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Dealing with dementia

20th April 2021

It’s estimated that over 400,000 Australians have dementia, but did you know our pets do too?

Quality veterinary treatment means our pets are living longer, fuller lives. With longer lives comes age-related conditions such as dementia. Also known as cognitive dysfunction, this condition causes behavioural changes in pets.

Dementia is common in older dogs and cats and is similar to Alzheimer’s in humans.

Often, the signs are mistaken as being part of normal ageing − but in recognising and understanding these behaviours, you can help your pet. It’s not a curable condition, but it is one you can manage as you navigate your pet’s senior years.


Disorientation is one of the most common signs. Your elderly dog may become lost in familiar places, forget their routines, wander aimlessly, get lost in corners or behind doors, not recognise familiar people, or fail to respond to commands.

It’s also worth looking out for other abnormal activity in your dog − such as less interest in play, reduced response to stimulus, and changes to their sociability and sleeping patterns.

Dementia can also affect toileting behaviour; if your elderly dog starts soiling indoors it may indicate forgetfulness about where to toilet, or when to signal their need to go.

Some dogs may also start barking, howling and whining, which is out of character. They may also display repetitive behaviour such as pacing or licking. This behaviour may indicate anxiety due to brain changes outside of your dog’s control.


Your cat may wander away from home, stare blankly at walls, become indifferent to food and water, lack interest in playing, sleep excessively, and change their toileting habits. Some cats can also become far more vocal than is normal for them.

Some of these symptoms are also associated with physical conditions, rather than dementia. For example, kidney failure can cause changes in toileting habits, while excessive vocalisation is common in cats with hypertension.

Keep your litter boxes in accessible places, and avoid bringing other animals into the house that could increase your cat’s stress levels.


As your pet ages, it’s essential to look out for dementia signs. If you believe your pet is suffering from cognitive dysfunction, seek veterinary care to rule out any other conditions first. If your pet does have dementia your vet may recommend a special diet, practical toileting tips, and appropriate routines and exercise.

The aim is to provide advice on the best ways to help manage and ensure your pet gets the best quality of life.