Do dogs get dementia? Can cats suffer cognitive decline? If your pet is getting older, then these questions might be playing on your mind. The answer is yes … just like people, pets can develop symptoms of senility in their senior years. The problem is more technically known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). So, what exactly is the problem, and how can you help your furry friend to live their best life as they age?
Firstly, what is going on in the brain with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome?
Studies have shown that pets with CDS can have a build-up of toxic substances in their brain (akin to that seen in Alzheimer’s Disease). Other changes in CDS include altered cerebral blood flow; dysfunctional neurons (the cells that make up the brain); altered neurotransmitters (the chemicals that transmit messages in the brain); and an overall reduction in brain size due to cell loss. These changes result in a decreased ability for pets with CDS to remember information, process stimuli, and act appropriately.
What symptoms should you watch for to tell if your pet is experiencing cognitive decline?
The signs of CDS vary a lot between individual dogs and cats, but frequently include:
- Spatial disorientation- a loss of sense of direction/ location causing confusion and wandering; pets may be found in unusual places, or appear lost in familiar places.
- Failure of learning/ memory- pets may struggle to recognise their owner or other animals, may forgot previously known commands, and may urinate or defaecate in inappropriate places.
- Altered activity- pets may have increased activity (pacing, restlessness, excessive vocalisation, and repetitive activities) or decreased activity (lethargy, excessive sleeping, and decreased grooming).
- Reduced sociability- decreased responsiveness or interaction; aggression, irritability, and/or anxiety.
- Disturbed sleep-wake patterns- night waking and pacing or vocalising; excessive daytime sleeping.
- Decreased perception/ response to stimuli- less interest in food, playing, or walking; vacant staring.
How is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome diagnosed?
CDS is diagnosed based on the symptoms and response to treatment (there is no specific test). CDS can easily go undiagnosed because the symptoms are not easy for a vet to detect in the consult room, therefore it is very important to let your vet know if you have any concerns (videos from home can be very helpful). Further investigation and testing may be needed to rule out medical causes for the symptoms (things like blindness, deafness, pain, urinary infections, or metabolic disease) before treating for CDS.
Is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome common?
It has been estimated that CDS affects up to a third of all cats and dogs. It is most common in dogs over 9 years old and cats over 12 years old. The older an animal is, the more common CDS becomes.
What can be done to help pets with cognitive decline?
There is no cure for CDS, but there are therapies that help improve cognitive function and slow disease progression. There are special diets and nutritional supplements that protect and promote healthy neurons (via antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and other ingredients). There are also medications your vet can prescribe that help by increasing blood flow and modulating the brain’s neurotransmitters. But even simple activities at home can make a big difference. Things like regular exercise (30-60 min/day); sensory stimulation (lots of brushing, petting, and positive physical contact); and cognitive enrichment (new toys, feeding puzzles, and ongoing training) have all been shown to reduce the progression of CDS.
What is the prognosis for Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome?
CDS cannot be cured, and it tends to be gradually progressive over time. However, it is often possible to manage the symptoms and maintain your pet’s quality of life.
Disclaimer: The information and advice in this post is general in nature. It is not intended as a substitute for tailored health care advice from your regular veterinarian.