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Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, Otherwise Known As Dog Dementia, Is A Real Issue.

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

There is much discussion these days around the diagnosis of dementia in humans. But what about our canine companions? Like people, dogs can suffer from Canine Cognitive Disorder, otherwise known as dog dementia. This degenerative brain condition results in impaired memory, strange or unexplained behavior, and weakened thinking skills. It is estimated that 14 to 30 percent of older dogs will develop dog dementia. And while the cause of dementia in dogs is not always clear, there are some things you can do to help your furry friend if you think he may be experiencing dog dementia.

In this #Lifewitholddogs blog post, we’ll discuss what dog dementia is, how to recognize the symptoms, and ways to help your older German Shepherd live his best life despite the condition.

What is dementia in dogs?

Like dementia in humans, dog dementia is not an actual disease in and of itself but rather a broad term used to describe the inability to remember or think correctly or make rational decisions that affect everyday lives. Dog dementia can strike at any age, but it is most commonly seen in older dogs. For larger breeds, such as German Shepherds, that would be seven to eight years of age, but more likely towards ten and older.

What are the signs of dog dementia?

Although the progression of dog dementia can be insidious, the most common symptoms are:

  • Confusion

  • Anxiety

  • Disorientation (getting stuck in places like behind a door and can’t figure out how to get out)

  • Not following normal routines

  • Getting lost in familiar spaces

  • Staring at nothing

  • Barking for no reason/Barking excessively

  • Changes in sleep/wake cycle (sundowning)

  • Pacing, circling, and wandering aimlessly

  • Can’t recall where the location of the food/water bowl

  • Fecal or urinary incontinence

  • Increased irritability and anxiety

  • Not recognizing dog parents or other household dogs

How is Dog Dementia Diagnosed?

Although there is no definitive test for dog dementia, it is still essential to take your older German Shepherd to your trusted veterinarian to have a complete medical workup which may include diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays or an MRI, to rule out anything else, and to come up with a treatment plan for dementia.

Steps you can take to help your senior German Shepherd with dementia.

NOTE: Treatment focuses on slowing the rate of cognitive decline.

  1. Diet Change

Your veterinarian may recommend a specific commercial brand diet formulated specifically for improving cognitive function. But you can also take matters into your own hands by adding antioxidants and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as coconut oil, to your dog’s home-cooked food, which have shown to be beneficial in slowing the progress of dog dementia.

2. Adding Vitamins and Supplements

  • SAMe Small studies have shown that SAMe may improve mood and cognition.

  • CoQ10, which is a powerful antioxidant that is found in the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver and fades as our dog ages

  • L- Carnitine which transports long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria to be oxidized for energy production

  • Vitamins B, C, and E

  • Omega 3 Fatty acid

  • CBD oil, which has been shown to protect the brain from cell death caused by toxins and free radicals and also helps reduce anxiety

  • Melatonin

3. Medication
  • Selegiline is used to control the clinical symptoms of dog dementia.

  • Trazodone, which can help with anxiety and sleep/wake disturbances, as well as pacing

4. Mental Stimulation
  • Mental Enrichment & Physical Exercise (Within reason)

  • Puzzles such as a snuffle mat

  • LickiMat

  • New Toys

  • Playing ball

  • Routine exercise that is physically appropriate such as walking or swimming

  • Car Rides

  • Training such as nose work

  • Obstacle course

  • Playdate with other well-behaved dogs

What to Avoid As your older German Shepherd’s dementia progresses:

  • Keep his routine the same

  • Don’t move furniture or his bedding

  • Keep his food/water bowl in the same location

  • Monitor your dog at all times

  • Don’t leave doors open such as exterior, basement, and garage doors.

  • Block off stairs with baby gates

  • Maintain regular visits with your trusted veterinarian

  • Above all, BE PATIENT

Preventing Dog Dementia

  • Maintain regular exercise throughout your German Shepherd’s lifetime, and don’t allow him to become a couch potato

  • Keep your German Shepherd mentally engaged by going to new places, smelling new smells, meeting new people and dogs, and learning new tasks such as nose work.

  • Give your German Shepherd jobs such as picking up toys or closing a door (clearly, this requires training, but that’s the point). If you have a farm, teach your German Shepherd to herd. :)

  • Maintain a healthy diet, such as a nutritionally balanced human-grade, whole-food diet that offers variety and is packed with brain health nutrients

  • Be sure to incorporate routine veterinary checkups.

Dog dementia can be unsettling for you to witness and downright frightening for your older German Shepherd to have to go through, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be proactive in helping your fur friend stay as comfortable for as long as possible. Our goal is to help arm you with the knowledge to do just that so you can keep enjoying each other’s company and making wonderful memories together.


Physical signs of canine cognitive dysfunction

J Vet Med Sci. 2019 Dec; 81(12): 1829–1834.

Published online 2019 Nov 1.

Treatment of canine cognitive dysfunction with novel butyrylcholinesterase inhibitor Published: Sept 13, 2021

Nutritional support for the aging canine brain

Not all CBD oil is created equal. There’s a lot of crap out there, so you have to know what you are buying to ensure the comfort you seek for your older German Shepherd is actually in the bottle you’re buying, and so you’re not just throwing your money out the window. We have done just that, and it doesn’t feel good.

What we have found to work are Dr. HempDog hemp oil tinctures.

If you would like to try it, you can get 10% off on us by going to: and enter discount code “WOODYSPLACE

Link to correlating #Lifewitholddogs podcast:

***** Disclaimer: Throughout the “20 Most Common Health Issues in Senior German Shepherds” series, each blog post is expressed explicitly from our point of view and is not to be substituted for the professional medical expertise of your trusted veterinarian.


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