Posted on: May 1, 2024 Posted by: Petsynse Comments: 0
Dog wearing aviation hat sitting at desk with video came on monitor.
Image credit: Igor Chus, Shutterstock

Can video games help your senior dog with dementia? I’ve heard the hype, but I wanted to find out if this is real and, if so, does it work? Electronic games can help humans by stimulating the brain, but are they also effective for canine dementia?

I’ve been a dog parent since I was a young kid and have raised many pups from their very early puppy days until the day they passed over the rainbow bridge. When caring for my senior dogs, I have witnessed the gradual loss of mental function and wondered what I can do to help my pups retain their mental faculties as long as possible. I investigated some current options for video games designed specifically for dogs.

Table Of Contents

What Is Canine Dementia?


Canine dementia is also referred to as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction and Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). It can affect dogs of any breed. CDS is an age-related disease that causes deterioration in the brain. Canines often start to develop the disease when they reach about nine years old. It generally causes slow behavioral changes, frequently mischaracterized as normal aging progression or simply old age.

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome happens when neurons in the brain start to deteriorate as they age. As neurons start to malfunction and deteriorate, brain function lessons, including the capacity to process information. This breakdown leads to both behavioral and physical changes in dogs. Doggy dementia is common among senior pups, but it can show gradually, making it harder to recognize.

Symptoms Of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome And Canine Dementia

There are a few common clinical signs of CDS in dogs. These can include:

  1. Changes in sleep habits, such as staying awake at night, sleeping more during daylight, and restlessness at nighttime.
  2. A decrease in activity levels, increase in restlessness and aimless pacing, increased aggression, anxiety, irritability, fear, or other unusual behaviors.
  3. An increase in clinginess or overly avoidant, especially with familiar and favorite people
  4. Disorientation can occur, especially in very familiar places like the home. It can also include confusion, urinating in unusual places, or staring off into nothing.
  5. An uncharacteristic lack of response or recognition of familiar commands and people.
  6. Increase in bathroom accidents inside, such as peeing on walls or having defecation accidents.

Treatment For Canine Dementia

Treatment options for canine dementia are limited, and there is no cure. But there are some steps we can take to help make our senior pups more comfortable. Medication can sometimes help manage symptoms and some cognitive dysfunction. A medication by the name of Selegiline helps by extending dopamine activity in the brain. It helps some canines but does not work for others and must be prescribed by your vet. Supplements, supportive care, and mental stimulation are also ways to help manage dementia in your pup.

A high-quality diet of fresh, healthy foods without fillers or unneeded ingredients is also helpful for promoting brain health. A senior dog food formula is also a good idea to support your aging pup’s needs. Learn more about the best fresh dog foods and human-grade dog food options.

Prescription medications and other supportive care can be eligible for reimbursement through pet insurance. To learn more about pet insurance and what your options are, read our pet insurance reviews.

Why Video Games Can Help With Dementia

Video games can help with dementia because they stimulate the brain. They require various cognitive abilities, like reasoning, memory, response, and recognition. There has been ongoing research on how this kind of mental stimulation can help humans.

Brain games can help improve cognitive abilities. This benefit is not limited to electronic games. Board games and virtual reality also have positive impacts. Humans often play physical games such as word puzzles, card games, jigsaw puzzles, and board games for enjoyment. We also love gaming apps on our phones like Wordle, Fruit Ninja, math training apps, and more. While these sometimes seem like just a good bit of fun, they’re actually helping our cognitive ability by keeping our brains active.

The research is ongoing, and much more needs to be done to see just how beneficial playing a game, specifically video games, is in treating human and canine dementia. Thankfully, it is a subject area many people are interested in, and progress is being made every day.

Can Dogs Play Video Games?

Dogs can learn to play video games but are unlikely to play Candy Crush or Wordle on your phone or pick up a controller and take on your teenager at Destiny or The Last Of Us. Dogs may not enjoy these like we do, but they can learn to play a simple game or activity on a screen. With touchscreen technology, they can even interact with the screen using their noses and paws.

Dogs love to play, and people please, so it’s not surprising that they can learn to play an electronic video game with the proper setup and training. Research has been ongoing for years to determine how dogs interact with computers and screens and whether it provides them with mental stimulation. A recent study by students at Eckerd College is looking at the ability of dogs to play computer-based games and has had great success with a rescue pup named Orlo. Orlo is learning to play a video game he controls with his nose.

See Orlo In Action (Video)

Watch Orlo in action in the video below:

What Is Joipaw?

Joipaw is a UK-based start-up that has been working on a video game console for dogs for the last few years. The idea is the brainchild of Dersim Avdar, a dog parent who wanted to give his pup more to do than watch television or eat a bowl of treats when he was not home. He was inspired by research that showed dogs with dementia could benefit from simple games and wanted to find something that could keep his pup at top mental capacity.

The Joipaw video game console is designed specifically for dogs. It is much different than most other “dog video games,” which use human devices like tablets and phones. While these can be effective, they were not originally designed for non-human players with claws, big teeth, and a tendency to drool.

How Does Joipaw Work?

Joipaw’s design features an easy-to-access touchscreen set on an adjustable base. It can be moved to fit the perfect height for each pup. The screen is saliva and shock-resistant, so it can withstand canine drool and heavier paw touch. Pups can play games, including a version of “Whack-A-Mole, ” and are rewarded with a treat the console dispenses.

One of the issues the team ran into was getting the dog interested in playing with the screen in the first place. The treat dispenser offers a reward but is not enough to draw them in. The solution was to put peanut butter on the screen to get their interest. This method has proven effective for the Joipaw team.

The Joipaw console is still under development, though the company appears to have created and tested different consoles. They regularly share content on social media, and interested pup parents can sign up to purchase a console when they are ready.

See Joipaw Work (Video)

You can see Joipaw and how it works in this video below.

What Doggy Video Games Can I Play With My Dog Right Now?

If you want to play a video game with your pup right now, there are a few options. One is the app Jolly Dog/Jolly Pet, available on Android, iOS, and PC. The game is simple: little critters running across a screen that your dog (or cat) can “catch’ with their paw or nose. The app is free, with in-app purchases.

My Personal Experience With JollyPet

Jolly Pet app screenshot of homescreen.
The Jolly Pet app is a game just for pets.

I tried the Jolly Pet app out with my pups: one senior dog, aged 12, and a younger dog, aged three. It was not an instant hit, but of course, they don’t play on my phone or tablet very often. The game itself is quite simple, similar to a slow version of Fruit Ninja.

My senior dog, Daisy, was more interested than the younger pup. She paid attention to the screen and did not object when I moved her paw to follow the critters. After a few sessions playing it with me, she started showing interest in following the critters with her nose. I also tried the peanut butter trick with her, placing it on my finger, not my phone, and then leading her to the screen with it.

A screenshot of the Jolly Pet game I tried with Daisy.
A screenshot of the Jolly Pet game I tried with Daisy.

After a few weeks of playing, Daisy started to get excited when I came to sit next to her with the phone. She happily has her treats, and as we play the game, she has started trying to hit the critters on her own. However, playing on a phone with an 85-pound dog is challenging. I recommend playing this game on a larger touchscreen tablet. It’s fundamental, but with practice, it has become a fun activity I can do with my senior dog. It engages her with me, and she appreciates the extra cuddles and attention. Whether or not it helps her dementia is yet to be seen.

Have you ever played video games with your dogs? Which one is your pup’s favorite? I’d love to hear about your experience and doggy video game-playing tips in the comments.

What About Supplements?

Supplements can help with many things as our pups age. There are plenty of options. We cover several of the best joint supplements and those for arthritis. I give my senior pup Daisy CBD dog treats, which help with her body pain and have calmed down some of her dementia issues, like anxiety and aggression. Always discuss adding supplements to your senior pup’s regimen with your veterinarian first.

Other Ways To Keep Your Pup’s Mind And Body Active

Keeping our pups active as they age can be a challenge. While daily walks and hikes are excellent exercises, as our pups enter their senior years, mobility issues can prevent them from taking those long, healthy walks.

Along with trying video games, there are other activities you can try. We review some of the best brain games for dogs and the best interactive dog toys to keep your pet mentally stimulated. A simple game of fetch or even a game you create yourself are also great options. Games where your pup has a problem to solve, like finding something based on scent or playing hide and seek, can keep them mentally engaged. Giving them a gentle doggy massage can also help keep your pup engaged as they age. We cover care needs and more in our guide on caring for senior dogs.

Why Trust Canine Journal?

Danielle has shared a special bond with dogs since childhood. She has over 30 years of experience with canine breeds of all sizes, from toy to giant. A few of those sweet pups have special needs, including epilepsy and dementia. Danielle is a dedicated professional researcher and pet product reviewer. She spends countless hours researching the latest pet care, health, food, and training developments to help owners learn what’s behind the label. Danielle works with a professional and experienced team to bring our readers the best, most accurate, and up-to-date information to better the lives of pets and people.

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