Although your furry pal doesn’t forget where they left their keys, or to attend important appointments, they can walk into a room and forget why they’re there. Cognitive decline doesn’t affect only people—the condition is seen in cats and dogs, too. Your doggy’s dementia or feline’s forgetfulness, which is called cognitive dysfunction, is more common than you think in senior pets. However, detecting cognitive dysfunction in pets can be tricky if you don’t know what to look for. Let’s look at cognitive dysfunction—how to recognize the condition in your pet and how to best support their declining mental function. Our Cote Animal Hospital team answers all your questions.  

Question: At what age will my pet develop cognitive dysfunction?

Answer: Many people chalk their pet’s cognitive dysfunction signs up to old age, but this condition is not a normal aging change. Not all pets develop cognitive dysfunction, which may progress slowly and be difficult to detect. Roughly a quarter of pets around the 11- to 12-year mark show one or more cognitive dysfunction signs, with that number increasing to more than 50% by 15 years of age. Older pets will generally display more cognitive dysfunction signs as their condition progresses.

Q: What signs can I expect if my pet has cognitive dysfunction?

A: The acronym DISHAA, which has long been used to highlight cognitive dysfunction signs, was recently updated and expanded. You may notice the following signs if your pet’s cognitive function is declining:

  • Disorientation — Your pet may become lost in corners, forget familiar people, or go to the wrong side of the door.
  • Interaction — Your pet may change their social behavior and become aloof and irritable, or extra clingy.
  • Sleep-wake cycle — Your pet may sleep more during the day, stay awake at night, or have irregular sleep-wake cycles.
  • House-soiling — Your pet may eliminate indoors in unusual places, or fail to let you know when they have to go outside.
  • Activity levels — You may notice repetitive behaviors, such as pacing or licking, or aimless wandering and the inability to settle.
  • Anxiety — Newly emerging fears and phobias can make your pet agitated and clingy.
  • Learning and memory — Your pet may forget training commands, or where their food dish is located.

Q: How will my veterinarian tell if my pet has cognitive dysfunction?

A: Cognitive dysfunction signs can be subtle and easy to miss, since many pet owners brush them off as typical aging changes. The first step in diagnosing your pet’s condition is through careful observation and record-keeping at home. Each time you notice a sign associated with cognitive dysfunction, jot it down or take a video, and come armed to your pet’s appointment at Cote Animal Hospital

In addition to studying your pet’s home behavior and actions, our veterinarian will perform a physical exam and blood work to rule out underlying causes, such as osteoarthritis pain, kidney disease, diabetes, and thyroid conditions.

Q: Are medical treatments available for my pet’s cognitive dysfunction?

A: Treatment depends on your pet’s clinical signs, and can be tailored for specific cognitive dysfunction issues, such as generalized anxiety and a changed sleep-wake cycle. Medications specifically designed for cognitive dysfunction can help slow the process and boost your pet’s mental function, and prescription diets and supplements are becoming popular because they provide myriad benefits for brain health. Look for supplements with ingredients such as vitamin E, selenium, vitamin C, essential fatty acids, and medium-chain triglycerides.

Q: What else can I do at home to help boost my pet’s cognitive function?

A: Similar to Alzheimer’s patients completing a crossword puzzle each day, offer your pet various puzzles. Food puzzles are a great alternative to a food dish, and can be easily made or purchased online. Stick to daily training sessions that combine old and new tricks to keep your pet’s mind sharp. Explore new places, and offer them plenty of opportunities to sniff and interact with their surroundings. And, always include your pet in your family’s activities. Remember, many pets with cognitive decline experience anxiety, and separation from the family can increase distress.

Has your senior pet been displaying odd behavior? Schedule an appointment with our Cote Animal Hospital team to see if your pet could be developing cognitive dysfunction.