As your four-legged friend ages, you may notice they are losing their sharpness. Perhaps they’re going to the pantry door to be let outside, or they’ve forgotten where you’ve placed the food dish. These signs can be associated with cognitive dysfunction, a common condition in senior and geriatric pets.
What is cognitive dysfunction in pets?
Cognitive decline is not considered a normal aging change for pets, although its occurrence does increase with advanced age. As your pet ages, their brain undergoes changes that can be seen as differences in awareness, deficits in learning and memory, and decreased responsiveness to stimuli. Although the initial signs are mild, they increase over time as cognitive function continues to decline.
What are cognitive dysfunction signs in pets?
Cognitive dysfunction is often chalked up to normal aging changes in pets, but it’s a true disease that can be diagnosed and treated. When determining if your pet has cognitive dysfunction, look for the following signs that fall under the acronym DISHAA:
- Disorientation — Disorientation and confusion are commonly seen in pets with cognitive dysfunction, similar to that seen with people with Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than forgetting where they left their keys, your pet may get lost in familiar areas, not recognize familiar people, or go to the wrong side of the door when going outside.
- Interactions — The interactions you see between your pets may change, as may the interactions between you and your senior pet. Some pets may become more clingy and never leave your side, while others may lose interest in interacting. Your senior pet may also become irritable when approached or petted.
- Sleep-wake cycle changes — Owners of pets with cognitive dysfunction often complain that their pet is up pacing all night long after sleeping all day. Sleep-wake cycles can flip flop, causing your pet to display irregular sleep patterns.
- House soiling — Inappropriate elimination is another key indicator that your pet may be experiencing decreased cognitive function. Dogs may forget to signal they need to go outside, while cats may eliminate in random spots throughout the house.
- Activity levels — Pets can become more restless and be unable to settle. They may also wander aimlessly, or develop repetitive behaviors, such as licking.
- Anxiety — Normally relaxed pets may suddenly develop anxiety, and anxious pets may pace, pant, whine, and become more clingy than usual.
Since there is no one particular test that pinpoints cognitive dysfunction in pets, a diagnosis is made by excluding other potential causes that cause the same signs.
How can I help my pet’s cognitive dysfunction at home?
Maintaining a healthy and stimulating environment is the best way to help slow cognitive decline in your furry pal. Accomplish this management method through a daily routine of interactive play, exercise, and training. Try the following activities to help support your pet’s cognitive function:
- Obedience training — Brush up on your pet’s known skills, like sit, down, and stay, while incorporating new ones to encourage them to think.
- Sport training — Put those obedience skills to work by playing new sports, such as treibball, agility, or flyball.
- Food puzzles — Ditch your pet’s food dish and make them work for their meals by putting their canned or dry food in a food puzzle. Try putting your pet’s favorites, like peanut butter, spray cheese, yogurt, fresh veggies, and dry kibble, in a rubber Kong that you freeze overnight. Then, let your furry pal work out how to get to their meal.
- Scent work — Cats and dogs have exceptionally sensitive noses, and their sense of smell is phenomenal. Let your pet use their sense of smell to sniff out strong-smelling treats you’ve hidden throughout your home.
- Interactive play — While a stuffed toy or a ball can be fun for your pet, you can crank up their enjoyment from their toys by playing with them. Interactive toys and games, like feather wands and hide and seek, are best for enticing your pet to play, and for helping strengthen cognitive function.
How can my veterinarian help my pet’s cognitive dysfunction?
Although cognitive dysfunction has no magic cure, medications, supplements, and diets are available to help boost your pet’s brain power. Medications can be used to combat your senior pet’s anxiety, or to act as a neuroprotective agent, while supplements can perform the same actions, but often to a lesser extent. Diets, whether prescription or over-the-counter, can protect against, and reverse damage caused by free radicals. These diets are also loaded with essential fatty acids, to help improve learning ability and memory. A combination of therapy options often provides the best support for your four-legged friend’s cognitive function.
Does your pet seem confused and disoriented? Are they urinating in your home, after years of no accidents? If so, your pet may be suffering from cognitive dysfunction. Contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team to schedule an appointment.