When Your Dog Gets Dementia

Getting old is inevitable and there’s little hope of getting through it unscathed.  Probably the worst affliction on the old is cognitive decline and it is not only a percentage of older humans who end up with dementia; I’ve recently come to understand that our canine friends can also be caught in the net.

Beautiful Rosie

Last year I worked for a few weeks in the lock-up dementia unit of an aged-care facility.  It was there I saw firsthand the devastating effects of a progressive condition for which there is no cure.  As commonplace as dementia is, it didn’t actually occur to me that my very own dog would suffer from the condition.

Sleeping beside me while I work

We affectionately called Ruby and Rosie, ‘Greedy’ and ‘Needy’ because Ruby always took more than her share and Rosie demanded so much love, affection and reassurance.  When she no longer appeared to want or desire love and affection, I knew something was dreadfully wrong.

Getting her Vitamin D

Rosie turned 16 in August and it was about six months ago that I started seeing troubling signs.  She seemed to lose interest in things that once engaged her.  Her normal habit or joy was to follow me around the house leaving me not a square inch of privacy or space; if I was on the couch, she had to be up on the couch with me.  When I’d go to bed, she was up on the bed with me.  If I went out to the letterbox, she was right beside me.  When I’d come home, she’d run to the door to greet me.  If I was cooking in the kitchen, she’d be right under my feet.

She still loves the sunshine

I observed her for a few weeks thinking she was just getting old and tired, and that her comorbidities (deafness, pulmonary hypertension, loss of vision, etc) were behind the changes in her behaviour.  But then I started to notice that actually, she was having moments of confusion.  A bothering sign was that when she would want to go outside, she would stand at the hinge of the door instead of where the door actually opens.  Having done a bit of research, this is very much indicative of a dog with dementia.

Going to the wrong edge of the door

Confused and trying to go outside

And little by little, it seemed Rosie was retreating or distancing herself, and disappearing into her own vacant world.  Yes, she would and still does, pirouette for a treat after going outside to do her business, but she’s stopped vocalising, she stares at a blank space like a wall for long periods of time, if I pick her up (what used to be one of her most favourite things), she appears frightened and struggles to be put back down on the ground.  At family meal times she would always be right beside me hoping for a treat, and usually after the meal and while still at the table, I’d pick her up to be on my lap.  This was something she really looked forward to.  But in the recent times I’ve entertained, Rosie has been nowhere to be seen and instead of joining us at the table, has instead retreated to a room in the house where she sits all by herself.  Even bringing her out to join us doesn’t work as she will pick herself up and drag herself away to some lonely and quiet part of the house.

Staring at a blank wall

She used to be so sociable and would go up to any and every visitor hoping to be patted and she’d roll over wanting her tummy rubbed.  But now she shows no interest in visitors, not even in family members.  She used to be very excited when friends would visit with their dogs and always very assertive giving them a reception of raucous barking letting them know who was head of the house, before engaging with sniffing and smelling and tail wagging.  Now she doesn’t even leave her basket and if a dog does approach her, she shows zero interest.

Sleeping is a favourite pastime

So what can be done?  Well, just as with humans, very little, actually.  You need to take your dog to the vet and have the diagnosis confirmed.  Most dogs will be diagnosed using the DISHA acronym that stands for Disorientation, (altered) Interactions with family members and other pets, Sleep-wake cycle changes, House soiling and Activity level changes.  The vet will then probably suggest some things to help slow the progression like feeding your dog a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids, food puzzle toys to help stimulate their brain, activities to keep their interest, and visits to the dog park.  Keeping them in a structured routine is also beneficial.  Talking to them (if not hearing impaired) can help lessen their anxiety levels.

Lunch at a vineyard

Right now Rosie’s up on the couch with me.  When I decided to write this post sitting on my couch, I went to find her and there she was, in another room, sitting on a rug staring at nothing.  I picked her up and put her on the couch with me wondering if she’d quickly want to jump back down.  But no, today’s a good day and she is curled up beside me fast asleep; just like the good old days.

Precious girl

A family dog is so much more than a pet; they are an important and integral part of the family and seeing them decline isn’t easy.  The best you can do is try to be acutely aware of what is happening and try to alleviate confusion, stress and anxiety as best as possible.  Dogs give to us above and beyond our expectations and so, as they struggle with a difficult disorder, they more than deserve to be incredibly well looked after.

Sweet Rosie


  1. How very sad to see your Rosie’s worsening mental condition. Your continuing love and care is all you can offer her. I wish you well.

  2. Mary Galea says:

    You could be describing our lovely old dog, Toby, who died aged 14 almost 12 months ago. He was deaf from the age of about 7, but he started doing most of the behavioural things you’ve said from the age of about 10-11. He was still able to use the doggy door to go outside, and we only had one inside accident, but he was living in his own little place for a long time.

    We brought another puppy into the house after our other dog died when Toby was 10, but he was too old to be bothered with her playfulness. He still seemed to enjoy the day to day life of the household, but he slept most of the day. He was a gorgeous boy and we still miss him terribly, so all I can say is, enjoy your Rosie for as long as you have her. You will know when the time comes for her to go, and it will be very sad…

    Thinking of you, Rosie and the family as you enter this time of her life.

    • Hi Mary, thank you so much for sharing your story. Your Toby sounds absolutely amazing. Isn’t it heartbreaking to see our beloved dogs be afflicted with such an insidious condition. It’s lovely that you have such wonderful memories of Toby xx

  3. Oh Charlie, I was just perusing the RSPCA adopt a pet pages and saw a puppy named Charlie Louie… right at that moment your comment came in on my recent blog post about Huskisson. I thought of you right away… breaks my heart to read this about your darling companion. Bless. xx

  4. She’s just so beautiful. You have been so lucky to have her for 16 years and it must be heartbreaking to see her little personality change so much.
    You are a wonderful dog mum and I’m glad she has such peace and loving care in her twilight years

    • Thanks Lucy. Yes, we are truly blessed to have her for 16 years. We’ve actually had her ever since her beautiful mum (our Ruby), was pregnant with her so it’s been a wonderful journey xx

  5. Poor Rosie — that’s so sad. I’ve known dogs (and cats) that have developed dementia. Luckily, mild forms of it. The worse thing is you can’t explain to your pet what’s happening. Of course with a human who has it, that’s rather hard too, isn’t it? 🙁 Very touching post — thanks.

  6. As one with an advanced dementia family member, my heart goes out to you and Rosie. It’s not easy. Incontinence will be a problem but other than that, it’s just love and care. Hugs.

  7. Oh no Charlie. That is so sad. I think the hardest thing is the retreat from love and affection; that they no longer want our love. I guess because they’re so confused. Hope all goes well tho I know it may come to the end sooner than you would like. Sorry. That sounds morbid. Thinking of you and Rosie. Cheers sherry x

  8. Oh Charlie that’s so sad, but wonderful too. Your understanding and love is so obvious in this post and I suspect will help lots of people who are confused by their elderly dog’s retreat from family life. As you say they are so important to us, so much more than a pet and able to give so much love. I hope Rosie has more good days than bad and can bask in your love and care. GG

  9. Charlie I’m so sorry to hear about your beloved Rosie. Dementia is a cruel, way too cruel for the vibrant creatures that they once were. All we can do is make them as comfortable as possible and keep loving them. I like singing to Mochi (she doesn’t have dementia, I just like to do it for her as she seems soothed by it). I’m a terrible singer but she doesn’t seem to know that.

  10. They are so cute, Charlie! You are a wonderful person to be taking such a good care of them! 😉

  11. Sorry to hear that Rosie is not herself. Like humans, when dogs live to a ripe old age I guess it is more likely that they will have ageing diseases – one of the mixed blessings of old age. I am sure you will give her all the comfort you can to ease her confusion and distress. Best wishes for looking after a dear member of your family.

  12. I read the sadness in your words, in this story. I am sorry.

  13. I am so sorry to find out this hideous illness affects our fur babies and I’m sorry to read that Rosie is affiliated. I know how difficult it is see a fur baby’s decline and so my heart goes out to you for the coming months and years. Its been almost 12 years since our precious Dustie left us and I still cannot bring myself to give my heart to another. You’ll be in my thoughts. XOXO

  14. I’m so, so sorry, but also glad sweet Rosie is in your loving hands.She’s lucky to have such an amazing mama to care for her. Wish you didn’t have to see your girl go through this. xoxo

  15. Those of us who have known you awhile remember some of the ‘better days’ when Ruby and Rosie were together and active. The bell tolls with a mournful sound . . . . just remember that those who have the dread disease usually are but little aware of it. Love her and make her be comfortable . . . and try take the situation the way it is . . .

  16. Oh Charlie I am so very sorry your sweet girl has dementia. It must be so hard for you. Sending hugs to you all.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  17. Oh my that’s is so beautifully written and so terribly sad. Thank you so much for sharing this….Am now wiping away tears as my sweet Cody is on the lounge next to me. You’re so brave and your beautiful Ruby and Rosy are so blessed to have you … Lots of love xxx

  18. Oh, Charlie. This breaks my heart. One of my three dogs is 18…not suffering from the same, but is thin and definitely declining. I also lost my husband less than three weeks ago and this hits me even harder, I think. Yours is the first blog I have looked at in a long time, and I was hoping for an update on all the kids. Instead I found this touching tribute of love and respect to a beloved member of the family. Heartfelt love to you and all of your family.

    • Dear Victoria, I am so very saddened to hear of the passing of your husband. Such tragic news. Definitely a significant and major loss and combined with the declining of your beautiful dog. I do hope you have friends and family who are drawing close to you at this very difficult time xx

  19. This makes me so sad to read this first thing in the morning. I’m so sorry for your sweet dog and for those of you close to her that sit by and watch her as she deteriorates. It’s heart wrenching!

    She has lived a good life, 112 in human years and no doubt living with a wonderful caring family.

    We had to put one of our dogs down in October of 2016 and I’m still so sad about it. It’s like losing a family member and oftentimes worse because as you mentioned, they’re literally at your side wherever you go – always.

    My heart is with you on this. I feel it is truly the worst part of being a pet owner, yet I cannot imagine my life without one.

    Hoping your little lady can enjoy the holidays with her family.

  20. What a sweet, sweet puppy. At 16 I know she’s not a puppy, but she still has that sweet little puppy face. So sorry that she’s got dementia. I didn’t realize or think that animals could get that as well. Sending you and Rosie lots and lots of hugs. She a lucky little girl to be so loved.

  21. Yes, it IS important to have a vet take a look, because pain and illness, (not to mention fading sight and hearing), could cause many of the same symptoms. I am very sorry about your Rosie; my pets have always been members of our family. We are dealing with my brother’s early on-set dementia; it is heartbreaking. I know that Rosie has a good life with you.

  22. I was at my computer when this arrived in my inbox (no comments on your page) and my emotional state would not allow me to make a response then as I related so much to your situation with Rosie. We have a wonderful old dog that we think is about 14 years old and Archie is showing many of these symptoms. We have loved and lost so many dogs over the years and I know that a few had dementia but not recognised at the time. Thank you for sharing your story – it is very helpful and gives such an insight into a subject of which we know so little.
    Rosie is a well-loved dog!

    • Dear Marion, thank you for taking the time to write and let me know about your beautiful Archie. I’m so sorry to hear he also suffers from such an awful condition. Seeing our dogs (beloved family members) age in front of our eyes is so very difficult and you do feel incredibly helpless. As painful as it is, Archie is lucky to be so loved. At the moment Rosie is up on the couch with me having a little sleep. She is definitely declining cognitively, but she’s still the sweet-natured and gentle soul she always was. We’re looking forward to spending Christmas with her and thoroughly spoiling her. All the best to you and your Archie – I know this is a very difficult time.

  23. I’m so sorry to read this. It sounds like you’re taking excellent care of her and doing everything you can. What a sweet dog!

  24. —heartbreaking.
    I am so happy Rosie is deeply loved.
    I am also happy she still loves the kisses of the sun.

  25. Oh sweet Rosie. My heart is sad for both of you! xo

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