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by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS/P

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Cognitive dysfunction
is not reported as often in
dogs as cats.  
A recent study indicated that 50% of dogs
over the age of 15 had signs consistent with cognitive dysfunction


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All Pets | Topics by Age | Topics by Category | All Dogs | Media Center |    Print


our dog may live from 10 to over 20 years of age depending on genetics, living environment, and quality of care.  Be sure to ask your dog's veterinarian for nutritional, housing and preventive care advice if you want to extend your dog's lifespan. 

Fortunately, the aging process is gradual. One morning you may notice a few gray hairs, or that your dog is moving more slowly than usual. As time goes on, your dog's social interactions may begin to change. The first signs may be your dogs sleeps more or doesn't greet you every time your arrive home.

Some dogs progress to keeping people up at night by pacing, circling, vocalizing.  You may ask yourself, "Is my dog getting dementia or Alzheimer's disease?" 

The control of underlying medical conditions impacts the success of any behavior modification program.

What causes the behavior signs of aging?

The geriatric pet often experiences a combination of problems from medical to behavioral conditions. Cognitive dysfunction is a medical condition that often leads to behavior problems. Your dog's veterinarian can diagnosis, treat and control medical problems such as cognitive dysfunction and help you address the behavior issues related to aging with the use of medication, diet and/or behavior modification.


Combining a complete behavioral history with a medical work-up results in the most accurate diagnosis from your veterinarian.

What behavior problems result from cognitive dysfunction?

Potential behavior problems associated with cognitive dysfunction include but are not limited to:  

anxiety (including separation anxiety); increased vocalization; restlessness and sleeping disorders; aggression; fears and phobias; compulsive behaviors; housesoiling; memory loss; and destructive behavior. 

Medications and dietary changes may help some dogs with underlying problems such as cognitive dysfunction.

What to do to help your dog age gracefully?

  • Establish and provide regular routines for your dog.

  • Maintain consistent schedules especially for diet and exercise. 

  • Keep stress to a minimum. 

  • Gradually acclimate your dog to any changes in the household schedule. 

  • If housesoiling is an issue, consider confining your dog to a safe, easy-to-clean area like a bathroom or laundry room.

Remember the aging process may alter your dog's awareness and ability to signal or alert you of needs such as the need to eliminate. Make sure your dog always has easy access to comfortable bedding, fresh food and fresh water.  Rule of thumb: Take your dog out to eliminate at least one more time per day.

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