How to Spot Dementia in Dogs: Dementia Signs & Symptoms

How to spot dementia in dogs

We are currently publishing a series of guides to do with dementia in dogs. In the second of this series, our friend describes how to spot dementia in dogs, with a real-life story of how she recognized something was wrong.

It’s a very personal account what the signs of dementia in dogs are. I hope you find it helpful.

How to recognize dementia in dogs

It crept up very slowly. My 12-year-old Flat-Coated Retriever crossed over into her twilight years and gradually started to change. Everyone ages and dogs age in very similar ways to humans. Just like us they can also get dementia, with the signs developing slowly a lot of the time.

We first noticed the cataracts and hearing loss. We saw the slightly stiffer joints and tiredness. All par for the course. Aging is what it is after all, and this didn’t necessarily mean our dog was showing signs of dementia!

But then there were some more strange aging symptoms which we should have recognized as signs of dementia in our dog. She initially struggled to sleep soundly throughout the night. She would then start walking around aimlessly.

dog dementia signs
There are different ways to recognise and spot dementia in dogs (Image via

But the most obvious change in her behavior was the whining. At random points of the day, she would whine… for absolutely no reason at all.

We took her to the vet the next day and she was diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS), also known as dog dementia.

It is sad to realize that your dog is losing their faculties but the sooner you spot the issue, the better you can care for your dog as their condition develops.

Dog dementia signs and symptoms

Here are the 5 ways you can spot dementia in your dog.

1. Memory loss and confusion

My old girl has never been the sharpest tool in the box. She could be trained but she was always a little ditsy. She’s the manic pixie dream girl of the dog park, dazedly floating through life, without a care in the world.

Dementia daze is a slightly more concrete type of confusion that you’ll be able to tell in the following ways:

Not recognizing familiar people and objects

Your dog may interact with family members or even their favorite household objects as if they had never seen them before.

They may be frightened of the vacuum cleaner all of a sudden when they used to chase it around the house. Or they may inspect and sniff a toy more inquisitively, showing that they don’t recognize it.

In terms of forgetting family members, this is hard to spot if your dog is naturally friendly. We often joke that if our house was robbed, my dog would probably welcome them on the front porch. She is a joy to everyone.

Your dog may have certain behaviors that they savor just for you. My dog has a very specific whimper-like response when I come home from a long work trip. She spins in circles and makes that familiar “welcome home” noise.

If your dog isn’t doing those kinds of rituals, it could be a sign they are losing their memory.

Staring into space

A common way you can spot dementia in dogs is when they just stare listlessly into space. We’ve all done this. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. Your dog has done it.

But this is different.

It becomes concerning is when it happens often throughout the day and when they appear confused when they come to. It’s like they have landed back on earth after sailing above the clouds.

If your dog is losing their hearing, like mine, they may not hear you if you call them during this sudden dazed state. It’s not harmful at all for your dog to wander off in their minds from time to time, so don’t worry too much.

Wandering aimlessly

Another way to recognize dementia in dogs is the sign that your dog is confused is when they wander around with no real direction. This can happen around the house or even on routine walking paths. All of a sudden, they just don’t seem to know where they are.

If other senses such as hearing, eyesight, and smell are also not as strong as they once were, your dog may be even more confused in these familiar settings.

This can cause quite a lot of anxiety, so be gentle and open with your response.

Keeping a consistent home layout and regular schedule can help them feel more relaxed.

2. Barking or whining for no reason

As I said at the opening of this article, this was the tell-tale sign for me.

My dog whines all the time! It happens in the middle of the night. It happens in the early morning. It happens in the car. It happens in the garden.

My dog’s whining is fast becoming the soundtrack to my life.

Handy Hint: You might also find that your dog starts barking at night suddenly for no reason. This isn’t always a sign of dementia but could be something else.

It’s pretty bizarre, but if your dog is essentially barking or whining to themselves, it could be a sign of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.

There is no solid research as to why this happens. It could be due to the general confusion and disorientation they feel.

It’s worth noting the tone and urgency of the whining. I can tell if my dog is in pain or if she wants to be let out the back door to pee. These have a different sound quality to this directionless muttering she does with no strong motive.

It may be worth taking your dog to the vet the first time to investigate if your dog could be in any pain.

However, if your dog is very old and no cause for pain is found, don’t be surprised if these random calls happen often. You get used to it – I promise!

3. Loss of housetraining skills

As with humans, dogs often lose their housetraining skills if they suffer from dementia. This is often the first sign that people spot in dogs with dementia.

Where they were once extremely clean and diligent about excusing themselves to go to the bathroom, you may notice more accidents happen around the house.

The reasons could be two-fold:

  1. They are confused and can’t remember their way to the back yard or garden.
  2. They have reduced mobility and just couldn’t make it in time.

If it’s the latter, it may be worth investing in pee pads to give them a spot to relieve themselves indoors.

You can also increase the number of walks you take during the day (if possible) to allow them to go outside.

I know it’s tough to have patience during these times, but it’s important you show kindness.

It’s unlikely that they will make this a regular habit as dementia is not a consistent state of being. My dog has moments of complete clarity where she is her regular self.

Therefore, these mishaps in judgment are typically just that – mishaps.

It may be worth having your dog checked by your veterinarian if peeing and pooping around the house becomes very regular. It could be a symptom of more serious ailments like kidney disease.

4. Changes in temperament

A clear sign of dementia in dogs is a fast change of temperament. We touched on this a little with not recognizing folks, but your dog’s general mood may change in this season of their life.

Some dogs with dementia become aggressive when they weren’t before. It’s usually because of anxiety and confusion, rather than malice towards others.

Other personality changes vary from being more aloof and distant to being more needy and anxious. They may ask for less of your attention and become more solitary.

Equally, they could follow you everywhere just to be close to you.

This sounds very depressing, but I can assure you that if you learn to care for your dog during these times, they will still have bright, joyful moments.

In my own experience, my dog’s temperament hasn’t changed much at all. She’s still very friendly, engaging, and gentle as she ever was. Not all symptoms present themselves the same way in all dogs.

5. Disrupted sleep

My dog is 77 years old in human years. Like most 77-year olds in the world, she likes to sleep… a lot. According to Dog Health, senior dogs can sleep between 14 to 20 hours a day. It’s like a regression to puppyhood!

Sleeping a lot is nothing new and nothing to worry about. The behaviors that are more symptomatic of dementia are far more noticeable and stranger. Examples could be:

  • Whining at night.
  • Night walking.
  • Sleeping in strange places e.g. closets and boxes.

Sleep-wake cycles are likely to be quite disrupted if they have CCDS. It was very weird seeing my dog walking aimlessly, woofing at 2am for the first time.

Changes to sleep cycles can be solved with sleep medication given by your vet or you can also try herbal remedies, such as Rescue Remedy Pet to calm an anxious mind in the late evenings.

However, it’s also very common that dogs with dementia find it hard to sleep at night. If this sounds like your dog, read this guide which explains how to help a dog with dementia sleep at night better.


Dementia is very common as dogs get older. Knowing how to recognize the signs of dementia in your means you can act quicker to make their life more comfortable.

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Here are related guides which might help you at this stage in your dog’s life.

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Marc Aaron

I write about the things we've learned about owning dogs, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips we've picked up along the way.

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