10 Signs of Dementia to Watch for in Pets - Pet Hub USA

10 Signs of Dementia to Watch for in Pets

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A majority of senior pets, particularly dogs and cats, will be affected by dementia. Learning the signs of dementia will help indicate whether your pet has cognitive decline or should be examined for other medical issues.

10. Disorientation

brown short coated dog lying on gray textile
Photo by Sarah G. on Unsplash

Disorientation can present itself in many forms. A pet may lose its way in familiar settings within the home or outdoors and become lost. A pet may become stuck in corners or tight spaces, forgetting where they are and struggling to find a way out. They may tremble as a result of its confusion.

9. Behavioral Changes

Messy homeless cat with dirty fur strolling on asphalt sidewalk near shabby blue weathered construction on street of town
Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels

Behavioral changes in a pet with dementia can take many forms. Anxiety can include avoiding eye contact and moving away from people. A dog may bark at things that aren’t there or at the ceiling. A pet may stare at a ceiling, wall, into space, or appear distant as if in another world – all can signal confusion.

8. Loss of Potty Training

photo of adult white English bulldog lying on black area rug
Photo by meredith hunter on Unsplash

Frequent pee or poop accidents inside the house might indicate dementia. The pet may no longer signal when it needs to go outdoors. When outdoors, they may skip designated areas and go on the concrete or deck. They may have accidents after returning indoors from outside. It may also go against the natural instinct of not soiling where it sleeps.

7. Changes in Activity Levels

tan chihuahua lying on couch
Photo by Alicia Gauthier on Unsplash

A pet with dementia may experience changes in their activity levels. Some pets may become lethargic and disinterested in their surroundings. A pet may no longer be interested in walking, exploring, or playing. Some pets may do the opposite, becoming hyper and restless. They may pant and pace. New fears may arise.

6. Sleep Disturbances

old cat
portrait of the feline as an old cat” by emdot is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sleep disturbances are one of the main signs of dementia in pets, affecting the animal’s sleep/wake cycles. Like humans, pets are prone to “sundowning,” in which confusion occurs in the late afternoon into the night. A pet may sleep less at night and more during the day. The pet may keep owners awake pacing, howling, or barking.

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5. Not Responding to Commands

Portrait of a Funny Pug with Its Mouth Open
Photo by Ivan Babydov on Pexels

Dementia in pets can change the way they think and remember. The pet may no longer respond to visual or verbal commands such as coming when called. However, even if the pet responds, it may have difficulty executing commands. It’s important to rule out pain and discomfort, such as reluctance due to joint pain rather than cognitive changes.

4. Wandering Aimlessly

selective focus photography of short-fur black cat
Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

A common sign of dementia and disorientation is a pet that seems to wander. Affected pets may get lost because they can no longer recognize familiar landmarks or objects. Wandering can occur at night due to disruptions in sleep/wake patterns. Wandering can also signal anxiety, as the pet paces to cope with its stress.

3. Not Recognizing People

growling dog
mad dog” by dadblunders is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the most heartbreaking signs is when a pet no longer recognizes its owner. A pet may no longer be able to rely on its sense of smell, hearing, or sight to send the right message to their brain. In extreme cases, the pet may bark or growl at its owner as if encountering a stranger.

2. Repetitive Behaviors

Licking dog

Another sign of dementia is when new repetitive behaviors occur in a pet. Some of the most common are pacing, licking substrates, licking people, or wandering. These behaviors follow a pattern of execution the same way each time, with increasing frequency over time. Consult a vet to determine new patterned behaviors from compulsive behaviors.

1. Short Temper, Aggression

hissing cat
Lion cat” by James Broad is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

A pet with dementia may demonstrate increased irritability. The pet may develop a short temper and no longer tolerate children or other household pets. In some cases, the pet may become aggressive and start lunging, snapping, and even biting. It’s important to rule out medical conditions that could cause aggression such as discomfort or pain.

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