticed as less enthusiastic greetings, or a disinterest in being petted.  Decreased responsiveness to commands may be mistaken for stubbornness.  Some dogs will do the opposite and become super clingy to their owners.
  • Changes in appetite, which may be increased or decreased.
  • Aggression

shaved cat

This is not a dog.  It is a shaved cat.  Although it IS a tad confused.  Just wanted to see if you’re paying attention!

So how can we help?

First and foremost, a thorough medical workup is essential for all behavioral problems.  This may seem unnecessary and frustrating, but as mentioned above, it isn’t uncommon for medical disorders to mimic behavioral problems.  It is also not uncommon for people who cut corners to end up treating the wrong thing!  I think this is MUCH more frustrating than taking the extra time to get it right.  We all have the same goal, after all.

Complete blood work including a biochemistry panel should be done prior to starting long-term medication regardless of the pet’s age.  As well as picking up potential problems, this gives us a baseline, particularly for liver and kidney parameters.  Many pets with behavioral problems do require medication for a prolonged period, with 6-12 months generally being the minimum.  Just as for people with mental illness, the medications used often take a number of weeks while to start helping, and need to be withdrawn slowly if the decision is made to stop them.

 Things you can do at home

CDS is a medical condition, and pharmacological intervention (ie drugs!) certainly has it’s place.  There is, however, more you can do to help than just popping a pill into his kibble every morning.  Research has indicated that keeping older dogs mentally active can help prevent or slow down cognitive decline.  Most dogs can’t learn a new language or a musical instrument, and I’ve yet to meet one that can finish a cryptic crossword, but we sure can teach an old dog new tricks!

dog reading paper

“You did my sudoku! And you took the cartoons section! I’m so gonna pee on the rug later…”

You just might need to use delicious tempting rewards and strong, unambiguous hand signals, but have a go, it’s a lot of fun.  Keep in mind that the value of any given reward depends totally on the personal preferences of the dog.  Some are big fat greedy pigs, some just adore one particular toy, and others will do anything for a cuddle.

cat playing piano

I said DOGS can’t learn a new instrument. Cats simply choose not to.

It’s also a good idea to keep a nice consistent routine to reduce confusion, and try not to move the furniture.  Get out and about every day (hey, it’s good for both of you).  Play some games that provide social interaction and mental stimulation for your dog.

Dietary options

There are commercial diets available from vet clinics that are designed to improve alertness, increase attentiveness, and increase enthusiasm in older dogs.  They work mainly through the use of antioxidants.  You need to feed them pretty exclusively for a few weeks to determine if your dog is benefiting, but they are a great option for those not wanting to rush down the medication road.  I’m more than happy to give more specific recommendations for anyone that wants to drop me an email at vet@creatureclinic.com or message me on my Facebook page.

Medication options

Many different medications have been used to treat CDS in dogs (and cats) with varying degrees of success.  Although it always depends on the details of the individual case, the medication I usually reach for first is called Vivitonin (propentofylline).  It helps improve dullness, lethargy and overall demeanor in dogs by improving blood flow to the brain, heart and muscles.

dog medication

It’s a dog.  Taking some medicine. I was going to write something witty about giving the wrong little blue pills and google image searched viagra.  Never, ever, google image search viagra…

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome: take home message

As far as I’m concerned, it all comes down to quality of life.  If we as vets and loving owners can work together to do something that not necessarily lengthens an animal’s life, but improves it’s quality, then in my opinion it’s worthwhile.  If your dog is experiencing any of the symptoms discussed here, please have a chat with your vet about the options available to you.


Working together for the wellbeing of our 4-legged friends

Joanna Paul

Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc

Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.

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Showing 44 comments
  • Cherie Champeaux

    Hello, this was a very informative article! I have a 9 year old Border Collie names Daisy. The past 6 months or so, she has become increasingly clingy. If I move to a room, she is at my heels. If I leave that room, she is there also. A couple of nights ago, she was growling at her shadow, and the night after that she was barking for no reason. She has been barking a lot more lately. She barks at the front door when there isn’t anyone there, and she can’t seem to stop. I feel really bad for her, and I don’t know if her eyesight is going, or if it’s a cognitive issue. What do you think?

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Cherie,
      It can be really hard to tell, but from what you describe she does sound quite anxious. There could be a few different things underlying her behaviour, some of them medical and some behavioural. I would suggest an appointment with your vet (even better if they have a special interest in behaviour) so Daisy can have a thorough check over and maybe some further tests if indicated (like blood tests or x-rays) just to make sure she’s not in pain somewhere or feeling unwell. Your vet will also be able to assess her vision. If physical problems are ruled out then the things you describe are likely to be due to anxiety and/or cognitive dysfunction – both of which can often be well managed. I hope that helps a little. All the best to you and your gorgeous girl.

  • Katelyn

    Hello! My dog is a 4 year old Great Pyrenees mix. She turned 4 this summer and she has A LOT of problems and I can’t seem to figure out why she acts like this but I’m thinking this could be it. You see her mother was badly mistreated while pregnant and my girl is the runt of the litter. I’ve had her since she was 7 weeks old. When I got her she had these scars on her head and you can spot them easily, she does not like strangers and never has, LOVES all dogs. She’s very vocal and always has been. She’s always chased things through the fence.. But recently it’s gotten so bad. She chases cars, people, dogs, cats, bicycles, anything that moves and even nothing. She is now to the point to where she’s terrified of shadows. And the light shining through the window onto the walk or floor. She doesn’t like things that weren’t there before for example a box placed on the floor and she walks into the room and it wasn’t there. She won’t go near the living room or box. She will act terrified and won’t stop barking at it. I have to pick her up, (this 45-55 pound dog mind you) and carry her to it and let her sniff and touch it with her foot, but she has always been like that. It’s also getting to where she growls at the wall and barks at it. Sometimes she acts confused like she doesn’t know where she is. She will growl at my grandmother and won’t go near her. She’s only 4 and she’s my best friend. I would be so lost without her but I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t want her to feel this way and I want to find her help. She has her whole life still yet to live.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Katelyn,
      I’m really sorry to hear about your girl’s troubles. You might be right but she is fairly young for CDS and from your description I’d be more inclined to think there is a real anxiety issue. I can’t make specific comments or recommendations but I’d strongly suggest you visit a vet with a special interest in behavior or even a specialist if possible. It’s possible the chasing and the behavior around shadows and light are obsessive compulsive (OCD). Mental illness is as real in dogs as it is in people, and sometimes a clear plan including medications is necessary to get them feeling and acting better. Unfortunately the one thing we can be sure of is that the more she “practices” these behaviors, the more firmly ingrained they become in her brain and the harder it is to change – so if you can seek professional help sooner rather than later. It’s also important to be aware that fear can quickly turn into aggression so you (and others around her) need to stay safe. I really hope you find the answers that will help her. Good luck.

  • Jade

    I have a beyond adorable 10 year old Pit who is experiencing all but one of these symptoms – In the last few months I have noticed a drastic change in his behavior – he gets lost around the house, he began to nip at anyone aside from myself if they enter a room we are in, his sleep habits are flipped, he paces and whines all night looking lost and nervous – It breaks my heart to see him like this, the worry in his eyes – He also has had seizures since he was a pup and is on medication to help – I am at a loss as to what to do – One day he seems OK, relatively aware and back to “normal”, then the next he is trembling and confused – The absolute worst is when he won’t even come to me for comfort as he used to, he will just freeze in a spot and stare as he cries, eyes wide – I don’t know if it is time or if this will pass – He has lost his appetite and grazes every so often, making him lose a decent amount of weight in the past month – I know I need to take myself out of the equation, but I just don’t know what to do – When I had to make this decision with my previous dogs, their body was the cause for concern, not their brain – Is it too soon? or am I putting him through too much just to ease the guilt of making the decision? any insight would help – Thank you for your time

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Jade,
      I’m really sorry to hear about your situation – it sounds heartbreaking. Do you feel that he has more good days than bad ones? If you try to put yourself in his paws and imagine feeling the way he is, does that help with your decision? It’s one of the hardest decisions anyone can be asked to make. Perhaps discuss with your vet whether there are any further medical options available to him and what the odds are of them helping – if anxiety is a big part of what’s going on there are some pretty effective drugs that can improve quality of life significantly.
      Thinking of you and your boy,
      Jo x

    • Blubell

      It is not too soon. He doesn’t gain from life lived like this. Let him go before he gets worse. And remember the great life you had together.

      • Tina Van Rikxoord

        I disagree. There are medicinal options to try first. I would never let my pet go until I had tried all the medical options. My 13yr old Shiba Inu has recently started showing symptoms of CCD and while it is exhausting due to her pacing and keeping me awake all night, we are trying medications/supplements to see if they will reduce her anxiety. She still eats well, loves to be outside in the yard, and falls alseep in my arms like a baby. You can try Anipryl (selegiline), SAMe, Ginkgo biloba, Senilife, Aktivait, Neutricks, and even Coconut oil is supposed to help. Some take longer than others to work so you may need to give the product up to 90 days to work. I have read that Anipryl takes about a month to work, but that Neutricks can work as quickly as 2 weeks, but I have read some users say that it took almost three months for the Neutricks to work for their pet. But it did finally work. We have just started the Neutricks today. In the meantime I am using Gotu Kola and SAMe (which is good for a ton of other medical things at the same time) and I just found out about coconut oil so I will start giving her that too.

        • Joanna Paul

          Hi Tina,
          They’re all fantastic suggestions and it’s clear you’ve done your research for your girl. There are a range of options not only for CDS but for most health problems in pets. I feel that my job as a vet is to work through those options with families to figure out what is the best fit for them and their pet. It’s not the same answer for every situation and sometimes I think the stress and pain for all involved when trying to keep an unwell pet going can make euthanasia a fair and kind choice. If quality of life is poor there’s no shame in ending suffering peacefully.
          Having said that, I think what you’re doing is really wonderful and shows great commitment and selflessness, and I wish you and your Shiba all the best.

  • Sarah

    Hi! I have a mini foxie / maltese cross called Tinky. She is 19 years old and heading for the grand old age of 20 this September 2017. Tinky is the poster girl for CCD and has all the symptoms like wandering aimlessly around the house, getting lost in the furniture, staring into space and causing the odd puddle if I’m slow to put her onto the grass. She seems essentially deaf and blind, but she does sense if I’m near so I think she recognizes light and shade. Recently her anxiety levels were raised and the vet suggested a little blue pill containing alprazolam. Luckily this has done the trick. She now doesn’t stress out so easily and tolerates being touched without jumping out of her skin. She can be somewhat restless in her room at night but generally she sleeps for a good part of her day and still absolutely loves her dinner in the evening. Apart from a little arthritis, she gets through her day quite well for such an old dog. She can be exasperating to look after sometimes, but I appreciate having her around. When life gets too much for her then I will let her go, but until then its a privilege to care for her in her old age. I love you, Tinks!

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Sarah,
      Thank you so much for your comment! You’ve made my day 🙂 I’m glad both you and Tinky have found ways to cope with her CDS. She sounds very loved and I wish you all the best x

      • Lia

        How my little girl is disappearing!…..Laza is 16years old,she is a Lhasa Apso/silky terrier.Since July I noticed change in her which I thought were the result of blindness and being totally deaf! In September she started to show me her empty look and between now and then she has full blown CCDs.Now is the time for me to look after her! Her physical health(apart from the brain)is excellent ! Thank God she has her happy moments and her puppy moments(which is related to food and going out!😊) Medication like alpazolam and Prosac helps her with her anxiety and agitation.I would like to know about the emotional side of the mums/dads.I can feel depressed by this as it points towards their “sunset” time. Lots of cuddles for your pets.

        • Joanna Paul

          Hi Lia,
          Thanks so much for taking the time to share about Laza. I’m really glad she’s still having her good times. It’s really difficult emotionally, isn’t it. Especially if they are physically quite well but just very confused and/or anxious. My 14 year old Border Collie, Annie, is the same. She wanders around aimlessly most of the day, but the spark returns to her eyes if I pick up a ball or a frisbee! She also loves dinner time 🙂
          All the best to you and Laza – sending big cuddles in her direction.

  • Tracey Joy

    This is very interesting. I have a ten year old staffie called Oscar. In the last few weeks, out of the blue, he has started to show changes in his behaviour. We rescued him at 16 months and he has been extremely well behaved and never had any issues. He can be left for a few hours during the day and he seems to just sleep. If we leave him in the evening, even just an hour, the house is trashed, nothing broken but things knocked over, and he even managed to get behind a unit to hide under the stairs. We found him trembling and had to coax him out. He is panting and very stressed. He will still enjoy a walk although he gets tired after about 20 minutes. It is the destructive behaviour in the evening that is the biggest change. We even leave lights on and tv or radio and even bought a thunder shirt, nothing works. Does this sound like early signs of dementia?

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Tracey,
      It’s possible, but from your description it sounds more like severe separation anxiety. It’s hard to guess why he started all of a sudden and only does it at night, but something has led to him being really scared in this context. Not just scared, but total panic. Have you had him checked out by your vet? I’m sorry to hear the things you’ve tried haven’t helped, they are all good ideas and you’re doing a great job. I think he may really benefit from a combination of behavioural modification and medication for his anxiety. Have a chat with your vet, and if they have a particular interest in behavioural medicine this would be a big plus. If not they may be able to refer you. All the best with little Oscar x

    • Sara

      Hi We have a staffie cross female aged only 8 and she is experiencing some of these symptoms,looking lost at times not playing hardly and sleeping most of the day.She has always been very anxious since a puppy. She has had xray and blood tests recently and has a problem with vertabrae causing pain only occasionally. Is it possible for a dog this young to have this disease?It’s heartbreaking to see the changes in her she still has good appetite and short walks but sometimes does not want to go out at all.Any help appreciated.

      Sara and China out beautiful girl xx

      • Joanna Paul

        Hi Sara,
        So sorry to hear about your girl. It’s possible for cognitive function to decline at her age, in fact generally dogs older than 7 years are classed as senior. That doesn’t mean it is what is happening with her though. If her blood tests were all normal then that’s great news and means medical causes are unlikely. It’s important not to underestimate the possible role pain could be playing if she is sore in her spine. If she is not on any form of pain relief it would definitely be worthwhile trialling some to see if it changes her behaviour. Also, anxiety commonly worsens with age, so if she has always been anxious this is likely to be involved too. There are medical and training/behaviour modification treatment options for anxiety that can help a lot, so I would look into that in more detail too before thinking it is all CDS. Thank you for getting in touch, and I hope it all goes well x

  • Aubrey Looney

    I have an 8 year old boxer who has significantly declined in the last 3-4 months. She has been diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction. She paces constantly until she wears herself out or until I bring her to the bed and get her to lay down (which takes awile). She won’t take any treats or anything else other than her dog food and it generally takes her 20 minutes to eat because I have to continuously remind her in between the pacing. She has lost 15 pounds over the last 3 months. I haven’t been sleeping well because she whines in the middle of the night and falls off the bed. I might be the only one she recognizes anymore but I don’t know if she really does. I can’t take her anywhere anymore because she gets confused and then goes wild-she runs really fast and runs into things. She has other symptoms but I’ll spare you all of the details. My last dog had the same thing but I felt like I put her down way to early and feel extremely guilty for it. I don’t know if it’s time for Ginger and I’m at a loss.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Aubrey,
      I’m so sorry. You’re in such a difficult position, I know. There’s no right answer I’m afraid, and you will likely feel guilt whichever you decide because you love her and you will wonder whether you did the best thing. What do you think Ginger’s quality of life is like? Is she aware of her surroundings when she’s pacing around? Does the confusion seem to make her anxious or scared? Before she developed CDS did she love her food? When the time has come, peace is the greatest and kindest gift you can give her. When the decision is made out of love you need to trust yourself. I wish you all the best with your special girl, and I hope that is of some help x

  • TRICIA everitt

    My little dog dizzy is the sweetest lhasa apso he is black with a white chest and feet and brings so much joy to everyone he meets . He is now 17 yr is blind , and has dementia . HE is so well in every other way heart etc. He has recently started to howl loudly in a very distressed way . He has had various medications from the vet . That don’t make any difference. I just don’t know when to let him go . Luckily I can be with him 24 hrs . I would keep him forever if I could I love him so much.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Tricia,
      Thanks for sharing – Dizzy sounds absolutely gorgeous. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. People say “you will know when it’s time,” but that’s not always true, and it can be heart-wrenching to try and make such a massive, painful decision. My advice is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s his heart, his mind, his legs, or all of the above that are letting him down. It matters how good his quality of life is. Is he comfortable and happy?
      The difficult question is – which is the kinder option? Keeping him going or letting him go? I wish you all the best and you have my thoughts at this difficult time x

  • Bonnie Carter

    Thanks for a great article. It really reinforced what I had suspected was going on with our 14 year old italian greyhound, Samson. He’s been slowly losing his sight and has struggled to keep on weight for the past two years. However recently is easily confused if we leave him with our son, barks for no reason at 4am, has accidents inside occasionally, growls at his best mate Murphy, and is easily frightened to snap. He is such a dear loyal and trusting soul. We rescued him from a life of boredom when he was four – he had become superfluous to his previous owners needs after they had a baby! Somehow, I don’t think he is long for this world. His behavior often reminds me of my dad just before he died…..

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Bonnie, thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your beautiful old boy. There is something special about Italian Greyhounds – I think they have really soulful eyes. You’ve given him a decade of love and happiness that he otherwise wouldn’t have had, which is amazing. I’m glad you found the article helpful and I hope you have more beautiful time together. Making life as predictable as possible and trying to have a structured routine can help x

  • Lindsay

    Thank you for this article. I’m having a horrible delemma. One of my dogs is about 14, guessed age because we got him as a stray about 13 yrs ago. He’s had seizures since we’ve had him, but not regularly enough to go on the seizure medicine. We strongly suspect he was abused from wherever he came from. He has been the sweetest dog over the years. When my Granny was in the nursing home before her passing, we took him with us to visit her. He did wonderful and all of the residents loved him. This was about 5 years ago.

    Anyways, over the past year or so we noticed he’d sometimes shiver. It wasn’t due to being cold and it would just be random. His hearing also seemed to be going, but now I believe that is due to his cognitive function. He’s lost weight, and just over the past month has been extremely clingy. We’ve taken him to the vet, blood work and all was fine. We started him on selegiline and Xanax about 1-2 weeks ago, due to his anxiety seeming extreme. He’s exhibiting most of the above symptoms. When I’ve talked about what’s going on with family, their first response is basically saying he’s ready to go. This of course upsets me. I don’t believe he is in any physical pain, but I can tell he is stressed and anxious. The Xanax doesn’t even seem to help calm him down. He is constantly needing to be near me, to the point that I trip over him because he is right by my legs. If he’s not, he’s pacing or wandering, and whining. Just down he looked out the front window and growled a little. There was nothing there, and I realized he was growling at his reflection in the window.
    One of my main issues is that I have a 2 year old. At this point, he hasn’t shown aggression to my son. I’m fearful he will though. My son likes to interact with my dog, and we are making sure he’s being sweet. But, this situation is making it very difficult to be able to manage both my son and my dog. Sleeping for my son at times gets disrupted with my dog pacing or whining. And this situation is causing more stress to me. I know that sounds selfish and I feel very guilty even thinking it. I don’t know how to handle this. I’ve tried decluttering as much as possible, but with a 2 yr old and his toys I’m not doing a good job keeping it free of obstacles.
    I don’t know the best option here and any help or advice is greatly appreciated.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Lindsay,
      What a great job you’re doing in a very difficult situation! He sounds like a very special dog who you have shared a lot with. I’m really sorry to hear what is happening. The first thing I want to say is that you are in no way being selfish, and need to try really hard to be kind to yourself.
      Try to look at life from his point of view. Remember that physical pain is not the only way one can suffer, and if he’s spending a lot of time in extreme anxiety/panic it may be that he quality of life has deteriorated to a point where the negatives outweigh the positives. I believe you need to make a very difficult judgement call on whether your think he is more happy than not. If the situation as it is isn’t working for you, your little boy, or your dog, then something has to change. The options are to go back to your vet and seek advice regarding alternative medications (it really can be trial and error, and there are other choices) or consider euthanasia. In the meantime, if you are not sure you can predict his behavior/reactions, the only safe option is to keep them separated.
      I hope things improve for you and your little old dog. Remember you rescued him and have given him many years of love and happiness.

  • violetta

    I scoured google for doggie dimentia and useful info. Jerry is 16 or so, I adopted him as a senior, he was 10ish, not sure how old he really was or where and what conditions he came from. He has a good senior life but he is now wearing a diaper because of accidents at home, he is completely blind -cataracts and i suspect deaf, he doesn’t respond when i call him. He started getting stuck under things like chairs or walks into spaces i didnt think he’d fit. Today however was worst by far. When i got home, he had fallen, scared himself trying to get up, defecated, tryed to get up(i mean he was one poopy baby when i got him into the tub) he got up and walked to the living room and had fallen again. This breaks my heart to see him like that. After his bath he started walking in a circle, then pacing and then these random howls. I suspect he has a full blown dimentia, do you think the medicaition will be able o help him even at this stage?

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Violetta,
      First of all, thank you so much for adopting a senior, I wish there were more people like you 🙂
      I’m so sorry to hear about Jerry’s behavior at the moment, it sounds as though he is beginning to really struggle. If his senses (ie vision and hearing) are starting to let him down, he could be feeling very anxious. The circling and pacing and howling is concerning because, as I’m sure you can tell, it indicates that he’s quite distressed. I would strongly recommend you get him checked out by your vet, because although cognitive dysfunction could explain his symptoms, it’s not the only possible reason for what he is doing. They may be able to tell you what is wrong and whether there are any treatments or even just management tips that could help. From what you’ve described, my instinct is that the medications for CDS would be unlikely to help a lot, unfortunately. I can’t say for sure without looking at him, so please do take him to the vet.
      All the best and I hope things improve for you and Jerry x

  • Marie Tassie

    I have only just found out – although knowing my 13 year old Lucky has been suffering from arthritis for a few months – that her strange lack of desire to interact with me could be all linked in with this. She has, over the last few months, become unwilling to lie in the same room as me! If I am in one room she will go off into another. If I then go into that room, she will go back to the original room. It was making me feel like she didn’t want my company any more, and I have been getting very sad over this. Now, I am starting to read up that this is quite a common occurrence in older dogs. Stranger thing is that she still always greets and sits with visitors or friends when they come to our house. She will sit or lie by them and never takes herself off out of the room in those instances. She has always been an extremely sociable and human-loving dog. I hate to see her getting old like this and it makes me terribly sad. The other possible cause for her lack of desire to be with me might be her eyesight and hearing? Although I can’t figure out why. She has never been a clingy dog, just always loved people not only me. Maybe this is why she is now not clingy due to her anxiety but just takes herself off alone? – independent little girl! Her cataracts and her deafness have been there for a couple of years but maybe it was when they started to worsen that it caused her to start acting oddly like this? I know her deafness has worsened in the last few months, if not her cataracts. But I didn’t correlate all this until just very recently.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Marie,
      That must be hard for you, Lucky sounds like a special girl. While it’s possible cognitive dysfunction is part of the reason for her behaviour, I still think it would be a great idea to get her checked out by your vet. I hope things improve x

    • Vicky cempura

      Hi my names vicky my dog is 16 and also has cainine dementia he’s not been to well since yesturday he’s being sick it’s like he carnt stomach his food he’s also really down in himself is there a spiacal food for this disease I am taking bk to vets tomorrow,I’m also worried just incase they tell me I have to let go please give me some advice

      • Joanna Paul

        Hi Vicky,
        I’m really sorry to hear about your dog. I don’t think his vomiting is related to dementia and it is the problem you will need to manage first. Only your vet can help you with this after checking him over. I’m thinking of you both and hope he has a speedy recovery.

  • April Raymond

    Hi, glad to see this post. My boyfriend is beside himself on what to do about his dear best friend. Sarge is about 13. In the year I’ve been living here Sarge ( who had always had problems feeling comfortable around new people ) had taken to me since the first day I was here, probably cause he sensed that I’m a dog lover. The problem is lately, for no reason he’s become food guarding, he’s bitten me once when while he was eating I offered him another treat, and most recently ( the past 3 days ) he’s acted scared of me when I’ve brought the same treat I’ve been bringing for months to his bed area. He holds his head down, puts his ears back, and growls ( he’s done this to my boyfriend too. ) he does have arthritis too, really bad and his bed area is between the bed and wall so maybe he feels closed in but he’s always been very happy to see me approach him with his nightly treat before, so idk what’s up.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi April,
      I’m really sorry to hear that, it must be so difficult for both you and your boyfriend. I think it’s definitely worth a check up, because it sounds like the more aggressive or fearful behaviour has come on fairly suddenly? I would want to make sure he’s not in pain, or has suddenly lost his vision, or something like that. I hope things improve for the three of you x

  • CJ Chip

    Hi Joanna,
    this is a great article, my French Brittany just turned 11 in December, lost her eyesight to SARDS late last year and now I believe she has CDS.
    Losing her eyesight was bad enough, but now – being blind and lost .. it’s so frustrating and I know she feeds off of us, so I try to pretend it’s not breaking my heart.. but.. it’s breaking my heart! She falls of the bed, down the stairs, walks into walls, thinking she’s jumping on the couch and missing by feet. I didn’t think there was anything they could do for CDS, but now that I may be mistaken, I’m on the phone making an appointment now! Thanks!

    • Joanna Paul

      Thanks CJ,
      I’m sorry to hear about your girl – it really is heartbreaking. Especially without being able to see, there could be an element of anxiety there too.
      I hope you find something that works well for you both xx

  • Jim B

    My border collie is getting this too. He is approaching 13 years of age and is overall very healthy except that after idiopathic vestibular syndrome, he has now restarted playing with toys and licking us. So, he is now a puppy mentally with all the symptoms of dementia and arthritis. At least, no problem with house accidents. I hope one day things can get better for these dogs.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Jim,
      my Border Collie, Anika, is nearly 13 too. It sounds like he is happy if he is playing with toys and interacting with his humans, so that must give you some comfort. In terms of the arthritis, there are several options that may help if it’s causing him pain (although I’m sure you’re on to it). If you haven’t seen it, I wrote an article here –
      I hope one day things get better for them too x

  • Malcolm Macdonald

    Hi Joanna, just read this interesting post. My dog is comin up for 10 years of age and is starting to show signs of CDS, he is going to the vet on Saturday. Im looking to get a book on how best to help my dog to make his life as best as possible. Could you recommend any books I could read to help us both out, thanks Malcolm

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Malcolm, sorry for the delayed reply!
      I hope you got some useful advice from your vet. After receiving your question I did a bit of research as I didn’t know of any useful books on CDS. Sadly I came up empty handed!
      If you have any specific questions I’d be more than happy to help. In the meantime I will keep looking, there may be a general dog behaviour book that covers CDS nicely, rather than a book just on CDS!

  • andrea

    My friends have a beloved family dog that is 11-12 years old. We’ve met this dog before and have previously had no issues. But while visiting with our three-year-old dog (the two dogs had met before also and had no issues) recently, their dog displayed signs of aggression with their young children and on our second day there, attacked our dog, got loose, and kept coming after her. After I got our dog away, the friends’ dog kept coming and coming and attacked me! Both the dog and I wound up in urgent care- stitches, bruising, and antibiotics for more than a week. Shouldn’t these friends have the dog examined? I’m concerned for their children as well as for other people, knowing how she kept after me. For the rest of our visit, we kept the dogs separated but I was frankly uncomfortable with their dog, which, when finally allowed to come near me, never relented in head-butting and goosing me.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Andrea,

      I’m sorry to hear you’ve been through that, it would have been terrible. I would be concerned about any aggressive behavior, and in an older dog it could be caused by a large number of problems, many of them medical (e.g. arthritic pain) and manageable. I would recommend this dog sees a veterinarian and of course that it is never, ever allowed in a situation where the children could be injured. Hope you’re doing ok!

  • Emma

    Jo, this is a great piece. As the owner of a senior pet, I’ve had a few concerns and so it’s helpful to know what to look out for.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Emma,
      thanks so much! I hope everything is ok with your gorgeous furkid – it’s so hard watching them get old quicker than we do, isn’t it!

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