Does my dog have dementia? MRI results don’t lie. Here’s how to know… (part two)

dog dementia

My dog might be invincible. He might also be demented.

Ok, clearly the first one’s wishful thinking, but each time I think I’m going to get bad news about his health, I don’t … sort of. One year ago, a lump on his neck wasn’t cancerous, his CCL healed alright without surgery (only a brace) and now he does NOT have a brain tumour, brain swelling or brain lesions, as the vet first suspected. However, he does have canine cognitive dysfunction.

No brain tumor. That was the first thing the veterinary neurologist said to me when he sat down to give me the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) results. MRIs are a medical imagining technique using scanners, magnetic fields and radio waves to create images of the body – in this case a doggie brain.

In December, I took my dog Victor to the OVC Small Animal Clinic in Guelph, Ontario part of the Ontario Veterinary College. Check out our first consultation here.

The veterinary neurologist, a neurological intern and a fourth-year vet students all worked on Victor’s case, which is the protocol at a teaching hospital. Guelph University is considered the best veterinary college in Canada, and it’s one of only a few places west of Toronto to get a canine MRI.

Except, there’s really no such thing as a canine MRI – the same MRI machines used for people are used for dogs. In both cases, a large room far removed from other equipment is necessary due to the magnetic strength of the MRI machine. Unlike people, however, dogs must be sedated under the machine.

So, coming out of the anesthetic was a concern.

The process started early in the day and ended with me set up in an exam room cradling my little guy in a fleece while he drifted in and out of a confused sleep.

dog mri machine

The MRI scans revealed no brain tumor (which was highly suspected) and not even brain swelling. And no explanation for seizures (paroxysmal episodes), which led us down this path in the first place.


The MRI did revealed evidence of brain atrophy – also called aging or shrinking brain. Victor’s been diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD). Or, doggie dementia. As with people, dementia is a disorder associated with aging and Victor is about 15 years old. It’s what my vet suspected (before the costly medical tests) and the reason why Victor was prescribed CBDs (Cannabidiol) months ago.

Anyone who’s looked after people with dementia knows, it’s a slow process, and dogs diagnosed with CCD live about 18 to 24 months – assuming fur parents can live with the resulting challenges like confusion, endless pacing and incontinence – that last one really is challenging (and will lead to our review of pee pads). (affiliate link)

I fully intend to look after Victor as long as he’s happy.

According to research, about 60 percent of dogs over the age of 14 show signs of dementia, often not obvious until the dog is in an advanced stage.

What are the symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) or dog dementia?

Symptons of dementia are not the same in all dogs. According to my dog’s neurology report, “clinical signs of CCD are numerous and often unspecific.” Here’s the list:

  • Inattentiveness
  • Inactivity
  • Aimless wandering (often pacing at night known as ‘sun-downing’)
  • Walking in circles
  • Compulsive digging on the floor
  • Disturbance of sleep/wake cycle
  • Urinary and or fecal incontinence
  • Difficulty navigating stairs
  • Becoming lost in familiar environments
  • Attempting to pass through narrow spaces
  • Failure to recognize previously familiar people or animals
  • Decreased interaction with family members
  • Hearing loss
  • Excessive vocalization (often at night)

What are ways to treat CCD or dog dementia?

dog on canadian national park's red chair

First, it’s hard to diagnosis definitively without an MRI – similar symptoms might be due to a brain tumor or brain inflammation, both require a different treatment and many vets are unwilling to treat without knowing for certain what they are treating.

Second, if the diagnosis is CCD, there is no cure (same with people). According to my dog’s report, “There are multiple proposed therapeutic and preventative approaches with variable evidence of efficacy in improving cognitive function and/or delaying the progress of cognitive decline.”

In other words, we can only attempt to slow the inevitable through diet, supplements and anti-inflammation medication.

Course of action will be different for different dogs, but here’s the suggestions for my dog:

  • Dietary modifications including switching to Purina’s prescription Neuro Care dry food diet. (I have yet to find a wet food equivalent but will ask at our follow up visit).
  • Giving my dog a L-deprenyl supplement, specifically Selegiline – according to the report, it’s an “irreversible inhibitor of monoamine oxidase B (MAOF) purported to improve cognitive function in both dogs and cats.” It’s supposed to benefit the brain by restoring dopamine balance.
  • Thanks to recent seizure like episodes my dog will also remain on anti-seizure meds called levetiracetam, and he’ll take three weeks of the steroid prednisone to see if it helps.

That’s the medical course of action.

What does dementia mean for dog-friendly travel?

dog at peninsula ridge winery2

Granted, this wasn’t the diagnosis I most feared, but it’s not great news either. The MRI costs money, but there’s peace of mind knowing what we’re dealing with and what to expect in the coming year. I plan to look after my crazy little monster as long as he’s happy – and keep travelling with him as long as it doesn’t cause him stress or disorientation. Or he doesn’t pee on everything.

He’s not as adventurous or confident as he once was, but there’s a lot of adventures I haven’t written about yet. And there’s still a few good days ahead … especially during the warmer weather.

So, 2020 for will be a combination of short trips with my dog Victor, a recall of trips we’ve taken during the past year and some dog-friendly encounters as I travel without my fearless sidekick (though likely won’t be leaving him often).

In the meantime, dogtrotting’s popular pet festival USA Dog Event Guide is updated for both U.S. and Canada.

Watch this year for the Pet Friendly Hotel Guide: honest reviews of ‘dog-friendly’ hotels, motels and cottages across Canada and the U.S. from people and their pets who’ve been there. Let me know what you want reviewed.

And Victor will be checking out a few more too.

Check out Part 1: MRI consultation, if you missed it.

Writer bio: Sherri Telenko has been a professional writer for decades and a travel writer for the last two. She’s a member of TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) and Dog Writers Association of America and travels almost weekly with her canine companion, Victoria. All written content is original, written by a person, and based on experience and research.


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  9. Sandy Weinstein · · Reply

    i am so sorry, my oldest had dementia, it got very bad at the end however, the vet thinks because she developed vestibular twice because of some tick med collar, it might have contributed to the early onstage. it is a popular collar but it cause many problems for my dog. i even read a blog whee many dogs had died from it, had lost use of their hind legs, lost their appetite, etc. it was the seresto collar when it first came out and you could only get it from your vet. i called the company many times and they were so nasty. she was on a few homeopathic supplements for it. she had also lost most of her hearing and was blind in one eye and had limited vision in the other. a rare form of cancer took her. she was perfectly healthy til i used the seresto collar.

    1. So sorry to hear that – that’s quite a list. I’ve never used that type of collar (I don’t believe they are sold in Canada). My little guy is pretty old so that’s what the vets have contributed it to. He’s hanging – but walking in circles.

  10. I’m glad it isn’t a brain tumor, but hate to hear this news too. I hope the disease is slow to progress and you make many more great memories with Victor.

    1. Thank you so much. As with people, some days better than others.

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