Bad News, Dogs Can Get Dementia Too! Providing Early Assessment Tools for Canine Dementia


  • Taja Oblišar University of Ljubljana


Cognitive aging is a gradual, ongoing process characterized by changes in cognitive abilities that unfold as individuals age. This process impacts both humans and canines. We can differentiate between healthy and pathological cognitive aging, with an example of the latter being Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS), often referred to as canine dementia.

The decline in cognitive functions indicative of CCDS is typically associated with changes in memory, visual-spatial abilities, attention, social interaction, learning, and problem-solving skills. Detecting the onset of CCDS at an early stage is crucial for providing adequate veterinary care and making necessary adjustments for our dogs [1], [2]; as well as diagnosing canine dementia before the brain tissue is too damaged [1].


To detect the deterioration of a dog's cognitive health, it is critical to have access to convenient, cost-effective, and easy-to-use assessment tools that can be readily administered within a home setting [2]. The present research is therefore aimed at providing early assessment tools for CCDS that do not require a laboratory setting and any preliminary training for dogs.

The research subjects were categorized into 3 groups:

  • Younger healthy dogs (n = 17, 1-6 years, M = 3,47 years),
  • Older healthy dogs (n = 40, 8 – 16.5 y, M = 11,63 y),
  • Older dogs with diminished cognitive abilities (n = 10, 12 – 18 y, M = 14.9 y).

The study consisted of 6 tests, each assessing a specific area of potential cognitive decline that may indicate the presence of CCDS in senior dogs:

Memory test: evaluates short-term spatial memory.

New object test: measures willingness to interact with novel objects.

Problem box – plastic box: assesses problem-solving abilities and adaptation to new situations.

Problem box – Kong Wobbler: evaluates problem-solving skills.

Sustained gaze test: measures attention span.

Self-representation test: tests body awareness and self-representation.

Tests were administered within a university setting, but could be easily administered at home. They were carried out with the researcher and the owner present. All 3 groups underwent the same 6 tasks under the same conditions.

Aims And Expected Results

This research project seeks to validate several tests as early assessment tools for CCDS by evaluating their ability to accurately reflect pathological cognitive decline in dogs. Although the analysis of the data collected is still underway, preliminary predictions suggest that these tests will prove to be sufficient for the early detection of canine dementia. If confirmed, these findings could significantly enhance early intervention strategies, improve the quality of life for affected dogs and their owners, and provide comparative insights into pathological decline in human aging.


[1] D. Chapagain, F. Range, L. Huber, and Z. Virányi, “Cognitive aging in dogs,” Gerontology, vol. 64, no. 2, pp. 165–171, Oct. 2017. doi:10.1159/000481621

[2] E. Kubinyi and I. B. Iotchev, “A preliminary study toward a rapid assessment of age-related behavioral differences in family dogs,” Animals, vol. 10, no. 7, p. 1222, Jul. 2020. doi:10.3390/ani10071222